Thunderbird grad uses degree to propel venture of serving communities in need

Ashraf Atif Ismail Abdelrazig

Ashraf A. Ismail graduates this spring with a Master in Global Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Ashraf A. Ismail began his Master of Global Management (MGM) at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University the way many did — online during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he still found himself connected to — and inspired by — his classmates from around the world.

“The whole student body was joining from different time zones, but the program was still so seamless and smooth. Everyone was still engaged and didn’t skip a beat,” the Thunderbird SHARE Fellow said. “It was then when I knew the Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t something that is just talked about here — rather, it is truly pioneered.”

As a native of Sudan and the son of a political refugee, Ismail is passionate about using his MGM to further serve communities in need and provide quality education to refugees. He founded Knowledge Ark (KnowArk), a startup that helps refugees thrive educationally and earn a globally recognized high school diploma, receive vocational training or learn a new language.

He also notes Thunderbird and ASU’s 100 Million Learners Initiative as something he hopes to contribute to in the future. Read on for more.

Question: Where are you from and why did you decide to enroll at Thunderbird? 

Answer: I’m from Sudan, and I joined Thunderbird after my childhood friend (since the fourth grade) recommended it. He’s also an alumnus who always spoke greatly about his experience. He often describes his experience as life-changing. After having gone through the program, I can see what he means because this school has truly changed my life. 

Q: What do you love about being a T-bird?

A: Grace and humility. Despite being a No. 1-ranked program, everyone is so humble and hard-working. They want to live up to the ranking more than they want to brag about it. Each and every T-bird wants to give back to the school as much as they want to take from it.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I run (KnowArk) that is poised to give access to education to 250,000 refugees by 2030. If I had $40 million, I’d definitely use that money to accelerate our mission and further contribute to the 100 Million Learners Initiative the university embarked on.

Q: What has your experience at Thunderbird been like?

A: Thunderbird is truly a microcosm of the world. As someone who’s from Sudan, I’d be in a classroom where the person to my right is from Peru, the one to my left is from Japan, the one in front of me is from the Netherlands and the one behind me is from Australia. However, they are all relentlessly trying to find ways to collaborate and learn from one another. It is the true embodiment of the school’s motto: “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.” The experience at Thunderbird isn’t just “one-liners” that are used for marketing purposes; rather, it is a holistic experience that these one-liners try to capture a very small part of.

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