Management grad champions business with a social heart

13 January 2021

Aaminah Ghani, 22, made a big impression at Waikato as an entrepreneurial and community-minded student. Now armed with a management degree, she is kick-starting her career next month through the Fonterra graduate business programme.

Family connection to Waikato

Born and raised in Hamilton, Aaminah is the third generation of women in her Kiwi-Indian family to graduate from the University of Waikato, so it holds a special place in her heart.

She graduated in December 2020 with a Bachelor of Management Studies majoring in Supply Chain Management and Marketing, after a challenging final year, and has secured a job with Fonterra through their business graduate programme.

Aaminah is full of praise for the University of Waikato. “My grandma studied here in the 80s, followed by my mum and my uncles. We’ve all had a really good time here,” she says. “What makes Waikato special is the staff and students. The university just has this atmosphere, this energy, where it’s all about collaboration, and you can create those connections with people in a really genuine way.”

Supporting women in business

Aaminah looks back on her time as a student at Waikato with a sense of pride, particularly 2020, which reinforced the importance of community spirit.

When New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown ended in June 2020 and students returned to campus, Aaminah decided it was the perfect time to launch a new student club, the Women in Business Association (WIBA), which quickly recruited around 100 members.

She was motivated by her own experience of entering the workforce on a summer internship. “It made me think, wow, I wasn’t prepared for this, and I didn’t know how to navigate certain things. I wanted to create an association that would prepare women for the workplace by creating support networks and giving them access to female mentors,” she explains.

“Lockdown was a big push for me, because I finally had the time to set it up, so I couldn’t make excuses any more.”

“All the crazy stuff that happened in 2020 has shown how important community and relationships are, and also making connections with new people throughout your life. Don’t just stick to your own circle and what you already know, try to venture out and help other people where you can, because it brings perspective to your life, and we can all learn from each other.”

Championing business with a social conscience

When it comes to the business world, Aaminah is adamant she wants to reinvent the rules.

“When I think about my future, I want to take part in decisions that are going to make things better for people. I want to contribute to building a humanitarian supply chain; making sure that every step along the way is ethical and abides by fair trade, so your workers are getting paid enough and you’re sourcing everything responsibility. It’s about looking at the long-term investment, not just the short-term gains,” she says.

Unifying against terrorism

In March 2019, Aaminah was elected as vice-president of the Waikato Muslim Students’ Association, just a few weeks before the Christchurch mosque shooting. The association sprang into action, organising a tribute event so that people could express their grief and show support for the Muslim community.

“It was just about coming together; we knew that as Muslim representatives on campus it was really important for us to do that and make our campus feel as safe as possible for those other Muslim students,” she says. “There was the feeling that you are a part of this community, and here are all these people showing up for you.”

But she is concerned there is still a lack of understanding by some about Muslims living in New Zealand.

“I was born here, so I haven’t had the same struggles as someone who’s moved here from overseas. But I do know what it’s like to think, I know I’m a Kiwi but other people don’t think I am, so how do I bridge that gap of thinking you have to prove yourself?”

Gaining a broader cultural perspective while studying

During her time at the University of Waikato, Aaminah has excelled academically. She won a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia in December 2018, which gave her the opportunity to work at a recyclable packaging company in Vietnam for two months.

“That was a really interesting experience in terms of a different cultural approach to business. Having good relationships is absolutely key in Vietnam; that trumps everything else. Whereas in other parts of the world, if you’re not the cheapest or you can’t meet the deadline, it’s a bit more cut-throat. That really opened my eyes up to how I would like to do business in the future.”

In August 2019, Aaminah received a $3,000 scholarship from the University of Waikato’s Management School to attend the 10th University Scholars Leadership Symposium (USLS) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The event brought together 1,500 budding change-makers from around the world to discuss how they could use their leadership skills to make a positive impact on global humanitarian issues.

“That was incredible, it was quite intense; you heard from people all over the world, including refugees, and a girl who started her own NGO at the age of 11.”

Aaminah has learned that it’s also about creating your own opportunities. “Getting involved in things has created some of the best relationships and memories for me; and those are the things that you’ll really remember when you leave university.”

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