A serious road accident made Alysha Shivji determined to make a difference in her academic and personal life.
For Alysha Shivji the date is still etched on her memory. It was December 2013 and she had taken a break from her Masters at Stanford University in California to go on holiday with her boyfriend in Costa Rica.
One day while driving a scooter, with her boyfriend riding pillion, they were involved in a head-on crash with a truck. Alysha remembers nothing of the accident, only awaking in hospital with serious injuries. “I broke lots of bones and, to be honest, was very lucky to survive. I had no memory for quite a while and needed extensive therapy to help me walk and talk again. Ever since that day I’ve wanted to take advantage of being so lucky. It made me determined to do something that mattered in the world, to try and make a real difference.”
At the time Alysha, who was brought up in Florida, was taking a Masters in sociology and was developing a growing interest in issues around global poverty and human rights.
Her enthusiasm had been further sparked by some work experience in Uganda with children’s charity Unicef. As she explained: “I was working in the education department and spent my time going in to villages which had been affected by conflict and hearing how education was helping communities rebuild their lives. What it reinforced in me was that education is a great avenue in terms of improving your quality of life, it is something that everyone can agree on.
"My experience also taught me not to be judgemental, for instance when a parent sends their child to work on a farm rather than to school. It gave me an insight into the reasons why those families make those decisions. Often the solution can be about trying to find a middle way.”
Alysha has roots in Africa herself as her father, who works in global real estate, was originally from Tanzania and when younger she spent some summers in Uganda with her family visiting her father and volunteering at a local orphanage. “It exposed me to issues around childhood poverty from a very young age.”
In the summer after her accident Alysha had another stint working for Unicef, this time in New York in the end trafficking department. Then, after graduating, she decided to stay in California and took a job with Apple as a research analyst looking at customer experience research.
As she adds: “It gave me excellent experience in terms of exposing me to the global business community and exactly how a company such as Apple operates. It has a very strong social responsibility focus and the job really helped me develop my research skills and how to talk about and apply research in a business setting. I also spent some time in Hong Kong with the company for a new product launch and worked at one of the factories there.”
It was while working at Apple that she saw an advert for an opportunity to take a PhD at Alliance MBS studying modern-day slavery and supply chains. “I looked at the advert and thought this is right up my street and it was an amazing opportunity, so went for it.” It also helped that Alysha has family links to Manchester as her mother, who is a Montessori teacher, is from the city.
After starting the course in September last year, she says there has never been a more opportune moment to be looking at such issues. “This is a particularly exciting time to be researching this field as the wider business and human rights agenda is gaining ever more traction with businesses and governments. Why are businesses so interested in this agenda right now? I think it comes down to the fact that companies can no longer simply turn a blind eye to these issues, whether it’s from consumers, stakeholders or investors.
“In particular consumers are asking more and more questions. Brands realise that this has to be core to their business strategy, that they have to extend their sphere of responsibility beyond just shareholders. What we have also seen in recent times is that once one business takes action, others follow.”
Alysha's own research is now concentrating on access to remedy. "There is a big gap in the research in this area. For instance if you take a victim of slavery, the state role could be about providing a visa and allowing that person to stay in a country. The corporate role could be about providing that person with another job.
“What is clear is that states, corporations and NGOs all have to work together, they all need to take shared responsibility for victims, they all need to collaborate. That is the most important thing.”