We are delighted to share that newly appointed Laidlaw Alumni Society Co-Presidents, Areesha Siddiqui (University of Toronto) and Suhasini Vira (Durham University), will be taking over from Emma Franck-Gwinnell and Lusya Manukyan this month.
Get to know Areesha and Suhasini
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Areesha: I am an undergraduate student from the University of Toronto studying a double major in Psychology and Anthropology with a minor in French.
My research focused on the effects of social and cultural processes that make it harder for homeless women in Toronto to re-integrate into society. My research expands upon the concept of intersectionality that links all three themes together in a much larger web of stereotypes, gender norms, and stigma, all of which need to be addressed to help the women get the support they need to get back on their feet.
Currently, I am completing an internship with Think Pacific, working with Youth Champs 4 Mental Health in Fiji on their mental health suicide prevention project.
Outside of academics, I love to bake! I love trying new recipes and using my hands to bake something delicious. One of my favourite things to do is eat some freshly baked cookies with a movie or a TV show (another one of my hobbies!).
Suhasini: I was part of Durham University’s second cohort of scholars, and my research focussed on the livelihoods of young people working in India’s informal sector. My fieldwork motivated me to start a social venture called the Clean Hands Initiative during the pandemic to provide accessible public handwashing facilities to vulnerable urban populations in India.
I am deeply interested in public policy and development. A few of my areas of interest include youth employment policy, effective and inclusive governance, and sustainable and scalable solutions to development challenges. I am currently completing an internship at the Institute for Government (UK) and will be joining the Government Economic Service as a civil service fast streamer in September.
I love art (and have recently gotten really into digital art), reading (currently on #15 on my 2021 challenge), and another hobby that many find surprising (scroll to find out!)
What are your ambitions for the Laidlaw Alumni Society?
Areesha: I am extremely grateful and excited to be one of the Presidents this year! The outgoing team has created a wonderful society, and I hope to build and continue their amazing legacy.
I have many goals for the society, one of them being to connect alumni with current scholars. This would help current scholars as they go through the program and keep alumni engaged with the society and the Foundation. In this regard, my goal is to have skills workshops from alumni to current scholars about the program, such as how to conduct interviews, find internships, compose a paper, etc. This could be in the form of Q&A sessions about a certain topic or blog posts. New scholars would be able to peruse through a start-up package when they join the Laidlaw Scholars Network about some tips and tricks as they go through the program.
Suhasini: I am incredibly excited to be one of the LAS presidents this year! A few of my ambitions for the society are:
- Connecting alumni worldwide and making them feel like they are a part of one big community. This involves creating more opportunities for Laidlaw alumni who may not have been in the same cohort/region to interact with other and share ideas;
- Coming up with engaging content and opportunities that keep up with the evolving interests of our alumni. This not only means understanding and delivering what our alumni are interested in but also figuring out how to make it easier for alumni to engage with LAS opportunities;
- Widening the range of professional talks, mentorship, and networking opportunities;
- Creating more opportunities for Laidlaw alumni to create social impact.
The outgoing team has done a fantastic job with the LAS, and I can’t wait to build on it!
What has been your favourite part of the Laidlaw Scholar experience?
Areesha: Definitely being able to meet new people from all around the globe! Being a Laidlaw Scholar allowed me to connect with such wonderful, intelligent and interesting people who are driven to create positive change within the world. I also love being able to create that change myself through the Laidlaw Foundation.
Suhasini: Hands down, the people. I have met such incredibly intelligent, passionate, and kind people through Laidlaw. To be a Laidlaw Scholar, you need to be really interested in your work and really dedicated to creating change through leadership. And this rings true for all the Laidlaw Scholars and alumni I’ve come across.
What does it mean to be a good leader to you?
Areesha: I believe a good leader can understand and respect everyone’s unique differences and create a warm, open space where people are comfortable sharing those differences. A good leader understands that leadership isn’t just telling people what to do and forcing their own point of view but utilizing open communication to ensure that teamwork and collaboration are the key factors.
Suhasini: A good leader needs to understand what changes need to be made, a vision to drive their actions, and a commitment to follow through.
But I’ve realised that no leader will get it right all the time. And I think the mark of a great leader is the ability to show vulnerability and admit when they make mistakes and do what it takes to fix those mistakes or prevent them from happening again.
What is something you like to do outside of studying/work that surprises people?
Areesha: I love to do art! I love doing anything creative, so that includes painting, embroidering, baking and reading.
Suhasini: I absolutely love doing pole and aerial! I began at university and have been learning it for over 3 years now.
Stay tuned for more updates about the Laidlaw Alumni Society, and make sure to reach out to Suhasini and Areesha if you would like to get involved! Check out the Alumni room to view all their past events.