Every year, the University of Cape Town (UCT) names inspirational graduates who have made an impact on the university, their friends and families, and their community. This year, Aamirah Sonday, who has graduated from the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) with an MCom, is among those ranks.
The first thing that stands out is her modesty. “When I was told this was an inspirational grad story, I kept thinking, ‘How am I an inspirational grad?’ The one thing, I suppose, is because I always tell people that if I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.
Although she faced challenges during the course of her undergraduate degree – such as not passing modules and having a few duly performed certificates refused (DPRs) – it is immediately clear when one begins to speak with her that Aamirah is an exceptional individual.
Born and bred in Cape Town, her parents placed a big emphasis on education. “My parents have always instilled in my sisters and me that education is extremely important. They always ensured that we had access to the very best as we were growing up. The rule in our house was that we needed to qualify, get a degree and a way to support ourselves before we thought about doing anything else,” she noted.
Instilling that self-starter attitude has clearly paid off; with Aamirah having completed a master’s in development finance and being capped an inspirational graduate in 2021.
Never too late to change
She admits that her undergraduate, a Bachelor of Business Science (BBusSc) with a specialisation in marketing, may not have been the best fit. However, she noted that the qualification has led her on a path to a field in which she thoroughly enjoys working and finds fulfilment.
“When I graduated in 2012, I started an internship at a growth strategy and consulting firm called Frost & Sullivan Africa. Then I came back to UCT to work in the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) – first as an intern, then as an assistant and finally as an officer – and I’ve been here for seven years now.”
“It’s never too late to change.”
“So, I’m not necessarily using what I studied. It definitely helped me get the job, but business science isn’t necessarily applicable, which is why I always tell people who say they’re not enjoying what they’re studying that it’s never too late to change.
“Although I continued with the BBusSc when I knew I should have changed courses in my first or second year, I didn’t end up getting stuck in a career that I didn’t want to be in. I ended up working in something completely different and now my master’s is in something completely different again,” she explained.
An inspiring path for an inspirational grad
When Aamirah decided to return to studying in 2019, she chose the UCT GSB for its range of courses offered and on the advice of many experts who call the institution home.
“Working at the university, I’ve been able to engage with all of these outstanding academics and researchers, and I see the contribution that one is able to make in their field and society in general.
“I’m also very passionate about human rights and ensuring that vulnerable people are being treated with dignity. So, when I came across the development finance degree, it was the perfect balance of being able to use my undergrad, raising awareness and helping to ensure lasting change,” she remarked.
This passion shines through in her thesis. The analysis focused on the importance of building a relationship of trust between stakeholders and communities in order to ensure the socio-economic bidding requirements of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme are able to uplift those host communities by addressing specific challenges they are facing.
Some of the socio-economic benefits derived through these programmes could include partial community ownership of the social programme, investments in early childhood development and nutrition programmes, as well as assisting vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled with equipment and infrastructure upgrades.
While trust-building is a challenge in South Africa, Aamirah said these tailored social programmes have an astounding ability to make a positive impact in our society.
“These programmes have the power to give communities ‘ownership’ that they would not necessarily have had and to reap the rewards by deciding for themselves what they need. When the initiatives implemented as part of the socio-economic criteria speak directly to the needs of the community, they can also help to uplift individuals and communities out of poverty.”
Onwards and upwards
Having had a major success with her master’s, Aamirah is looking to switch tack once again and move into human rights, with a specific focus on helping displaced people and refugees.
“Refugees are forced to flee their homes through no fault of their own; yet in many cases, the world turns its back on them and treats them poorly. I think what I have learned through my degree is how to better use resources to help these individuals and how to think more deeply about the crisis.
“Failing doesn’t define you; it’s merely a speed bump on the road to success.”
“In particular, my heart lies with the people of Palestine, who continue to be persecuted for merely existing on their own land. The world has called these acts criminal and illegal, but their silence and lack of action condone these actions.
“The only reason South Africa and its people are free now is because of the resistance and perseverance of its people, and the support we received from the international community through the sanctions that placed pressure on the apartheid government. This global support is what the people of Palestine need, and I want to try to help them receive it,” she explained.
In addition to working to further human rights for the people of Palestine, Aamirah wants to encourage all UCT students who may be struggling to keep at it.
“Failing doesn’t define you; it’s merely a speed bump on the road to success. Don’t think because you had a disastrous year – or undergrad – that things can’t look up. I failed and had DPRs a few times in my first two years of studying, but I got my BBusSc. Now, when I completed my master’s, I didn’t fail any courses and did really well. Remember that you can do anything with perseverance.”
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