International alumna takes a grassroots approach to tackling climate change

25 Aug 2022

Sija Soman was doing well in her corporate job in Dubai, but had a strong urge to develop new perspectives and take on new challenges.

Waikato alumna and Climate Commons Founder Sija Soman

She knew overseas education could help advance her career in a more definitive direction, so started looking into different Universities. The lush green spaces in Hamilton and being awarded the International Excellence Scholarship solidified her decision to move to Hamilton to study her master’s degree at the University of Waikato.

With 10 years’ of corporate experience, Sija enrolled in the one-year’s Master of Business and Management (MBM) degree through the Waikato Management School.

“I chose to study MBM because I wanted to acquire new skills and access smart tools that help managers effectively address the present-day challenges. The degree taught me to use the design thinking process to develop innovative solutions. It also empowered me with leadership and analytical skills to take informed business decisions,” she says.

Soon after graduating, Sija started working for the Hamilton City Council, moving into a role where she was able to put her news skills into practice as an Economic Development Analyst.

One of the goals she set for herself when she decided to move to New Zealand was to build a start-up that would have a positive impact on the community.

“The climate change modelling that I was seeing was bleak and worrying. As a mother I was concerned about the future of our children and wanted to do something to address this.

“We were all talking about climate change, but it didn’t feel like we are doing enough at the community level to change the predicted outcomes,” says Sija.

Sija set out on a fact-finding journey where she toured parts of the country in her spare time meeting with economists, climate scientists, academics, sustainable organisations and people working in the field to ask them what was the best climate action for New Zealand.

Her conclusion was that a bottom-up approach with grass-roots action is powerful enough to make a positive change. The result was the birth of her non-profit Climate Commons and a documentary with key insights from her journey. Climate Commons is a free platform for communities to come together and participate in practical, grass-roots climate projects.

Sija recently received the Community Award at the Waikato Climathon and has partnered with University of Waikato interns to strengthen her non-profit and develop new tools that help communities mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“The confidence I gained from the MBM program allowed me to put my passion into practice while contributing to our communities alongside. I had time on my hands with my husband and daughter stuck in India due to the border restrictions, and it has been extremely satisfying to pursue a humanitarian project in my downtime.”

Her advice to anyone thinking about moving to New Zealand to study is to set your goals high, follow your heart and be consistent in your efforts. Once you make the decision to go, then as the famous saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson goes, ‘the universe conspires to make it happen'.

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