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Mapping a path to success

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, July 16, 2017

SHE took the risk to takeover lifestyle magazine Mai Life Magazine as publisher back in 2012 and Naziah Ali has not regretted it.

Starting out as a young female entrepreneur came with its many challenges and she says she has had to prove to herself that she could do it.

The former Miss India Fiji representative has come a long way from her heady journalism days.

We catch up with the publisher on what makes her tick.

Lives in: Ba. My mum's name is Sereana Mataka. My grandmother's name is Adi Vasemaca. Mum is from Nailaga Village, Ba. My dad is Mansoor Ali from Sarava in Ba but later settled in Namosau, also in Ba. Sarava is next to my mother's village.

Describe yourself: I'm a versatile entrepreneur who loves challenges.

What inspires you to be the person that you are?

My environment and people around me inspire me, especially my loved ones. They are optimistic about me (probably more than myself) and that's what keeps me going. I'd hate to see them disappointed.

What would you describe as your passion in life?

My passion in life is multifaceted. I'm passionate about my business, my personal life and Fiji. I'm always finding ways to improve everything I do so that I can be a better version of myself. I'm passionate about this country and I want to help shape its future. I like to make a meaningful contribution where I can and when I do, it makes me proud knowing that in a little way I've made a difference.

What would you consider to be the most memorable in your career?

My first day in the Mai Life office is my most memorable. I had just given up my full-time job to start the business and there was no turning back. That day I knew my life was never going to be the same again. It was scary but also quite liberating.

What has been the biggest challenge you've had to overcome?

Starting a business with very little experience was my biggest challenge. Most people in my shoes would agree that being a young female entrepreneur has its added challenges. You have to prove yourself first before you can even start on par with everyone else.

There's of course the stigma associated with being "a young woman" in the business circle. The business world can be quite sexist at times and sometimes all I could do was to tell myself to keep my head up and keep going. There are times when business deals were offered to me with a catch, I've had to close those ties and walk away with my self-respect and integrity intact.

I've had to earn my reputation by working hard and proving my worth. The first few years were a struggle both for the business and my personal life. I didn't even get a dollar of the income the business earned for the first few years. It's been a steep learning curve and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have discovered a lot of things about myself in the process both positive and negative. I've definitely made countless mistakes that I've learnt from but I'm still learning five and half years on. There's still a long way to go.

If you could whisper advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Start a business sooner. Don't wait until your late 20s. Don't let anyone make you believe that you can't do it. It will be difficult but the sooner you get over the first hurdle the better it is. You've got this.

I am obsessed ... with dhaniya. I know it sounds crazy. People, who know me well, know how much I love my food with dhaniya and how I often sulk if food is prepared without it especially if it's curry. I'm like those people who take their own chillies to restaurants (except I take dhaniya) because food is not the same without it.

I can't live without ... my smartphone. I communicate with my team on my phone quite regularly and since I travel a lot for work, it helps me co-ordinate while on the go. I end up taking a lot of notes and photographs on my phone and it really helps me with my line of work. I'm also an active social media user so having a phone handy helps.

I am proud of ... the seven men in my life - my six older brothers and my fiance. I lost my father when I was quite young and over the years, I've had to look to them for inspiration and strength. They are all quite different but in their own unique ways they've shaped me to be who I am today. The funny thing is that they probably don't even know how much they've changed my life just by being who they are.

Wish I could change ... the way women and children are treated around the world, including Fiji. There's a lot of injustice against women and children in all spheres. In particular, I'm against domestic violence and any sort of abuse. The increase in violence against women is appalling.

Really need to ... make more time for myself. My work takes me on many adventures around Fiji and abroad but I always manage to forget to take some time to just chill out, enjoy the view and not take notes or record an event.

Can't handle it ... when we've gone to print and we missed something important. Then I end up asking for a reprint. Everyone in the office despises that. There are times when the magazines are ready to print and I'm still scouring through the pages looking for any error. I'm the most nervous when the print comes out and I've spotted a mistake. I'm a bit of a control freak.

I look back and ... remember all the fun times with my sisters. My three older sisters have strong personalities and I realise that I have a bit of all of them in me. Being the youngest meant the older ones' tastes and interests are somewhat pushed on you so I grew up being influenced by their sense of style and music of the '80s.

I relax by ... taking an unplugged vacation somewhere remote. It's a bonus if it's with my fiance. If I don't have much time to pack and go on a break then I grab a book, sit by the window and let the sun warm my face in while I read. That's when I'm in my zone - completely in another world.

I am excited about ... discovering new places. Every year I try and visit a new place and discover a new culture. It helps me appreciate the world we live in and in a way I find myself valuing who I am and where I call home even more.

I have always wanted to be ... a waitress. My dad used to take me to a local cafe when I was a kid. I remember always thinking to myself that the waitress in that cafe had the best job in the world. She can serve hot chocolate and cakes all day and when the cafe closes for the day she could eat all the leftovers. I wanted to be her.

Biggest weakness ... is desserts. I have a sweet tooth so it's hard to say no when something deliciously sweet is offered especially if it's presented beautifully like Adriano Zumbo's desserts. How could you say no to those beauties?

Opinion on the state of the world ... I think that Fiji is doing a great job leading the world in the fight to address climate change. It's an issue that I feel strongly about not only because of our vulnerability but also because it's a fight that needs everyone together. I'm disappointed when leaders in the first world don't see the effects of their action and inaction on us. It's not about just small island nations, it's about humanity.

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