Scholar Spotlight - Habiba Mammadzada

Laidlaw Scholar Habiba Mammadzada on overcoming personal challenges, defying expectations and paying it forward.
Scholar Spotlight - Habiba Mammadzada

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Habiba Mammadzada, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on overcoming personal challenges, defying expectations and paying it forward.

I was born in the capital city of Azerbaijan, Baku, to a typical local family. Due to unfortunate events, I was raised by my grandmother away from my home in a small town. Growing up in a rural community in Azerbaijan, society’s expectations of me as a young woman did not overlap with my belief in my potential. As such, I refused to reduce my future to upholding typical societal norms and moved to Turkey to pursue my dreams. 

I was lucky enough to have a supportive family. My grandmother and my aunt instilled in me the importance of excelling in unconventional careers. They provided me with all the tools to manifest my aspirations. Knowingly, the expectations my grandmother put upon me were a gift that was uniquely packaged and initially reserved for my father, since his untimely death, I inherited the gift and wishes from my grandmother. Hence, she gave me the responsibility to continue my family's legacy via higher education and excellence. 

My early independence, I believe, has given me a strong sense of purpose, while my foreign language skills, along with the academic and social skills leveraged through my various projects, have instilled in me confidence in my intelligence, bravery, ambitions, and security in my sense of self, but one with an immense appreciation of and for others, and a sincere tendency to empathize with them. Applying for the Laidlaw Scholarship at LBS, I intended to claim financial independence and stop being a burden to my extended family. Likewise, the Foundation’s aspiration and vision align with mine, and I am thrilled to be a part of this exclusive community.

What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?

The biggest life challenge I have overcome is my survival. I lost my parents and my little sister when I was 5. They fell prey to the malicious intents of others and were murdered. I was the only survivor. This tragedy might well have soured some children's attitude to life or school, driving them into a shell, but my response was the opposite: I threw myself wholeheartedly into my education and social circle, striving to thrive despite my loss. I learned to embrace my autonomy through diverse places and people and make the best of every day, turning me into a better version of myself. 

Despite having a challenging life, my grandmother and her faith in me have been my greatest motivation and inspiration. Having her as my role model helped me overcome my grief more confidently. She helped me realize how much one’s efforts can make a difference in the lives of others. My survival made me hold on to life stronger and instilled in me hope and confidence for a brighter future. 

In 2019 with Warwick Summer School students in London.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

If your dreams scare you, you’re going in the right direction. Keep going! 

Sometimes, the magnitude of our goals might become scary and overwhelming, but that’s okay. It is because the possibility of failure might mislead us and make us doubt our self-belief. We need to learn to be uncomfortable in those times and trust the process. If your goal does not intimidate you, you probably underestimate yourself and don’t set goals in accordance with your full potential.

What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?

Don’t trust people.

My grandmother used to tell me this. After the incident with my family, she was scared that people would hurt me, and it is better to stay away from them. I am glad that I did not listen to her words. I believe that mutual trust is essential in our lives, the business world and more.

Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader

⚡️ Emphatise

⚡️ Listen actively.

⚡️Trust your team.

Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?

My aunt. She has been my biggest inspiration and anchor since I moved to Turkey. She is the most caring and understanding person I’ve ever met. She accepted me into her family, for which I will always be grateful, and she opened up new opportunities for me. My aunt and her family provided not only material but also moral support, which made me experience the joy of being part of a family. She is not only a caring mother figure and a friend to me but also an inspiring role model. Currently, she is the general director at our family firm in the jewellery industry, which operates in Turkey. The Jewellery business is a male-dominated industry in Turkey, and she has been struggling to prove herself within the industry. What inspires me the most about her is that she never gives up and never loses faith in herself. After finishing my studies at LBS, I want to help to grow her business internationally and make an impact on the heavily male-dominated jewellery industry. 

In a jewellery fair with my role model.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

To me, being a Laidlaw Scholar means a huge responsibility, blessing, and support at the same time. I feel the responsibility to achieve greater heights, am grateful that people believe in me, and experience the support of the wonderful Laidlaw community. I will do my best to meet the community’s expectations of me as a scholar. I am so excited to contribute and collaborate with the community, inspire and be inspired by each member.

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

Growing up, I was surrounded by courageous, determined women whose goal was to raise an independent and strong-willed woman whose heart was broken but has slowly healed over the years and who is dedicated to helping less fortunate women just like herself. Continuing my education, I hope to inspire others who are working to overcome the odds and defy statistics that many times demonstrate otherwise. I would like to create an inclusive world where everyone is unique yet equal in terms of opportunities. A world where children don’t get labelled or perhaps discouraged based on their gender. In the future, I hope to inspire little girls from all over the world who have been discouraged by their society to believe in the unique power they hold.

Quick-Fire Questions

📺 Currently binding: Modern Love

📺 My current anthem: House of Memories by Panic! At The Disco

📱Podcast obsession: Deep Dive with Ali Abdaal

📚 My top book recommendation: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Moving to London:) It was my childhood dream and it is exciting to finally realize it with a wonderful LBS cohort.

Habiba is a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. You can find Habiba on LinkedIn. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school. 

🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights

⚡️ Asha Scaria Vettoor on running a successful social enterprise and empowering rural women artisans.

⚡️ Xuerui Yin on overcoming societal norms, creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, and working with compassion.

⚡️ Paseka Khosa on overcoming financial hardship and advocating for unwavering belief in oneself.

⚡️ Fisayo Adeleke on her mission to increase women's access to opportunities, and dealing with uncertainty.

⚡️ Helena Couto on breaking out of your pre-defined place in society, and larger than life goals.

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