Living on locusts: Iceland LIV – Lauder Intercultural Venture


Panel of five FKA members: Icelandic Women in Business Leaders Association

Subzero experiences, breakfast in an original Viking voyage ship, and shark tasting were all great things to do in Iceland.

Here I learned about leadership, gender nuances, and technology. Although COVID-19 is not completely eradicated, the Lauder Institute has resumed travel related to studies. Coming to Iceland to participate in this multicultural exchange, known as Living Intercultural Venture (LIVs) has been an incredible experience. In general, LIVs are structured to have cultural, educational and professional components; these excursions can complement research, recruitment activities or the intellectual curiosity of students. Students in the Lauder program must complete two LIVs as a condition of graduation. Because these intercultural learning ventures are a requirement for graduation, excursions are offered to Alaska, Poland, Ukraine, Israel, Senegal, and India. Although there are different travel destinations offered, I chose to join the Iceland trip.

Serene Darwish, Daisy Rincon and Azline Nelson posing outside the home of the President of Iceland (left to right)


For seven consecutive years, Iceland has dominated the World Economic Forum’s survey on gender equality. In fact, this island nation is ranked high for closing the gender gap in their survey. Island democratic processes have centered women, technology and the development of the Internet system in its legislative changes. This has stimulated innovation within organizations, talent management and improved other socio-ethological dynamics.

While the majority of the learning took place in Reykjavik, which translates to Smoky berry, 45 dual degree MBA / MA candidates at Wharton School and Lauder Institute started the learning experience through Zoom to meet our local Island teachers, Nora Madison and Mathias Klang. This original married couple provided background and background knowledge on gender equality, organizational change and the historical context of Nordic, Scandinavian and linguistic countries. It is incredible that the island language remains unchanged from Ancient Norse, so a text over 1000 years old can still be easily understood.

In addition, national legislation includes 35 articles dealing with inequalities, the gender pay gap and the composition of boards of directors. In 2003, Iceland demanded that all companies have 40% women on the board, and non-compliant companies be fined. Nora and Mathias actively reinforced the daily implications of this legislation during the multicultural exchange. This experiential learning completed both the academic deliverables during the journey and the final leadership essay. Indeed, LIVs are not a vacation for Lauder students. Students were organized in groups of 6-8 people and had to complete reflections and leadership compositions, read additional literature, and create a final PowerPoint presentation.

Azline at the First Colony in Reykjavik – Pose indoors around the living and entertainment area


Iceland in October looked like January in the northeast and we were strongly encouraged to bring layers of clothing, rain resistant clothing and extra socks. However, the weather did not prevent any outdoor activity that was the order of the day. It was amazing to visit the glaciers, geysers, black pebble beach and tectonic plates that separated Eurasia and North America. My favorite was the Shark Museum. Fermented shark meat is a regional specialty. While visiting the museum, we explored the history of shark fishing and tasted shark meat! It was definitely a unique moment and I didn’t hate it. I also tasted Minke Whale and was NOT a fan.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the traditional hut of the first settlers in Iceland and the discovery of Egill Skallagrímsson, an Icelandic farmer and poet. We explored this way of life, including their diet, wool spinning, and dyeing. We even saw their hunting tools. During this excursion we tasted lamb liver sausage, mutton brains and a yogurt dish. I didn’t taste the sausage or the brain but others in the group claimed to enjoy the food. I had to draw the line somewhere. What I take away here is to develop a cultural sensitivity around traditional Icelandic standards. It also opened our eyes to understanding the coping mechanisms in extreme weather and isolation.

Storytelling is extremely important in Icelandic culture and served as a form of entertainment for the early settlers. Our guide, Júliús Theodórsson, shared many anecdotes about how he and his grandfather connected with football, stories and consuming fermented shark when he was young. Iceland is an island country of around 360,000 people and family is extremely important. This encouraged other students in the program to open up about their own background and family life as well to facilitate bonding. These moments are essential within the MBA community and traveling together has brought us closer as an intercultural community.

Lauder students Azline Nelson and Daisy Rincon with Crowberry Capital founder Helga Valfellas (left to right: Azline, Helga, Daisy)


Gender equality in business was a central theme of the LIV. Five women from FKA – Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Iceland – spoke to us about leadership in the workplace and their careers. While Icelandic law supports women in business and states that women should be represented on the board, it does not directly translate into gender parity in the company. There may be a woman on the team, but her voice may not be appreciated in the room. FKA member Greta shared an anecdote about how men perceive women as ‘harassing’ when women discuss how to improve workplace dynamics.

This negative connotation and association with the use of the female voice is disheartening and reveals that although women have a seat at the table, their voices can fall on deaf ears when contributing to the strategy. of the company. Therefore, FKA is pushing for two women on the team to form alliances and have a counterpart to discuss their professional challenges. In addition, women do not have access to venture capital in entrepreneurship. This is a global phenomenon and our group heard from two companies, WomenTech Iceland and Crowberry Capital, discuss how to stimulate innovation and the flow of new businesses.

Crowberry Capital is run by women and is the largest venture capital fund operating in Iceland. Founder Helga Valfellas spoke to our group about her challenges in raising funds and her commitment to invest in more women entrepreneurs. Helga explained that women have to work harder to prove that they are good investors compared to men. For example, other venture capitalists have not invested in ANY business run by women and they are rarely criticized. To mitigate this problematic trend, Helga and her management team have a duty to meet with every entrepreneur who reaches out. If the business is not desirable for Crowberry at this time, the Helga team has a network of resources dedicated to improving the business model.

Group photo at the home of the President of Iceland – Note that there is NO security guarding the house


Crowberry Capital actively organizes a pipeline of companies to have a constant and diverse flow of business for investments. In this case, while there is a lack of gender parity and access to capital for women, this company has a multi-step plan to ensure that women have development and funding opportunities. . Currently, the portfolio is made up of 30% of companies headed by women. Helga generously offered her company as a resource to students interested in VC, which could lead to internships and other professional relationships in the Nordic countries.

Iceland has been on my to-do list for about five years and visiting this country with my classmates, courtesy of the Lauder Institute, will forever be an MBA highlight. I learned about traditional Icelandic culture, made professional and personal connections, and was better educated on gender parity within the business ecosystem. I am by no means an expert, but I feel more confident to come up with fair solutions in the workplace after the LIV in Iceland.

My MBA experience becomes more normal after COVID and I appreciate the quality of this college trip to bond with my Lauder classmates. Having small group dinners every night, sharing fun travel stories, and building a stronger fellowship with my travel roommate were very special memories of Iceland. This LIV has facilitated hands-on learning and multicultural engagement that I will pursue throughout my career, as a mentor, advocate and champion of women in leadership. This was the first of many experiences outside of the Zoom classroom and I look forward to more fruitful and diverse learning environments. I hope to see you “Living on locusts”With a soul, a purpose and a spirit of collaboration!

Azline is originally from Waterloo, IA, and became a Gates Millennium National Scholar in 2009. She studied International Studies and French at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated Cum Laude in 2013. During her undergraduate studies, she studied abroad at Fort-de. -France, Martinique and Geneva, Switzerland, and also interned at Black Entertainment Network and Google, Inc. Azline worked for Delta Air Lines for seven years before starting an MBA / MA dual degree program at Wharton School and at the Lauder Institute.





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