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From doctor to CEO: EMBA grad makes her dream a reality

  • Dawn Milne
  • |
  • Jul 18, 2019
From doctor to CEO: EMBA grad makes her dream a reality

Dr. Rand Askalan at Takween

Some people go to business school to be inspired. Dr. Rand Askalan, EMBA ’17, arrived inspired and just needed the tools to bring her idea to life.

Dr. Askalan, who is a pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist, wanted to open a medical centre in Palestine offering integrated care for children with neurological and psychological disorders. A Palestinian-Canadian, she did volunteer medical work in Palestine once or twice a year and became aware of the lack of services compared to those available to her patients in Canada.

“I decided something had to be done about this and if I really wanted to make this institution happen, I needed to know the different aspects of running a project. I needed more than my skills as a scientist and a doctor,” she said.

Enter Ivey’s Executive MBA (EMBA).

Now she is CEO of the Palestinian Center of Excellence for Brain Development, Takween in Ramallah, Palestine. The centre’s name says it all, since Takween is the Arabic word for genesis or creation. Takween is indeed a new creation in Palestine. It is the area’s first centre offering collaborative services – from diagnosis and treatment to rehabilitation and special education services – for children with neurological and mental disorders.

“Takween was all about creating something for the children of my homeland. It’s my gift to them,” she said. “There is a lot of deprivation here; Palestinian children are faced with challenges that no other children in the world are or should be faced with. To bring Takween into their lives is my way of letting them know that they are entitled to have what other children in the rest of the world have – that’s what made me embark on this journey and what kept me going.”

Transitioning to the world of business

But her journey in creating the centre wasn’t easy. From learning new skills to pitching to investors, there were many hurdles to overcome along the way.

She began Ivey’s EMBA program in 2015 while working as a clinician-scientist at the University of Toronto and a neurology consultant with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Coming from a medical background without a single business course under her belt, made the program both challenging and extra rewarding.

“It opened up a whole new world for me that I knew nothing about. Most of the people in my class came from business backgrounds, but for me it was like learning a new language. It was an amazing journey,” she said.

Dr. Askalan said she recalls feeling intimidated during her first accounting class and she wondered if she’d made a mistake in taking the program. Professor Murray Bryant (now Emeritus) encouraged her by reminding her of what she had already accomplished.

“He said, ‘This is just the beginning, you’ll be fine. Look at what you’ve done in your life. Don’t tell me you can’t learn some accounting,’” she said. “The professors kept telling us to trust the process and eventually I did trust it.”

Building a network

Her classmates also encouraged her, especially once she completed the program and began the tough task of pitching the idea to investors. It reminded her of an experience she had in the program when she pitched to Michael Hyatt, who was then one of the dragons on CBC TV's Next Gen Den. He told her it was a great idea, but he didn’t think she would find people who will invest in it.

The real world was tough, so when the rejections were too many to handle, her EMBA friends were there to tell her to keep going.

“They were a lifeline for me, especially during the down times,” she said. “I’d start questioning myself, but they’d tell me I can do it.”

Bringing an idea to life

They were right. She opened the centre on March 2, 2019.

“It’s a dream come true, a lifetime dream that actually happened,” she said. “Now I want to say thank you to Ivey for the support. Every time we had a personal paper to write, I wrote about Takween. Everybody saw my passion and they both encouraged me and gave me their criticism. I am very thankful for that.”

Now Dr. Askalan is onto the second part of her journey: sustaining the institution. Although she’d like to eventually expand the operation, either by opening satellite locations or offering services through telemedicine technologies, her first task is to make the institution stronger.

“The next step is outreach so I can reach those faraway places, but the operation is still in its infancy and I have a lot to learn,” she said.

Given how far she has come and the skills she has gained, Dr. Askalan is not afraid of the challenge.

“I’m still not in my comfort zone, but I came out of my comfort zone a long time ago so I’ve gotten used to that. Without what I learned in my EMBA, I would be totally overwhelmed. The skills that I’ve learned are invaluable,” she said.