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Music education app founder and Laidlaw scholar Margarita Bicec MiM2021 shares her vision for using interactive technology to teach the fundamentals of music – and reveals how inspired she is by the philosophies and impact of Lord Laidlaw, the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund benefactor .
I’m something of an optimist and tend to see opportunities in uncertainty – even in the post-pandemic future. This probably has something to do with how I was raised . When the USSR collapsed in 1991, Moldova, a tiny country between Romania and Ukraine, became very poor. Anywhere else in the world, my parents would have been considered upper class: my mother’s a medical doctor and my father’s a notary public – a public official who provides legal services like affidavits, power-of-attorney and the authentication of certain documents. A notary can get a decent salary in Europe and the US, but in Moldova in the early 1990s, my parents were paid so little that we lived on vegetables grown in my grandmother’s garden.
My parents shielded me from the harsh reality of their financial struggles, so my childhood memories are actually very happy . But growing up, I realised how unhappy most Moldovan families were and how desperately parents wanted their children to leave and pursue academic studies and careers abroad. My parents were no different.
My first significant international experience was during high school on an exchange programme to Wisconsin in North America. Wow. That was a real eye-opener; it felt like I’d arrived on a different planet. There were so many cultural differences between life in the US and life in Moldova and it was fascinating to learn a whole new social system and the implicit rules that form that. In Eastern Europe, no one will laugh at your jokes if they aren’t funny. But in the US, people are very polite; you’ll rarely experience an awkward silence. In the US, parents expect their children to be independent and even leave home after school, while in Moldova, parents play a supportive role in their children’s lives for far longer. I realised that I connected more easily with people in the US whose families were originally immigrants and where social rules were a little more mixed.
Having experienced life in Wisconsin, I knew I wanted to study abroad. New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) offers a very generous scholarship programme, which I applied for. I wanted to study music – I’ve been composing and playing the piano since I was a child – but I also knew I needed a plan B if a career in music didn’t work out. At NYU Abu Dhabi, I decided to pursue a BA in Music with a Minor in Economics. I was good at numbers, so it felt like a good fit – although admittedly a combination you wouldn’t necessarily put together.
My NYUAD scholarship led to four years of experiences and opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed of. I studied for a term in Buenos Aires and learned Spanish, and lived in New York where I took classes at NYU in orchestration and conducting and negotiation. The latter was a course that fundamentally changed my life. Before I took that class, I thought negotiation was about being assertive, standing up for myself and winning a bigger slice of the pie. Now I know that it’s all about finding creative solutions and even improving relationships in the meantime!
Being immersed in an environment of social action and positive change at NYUAD had a huge impact on me: as an Emirate, Abu Dhabi is leading the way in championing sustainability, certainly in the Middle East, if not the world. When I first arrived in Abu Dhabi, I only had one objective: to be financially successful so I could help my family back home. But once I was working at PwC Middle East as a consultant, all I really wanted to do was work on projects where I could make an impact. I found myself thinking too much about the unrecyclable paper cups that consultants were using around the office, instead of focusing on studying for the Advanced Diploma in International Taxation (ADIT).
I realised that being a consultant was not my true path and began thinking about switching back to a career in music or entrepreneurship. Moldova has a rich history of musical tradition, drawing on ancient folk culture with an emphasis on pan flutes, violin and brass instruments. I grew up playing a number of different instruments, mainly the piano, but also the ukulele, flute and cello.
I’d started to think about music again when the career adviser at NYUAD called me. She said she’d come across a scholarship opportunity for women like me to go to a top business school. The Masters in Management (MiM) degree at London Business School presented an optimal environment to grow my knowledge of business, and have the network, academic expertise and ecosystem to nurture my entrepreneurship ambitions.
From my research and communication with the LBS admissions team, I was profoundly impressed by the diverse and collaborative nature of LBS students and the incredible network of alumni who consistently respond and help out when approached . I also wanted to take the opportunity to learn and connect cross-generationally – and that’s something that set LBS apart for me.
I was on a bus heading over to play volleyball at my alma mater, NYUAD, when I found out I’d been accepted as a Laidlaw scholar. I was scrolling through my emails when I saw one from London Business School – I teared up when I read that I’d been accepted into the MiM. I had to explain to my fellow passengers that I was happy, not upset! It felt better than winning the lottery. I’d never heard of Lord Laidlaw or the Laidlaw Foundation, but he’s changed my life in so many ways.
I’m hugely inspired by the impact Lord Laidlaw has had through his philanthropy and generosity. He has literally changed the lives of hundreds of ambitious women with big life dreams who would not have been able to fulfil them without the education that his Foundation enables. That is the scale of impact I’d like to achieve. Why not? I’ve had quite a few privileges and lifechanging experiences; I want to make that happen for other people.
The idea for Unimusic was inspired by my co-founder’s experiences during music school. When he first joined, he realised that there was limited access to high-quality music education . The resources were concentrated, and people with great potential and talent had little guidance. Our platform aims to offer a music education hub for individuals with a wide range of abilities, from beginners to professionals. The platform combines affordable online music courses and tutors with personalised university admission and music career consulting, all delivered through interactive technology.
Moving to a new country during the pandemic has not been without its challenges. But I’m settling in well to the MiM and it’s reassuring to know there’s a cohort of Laidlaw scholars whom I’m looking forward to getting to know. Most of them are also aiming for social impact and I’m excited to hear their stories; hopefully we can support each other through the degree and beyond.
London Business School values diversity, and this is reflected in diversity of geography, culture, gender, sexual identity and race. But socioeconomic diversity is also hugely important in a business school. Ultimately, businesses serve a range of demographics, and business leaders need to be able to see the world through many lenses to succeed. Empowering future leaders to overcome financial obstacles and reach their goals creates engaged global citizens. I’d like to think I’m one of those now, and I’m so proud to call myself a Laidlaw scholar.
Learn more about the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.
Margarita Bicec was a recipient of the MiM Laidlaw Women's Leadership Fund