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Rotman grad pursues social impact in real estate development

If someone told My Fatima four years ago that she would be working in real estate development after completing her MBA at the Rotman School of Management, she probably wouldn’t have believed them.

With a passion for building community, creating social and global impact and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) wherever she goes, Saya was recognized in her second year for creating and leading a diversity education program for the incoming MBA class in partnership with the school’s Office of Student Engagement and her peers.

Today, she is a senior manager of social impact at The Daniels Corporation, a real estate development company in Toronto – and says the link between the two is not as unusual as it might initially sound.

“Without cultural, economic or social infrastructure, buildings are just buildings,” says Saya. “Advanced construction is a big part of what we do at Daniels, but what we’re really focused on is building inclusive and sustainable communities through real estate development.”

Saya’s work falls under three main categories: social infrastructure development, local economic development and community engagement. One of the biggest projects she is involved in is the Regent Park regeneration project, where Daniels has been the development partner for its first three phases since 2006.

Since the project began, the physical infrastructure in Regent Park has been completely transformed for its residents, including the construction of a new youth centre, community arts and culture center and award-winning athletics facilities. The regeneration project has also helped connect more than 1,600 people with employment opportunities through the new Regent Park Employment Centre.

“No two days are the same in my world,” says Saya. “One day I might meet with the working community group in Regent Park about creating new job opportunities for residents, then I might meet with Arts Cape about creative placemaking that we’re trying to bring to one of the communities.”

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The Daniels Corporation was a development partner for three phases of the Regent Park revitalization project (Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

A typical afternoon involves meeting with the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades and the YMCA about CRAFT, the youth work program Daniels runs in Regent Park and Scarborough. And to end the day, an internal meeting on EDI – another key portfolio in her role.

“I’m constantly juggling two dozen projects, and they’re all different,” says Saya. “I got used to that at Rotman, and it’s also been a common thread throughout my academic experience and now at work—I’m always looking for that multidisciplinary approach.”

After working in the education sector in Montreal after her undergraduate studies, Saya recalls noticing a management gap in the non-profit sector. Coming from an international development and political science background, she figured business school would be largely uncharted territory, but took the plunge anyway.

“I wanted to gain those management skills and challenge myself in a new way,” she says. “I like to draw from different disciplines when looking for solutions to problems, so I was drawn to how inherently interdisciplinary the MBA program was. This is also why I pursued a double degree program and completed my master’s degree in global affairs at the Munk School of Global Affairs. [& Public Policy] at the same time.”

After graduation, Saya looked for a role that would allow her to apply her MBA skills in the social sector, with a focus on EDI. Meanwhile, she worked as a freelance consultant using the skills she gained from her second year at NeXus Consulting Group. NeXus is an in-house consulting firm comprised of Rotman MBA students and non-profit organizations, which merged with the Impact Consulting Group at Rotman in 2022.

“I was looking for something very specific, and I was comfortable with the reality that it was going to take some time to find whatever it was,” she says.

Now in her ideal role, she says the best part is using her diverse skills on projects that affect thousands of people in the Greater Toronto Area.

“At the end of the day, property development is inevitable as we grow rapidly as a city and a country,” says Saya. “It gives me hope that more people are accepting that development can happen in ways that build the social, cultural and economic infrastructure of our cities and our communities.”

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