To save the world you first need to be successful


It is December 2021, approaching the end of the first term of our CEIBS MBA journey. Amidst the pressures of assignment deadlines and preparation for the exams, I have just received a package with a gift I ordered for one of my classmates, as I am his “secret angel” for Christmas – yes, we do have that! The gift I have finally chosen for the occasion is a book on Confucius and leadership. As I browse through the pages, I find myself reflecting on what brought me here to CEIBS and China. What triggered a deep thirst and need to develop my own leadership skills and knowledge at one of the best business schools in the world and in China, a country whose unprecedented rate of development would ultimately lead my internal growth as well.

This is not be my first time in China. I visited the country several times before, but my stays were mainly in Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, of course. I recall my first visit to Shenzhen, when, amidst the glass towers of the modern megacity, I was searching in vain for the archetypal images of old China, the characteristic architecture and culture – elements I have now finally found in Shanghai! Still, this was love at first sight! I was immensely attracted by the country, its rich history and culture, its sounds, its smells, its mysterious language.

But, the defining moment in my journey that brought me to CEIBS was back in the mid-2010s, when as the Finance Director of a major European NGO active in risk management and emergency response in Greece, I found myself at the centre of the European Refugee Crisis. Greece and South East Europe experienced a sudden influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants in what was one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our era. For a Finance Director this was a unique and unprecedented context. On one hand, I had the opportunity to experience first-hand the dire consequences and devastating effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the local and global socio-economic ecosystem – something that reinforced my stout belief in the global sustainability agenda. On the other hand, astounding levels of funding were allocated by the European Commission and other international organizations to deal with this crisis; Greece alone is estimated to have received around 2.5 billion euros. This created the space and demand for novel financing models for this purpose. With my team, I explored and undertook several sustainable financing initiatives and models involving migrants. Working in that context, it soon became apparent to me that although the “philanthropist system” does have potential in addressing social impact, it does not have a high “internal rate of return”. The crucial role of innovative and impactful investing beyond humanitarian aid became ever more apparent to me as the only way to attract consistency and persistence.

To pursue my heightened interest in this area, I joined EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), an organization with a mission to serve material, inclusive and impactful investments. The right timing and a lot of luck involved me in some of the bank’s flagship green investment projects and offered me the privilege to be mentored and inspired by some of the bank’s top leaders in the field.

Working with the best gave me an understanding of the international sustainable investment landscape and the disruptive effects of digital innovations and tokenization. It also reminded me of the saying attributed to one of my most famous ancestors, Socrates: “I know that I know nothing”. Or, as an eminent CEIBS Professor so eloquently put to us recently “to save the world you first need to be successful”. If I wanted to have an impact in this field and the world at large, I would need not only to acquire deep technical knowledge of the topics involved in such a complex interdisciplinary field, but also to develop my leadership skills and networks at a level that only a world class MBA can offer. And I had to do this in the context of a country with an unprecedented rate of development and one that is driving the world economy, leading relevant technological and digital innovations and facing immense sustainability challenges; if it also happened to be a country that I had already placed so close to my heart so much the better! The answer then was readily obvious: only CEIBS could offer what I was looking for! So here I am!


Confucius and leadership, China and CEIBS. So what do I think now? I ask myself as I put the book in its gift bag, it has been a tough journey so far, was it worth it? Again, the answer is readily obvious to me: every bit!    

I have found in CEIBS a unique learning atmosphere in a fantastic campus full of activities and events, engaging lectures by world class professors, emphasis on performance and excellence, access to a wide network of business leaders and an amazing community of classmates!  

My classmates are so amazing that they elected me as the President of the CEIBS MBA Social Impact & Responsibility Club – I feel privileged to be part of this class and I strive to honour their trust. The club is a great example of the platforms that CEIBS provides to its students to develop their leadership skills and help them to pursue their ideas and vision.


CEIBS is also a fantastic bridge connecting MBA candidates with industry. I was immensely honoured to receive a scholarship offered for the first time ever through CEIBS by Air Liquide, a world leader in gases, technologies and services for industry and health with a world leading sustainability agenda and ESG initiatives and investments. I have found my engagement with Air Liquide so far fascinating and I am excitedly looking forward to a deeper future collaboration.

And this brings me to the next question: what is the biggest challenge I have faced so far on the CEIBS MBA? Time! We are surrounded by so many unique opportunities to meet and engage with business and thought leaders and attend exciting events and activities, yet the busy curriculum, fully loaded with lectures, assignments and tight deadlines, leaves little time for anything else.

As the first and only female from Greece and one of only two Greeks to have ever studied at CEIBS, I reflect on another one of my famous ancestors, Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. Indeed, change is a constant in our life, including our work life, but we should strive to make the change we want and we should constantly seek to grow, transform and evolve. And this is the one thing that I am most excited about my CEIBS MBA experience so far: that at the end of each busy day, when the hustle and bustle of the lectures, the meetings, the team projects, and all other exciting activities of the day are over, I realise that I am not the same person I was the day before, I feel how much I grow and evolve with each day I spend here. I am excitedly looking forward to continuing to enjoy this fantastic CEIBS MBA journey to its completion, when I will be able to look back and see the transformation that I will have gone through and the new person I will have become.

Eleni Petri
Michael Thede