From a Chemistry nerd to an enthusiastic campaigner to a UN Ambassador, Aliza Ayaz is making herself heard. In this issue of Boss Women Magazine, Anika Moiz talked to Aliza Ayaz.
Ayaz is a good interviewee. Her capacity for expression is mesmerizing. On her pleasingly symmetrical face, her eyebrows and chin compete to articulate most loudly. When she talks – usually in long, eloquent, multi clause sentences, which revise and edit ideas – she moves her eyes, left, right, back, forth, lending her thought weight to what she is saying. Nothing seems off-limits. We discuss everything: personal, professional, activism, fashion. She also writes poetry and a diary.
In the UK, she is a climate celebrity. “Haha, not really.” she refutes. “I’ve practiced how I should deal with people when they first recognize me”, she says, “because unless you are really quick about engaging them then they start to slip into this weird space where they look at you as this external being.” And that “being” is a global activist, the sum of dazzling academic achievements: an ambitious child, a graduate from a famous university, a sometime model and fashion plate, an emerging diplomat and now a newly crowned UN ambassador.
- What do you think is the reason behind your success at such a young age
It’s all a blessing by God, of course. Then, having a family that focused on building me – my siblings, my Khalas and Mamoo Jaan, my grandfather. Also, staying strong in the face of adversity, being resilient, not “chasing things” to make things happen but rather to make them happen myself. Being independent, not letting yourself break lose emotionally. My best friend Roshan.
- What’s your favorite thing about yourself
- Biggest hurdle you had to face up till now
I don’t view things as a hurdle. Everything is a test or an opportunity to grow from God. But I would like to speak about difficult moments. Everyone has them.
One of the hardest things has been dealing with uncertainty. What’s going to happen next? When will I reach all my targets? As a family, we have always been globally placed for wonderful projects, education, philanthropy and so on. When will my family and I all be in the same place, finally together for good? I am putting my 100% in, but am I going to get that distinction for sure? What if, for some reason beyond my control, Plan A falls apart and I’ve to revert to Plan B?
Another difficult moment was my keynote address at the United Nations. Initially I was supposed to launch a campaign by writing something “that a newspaper might publish”. I wrote a draft and sent it to my trusted colleagues, the UN and my publicist, and everyone had a different critique. By the end, I didn’t even know what I was saying anymore. I felt like somehow my voice was being silenced. So, I approached my second attempt differently. The idea of a newspaper article was scrapped and a speech delivered by me, in my own words, was born. I wrote alone, telling no one of its contents.
- Which person has influenced you most in life
My father Mohammad Ayaz whose courage, grit and persistence against all odds taught me to bet on myself. My mother Dr. Rana Najmi who taught me that generosity is a state of mind. It’s not about how much you give. My Aunt, Shehla Khan whose heart is full of gratitude and her soul made of steel strength. They all inspire me to be like them.
- What does being a powerful woman/ boss woman mean to you
Women changing the narrative globally are “boss women”. It could be the narrative of a student, of an activist. The narrative of someone mixed race, or Asian, of Arab origin.
Having been a sociontrepreuneur in my young years, from South Asian origin, outside of Asia, I know very well that many like me have faced the challenges. Therefore, I view any woman who knows good strategy is a part of good faith as powerful. It’s a new decade for us, a new era, for us. This is our time.
- What do you think is one of the hardest things women face today, whether in the workplace or in their personal lives
Being made feel like that they have to depend on someone. For emotional support, for stability, for fame, for social acceptance, for job promotions, for security, whatever it is. And it is true, you have to end up depending because you are not always the boss. Because as humans, we are emotional and sensitive. We want practical means to survive (money) but more importantly, we also need warmth. Don’t get me wrong, depending on someone is a beautiful thing but it is also a privilege. It’s okay to depend only when there is a “reliable” source – when you have person(s) who will fight all odds to make things happen for you. But nowadays, there is a negative connotation with dependency. If you rely on someone to boost your morale if you rely on a manager to forward a positive review for a promotion if you rely on X colleague to get X job done and it doesn’t happen as per the same quality or time standards, or if you rely on someone to keep your secrets, you are instantly vulnerable. You can’t totally escape that. Of course, the same applies for men, but I feel that women are societally more “dependent” and there is a big fear that sits with this inside us. The moment we overcome this fear and start betting on ourselves, I believe we can overcome many “hard things.” Young women now have thousands of examples to look up to. I always knew I was someone who prioritizes education and authenticity over the empty calories of what social media can be, for example.
- What is your message for all the potential boss women out there?
Your greatest life is on the other side of your greatest fear.
Be driven by purpose. I can never get enough despite the many achievements I have gratefully managed. Some of my friends joke, “You have done so much. / You are covered by tabloids or papers, you are sorted.” But I’m not driven by fame or money, I just believe in what I’m doing. Start something you’re willing to go to the grave with because it takes years. As a woman I wanted to build a campaign – a service – that solves problems and makes our lives easier. Fellow females should start something that could make a real change in the world. We’re encouraged by our parents to be involved in activities – so why do we have to stop as adults?
- Tell us about your future plans
I want to keep this a surprise. Let’s see where I take my life! I am praying and hopeful.