This entrepreneur carved himself a career championing diversity and inclusion

SOURCE: Javad Mushtaq
The topic of diversity and inclusion is personal for Mushtaq, who lives in a country and city with few immigrants.

By Yasmin Ahmad Kamil 

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It took many years for Javad Mushtaq — a Norwegian of Pakistani descent — to realise that his background — as he has been told most of his life — was not a problem. Mushtaq grew up in a country and city with few immigrants and found that he had to work twice as hard to prove his mettle. His experience, however, spurred him to champion diversity and inclusion through several enterprises. 

Mushtaq’s parents immigrated to Norway from Pakistan to build a better future for themselves and their future family. As a child of immigrants, prejudice encounters were not uncommon. 

diversity, equity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion is needed for companies to attract the best talents.

In his youth, his teachers and peers suggested he was punching above his weight and encouraged him not to pursue his higher education due to his background. Instead of affecting his morale, it set him on the grinding pursuit for success.

“I had to not only be good to prove I was good enough — I had to work to be exceptional,” he told U2B in an email interview. 

“It took hard work and exceptional achievements during my business school, and work on five continents, to make me recognise that my background — as I had been told most of my life — was not a problem.”

Today, the 32-year-old has come a long way, holding a number of awards and accolades under his belt. He has enjoyed a thriving corporate career that took him across the world and is currently the founder and CEO of several social enterprises in the field of diversity and inclusion, education and lifelong learning, and youth and entrepreneurship.

Gumption will take you places

Mushtaq was born and raised in Halden, a small town southeast of Norway, and came from a lower socioeconomic class. “As one of eight siblings, I had to work from an early age to make sure I got the same opportunities as the others,” he said. The one thing that remained constant was his entrepreneurial spirit.

His first job at 13 was as a newspaper delivery boy. At the same age, he started his first “startup” — buying and selling more than 150 phones in a span of two years. “My second startup was at age 15, before I decided to pursue an academic degree in what I considered the best business school in Norway — BI Norwegian Business School,” he said.

Mushtaq has a MSc in Business and Finance from BI Norwegian Business School, as well as a bachelor’s from the same university. While attending business school, he went five years with no student loans, supporting himself by working two jobs four days a week. 

“In 2010, I became the first from an ethnic minority background to be recognised as best ‘Business Student of the Year’ across all schools and universities in Norway,” he said. “In 2011, we won the Harvard Business School MOC Project award with a diploma from Michael E. Porter, and in 2013 ‘Best Thesis Award’ by Oslo Municipality.” 

After completing his degree, he moved to Houston, Texas, for work before joining the “International Talent Program” in one of the largest corporations in the energy sector in Norway. 

“During my corporate career, I worked and lived in Malaysia, Brazil, the UK and the US before I decided to leave my corporate career to pursue my social impact drive,” he said.

Championing diversity and inclusion

diversity, equity and inclusion
His experience growing up spurred him to champion diversity, equity and inclusion through his social enterprises.

According to Statistics Norway, the country is home to over 800,000 immigrants and Norwegian-born to immigrant parents. The Norwegian government has, in the past, however, been criticised for lacking diversity.

Reports also suggest that many businesses in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland lack diversity. Boston Consulting Group, for instance, found that Nordics still do not embrace diversity as a business imperative. 

“The lack of diversity among the executive teams of top Nordic businesses is striking: at least 27 of the CEOs of the 30 largest listed companies in each Nordic country are males, and at least 22 of the 30 in each country have the same nationality as the company’s headquarters,” it said.

“It is evident that the key decision-making positions in the largest companies in the Nordics are held by an extremely homogeneous set of people.”

Mushtaq has been championing diversity, equity and inclusion in the past few years through his social enterprises. MAK, for instance, works to improve and accelerate the progression of racial and ethnic minority diversity and inclusion in Norway and the Nordics. 

It aims to empower diverse talents and build up a talent pipeline; educate and leapfrog diversity and inclusion in organisations and get strategic commitments from executives and leaders; and reshape the societal narrative on why diversity is a key competitive advantage through thought leadership, dialogues and working with policymakers.

Mushtaq knows from personal experience that minorities have a lot to contribute to their country. “The fact that I speak five languages, understand multiple cultures, in addition to having a good professional skillset, is really a huge advantage,” he said. 

“I had to go back to Norway and start working on educating and empowering businesses, organisations, talents and society in general on why diversity was an untapped potential and why we need to work actively to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity. This is not a problem, but a means to increase innovation and competitive advantage.”

Carpe diem 

There has never been a more critical time to work on diversity and inclusion than now, said Mushtaq.

“Businesses and organisations have recognised the importance, show a will to proactively change, pushed by the #MeToo and BLM waves,” he said.

“If you want to make an impact, accelerate change, and shape the future we want to live in as an inclusive and equal future, this is the time. And there’s a lot of opportunities to innovate in this space.”