Western Alumni is thrilled to celebrate the incredible achievements of this year's distinguished recipients of the 2016 Alumni Awards of Merit. Gary West, BA'68, Melanie Peacock, MBA'90, Hafeez Amarshi, BA'95, MA'99, and Shafin Diamond Tejani, BA'99, will each receive their award at the 42nd Annual Alumni Award Dinner during Reunion Weekend on September 30, 2016. See below for profiles of all four recipients.
At 55, Gary West stepped away from his successful banking career to begin his “second half.”
“The Royal Bank was a great place to work,” said the former banker/accountant. “But I was ready to leave and looking for something different. My work the last 15 years has been one of the greatest joys of my life.”
West, who holds the designations of Chartered Professional Accountant and Fellow of The Institute of Canadian Bankers, spent more than three decades with the Royal Bank of Canada, working his way up through progressively senior positions. In 2001, he retired early from his role as Senior Manager, Management Information and Profitability, and moved to London to begin a new career in community volunteerism.
Shortly after arriving, a neighbour suggested the Wests get involved with the United Way of London and Middlesex, which led to a 15-year connection that is still active today. Shirley, Gary’s wife, now retired and volunteering as well, worked for several years as a faculty advisor at Western. “You can see how the connections just kept building from our early integration into the community,” said West.
In addition to serving on the United Way’s Board of Directors since 2007, West has volunteered for a number of other community organizations, including VON Middlesex-Elgin, London Community Foundation, London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care, as a member of the Board and two committees, including Medical Ethics.
At Western, West has served as a Director on the Alumni Association Board from 2007-2014 and previously sat on the Western Foundation Board, Ivey Alumni Network and the Western Senate. He is currently on the Senate Honorary Degrees Committee and the Alumni Legacy Committee. At Ivey, he has been a member of the Governance and Recognition Committee and has been a regular presenter and witness at Ivey’s Pledge and Ring Ceremonies since 2004.
Despite devoting what he estimates as between 500-800 hours each year to volunteering, West was surprised to learn he was receiving the Dr. Ivan Smith Award. “I get so much satisfaction from giving back. Our lives have been very good so it feels great to be able to give back to my alma mater and our London community.”
As he also says at Convocation each year, where he frequently represents the Western Alumni Association in welcoming new graduates as alumni: “Wherever life takes you, Western will always be home.”
Melanie Peacock believes people are the heart and soul of an organization. So much so that she has devoted more than 25 years to enhancing, and educating others about, the human resources profession.
“Businesses are profitable with and through their people – not at the expense of them,” said Peacock, whose work experiences and love of learning prompted her to pursue a master’s degree at Western. “I saw a lot of potential that wasn’t being realized because of a lack of strategic human resource practices. Now, I love being able to take my knowledge and experiences and share these with as many people as I can.”
Born in London, England, Peacock grew up in Edmonton and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta. After earning her master’s degree, she worked in human resource management in telecommunications and then a pipeline company and taught part-time at Alberta, Lethbridge and Calgary universities. In 2004, she joined Mount Royal University and as a Human Resources associate professor at the Bissett School of Business. She has been instrumental in the success of a number of initiatives, including the creation of a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Human Resources Student Society. She was recognized with the inaugural Mount Royal Faculty Association Teaching Award in 2014.
“I’m blessed my career has had converging paths in HR and education,” said Peacock, who completed her PhD in 2014 and describes her education as her greatest achievement. “Getting into teaching was a wonderful, accidental happenstance. I first taught in 1992 and loved it. I feel inspired by my students. Their questions and curiosity challenge me to stay current. It’s a beautiful thing to learn with other people.”
In addition to significant volunteering and mentoring, Peacock has co-written textbooks, contributed to numerous publications, taught courses to almost 1,000 people seeking the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation and is a sought after media commentator at the local, provincial and national levels. She was presented with the Human Resources Institute of Alberta’s Distinguished Career Award in 2014 for her work to advance the HR profession.
“I’m honored to be recognized for work that comes from my heart. It’s a privilege to live in a country where I was given the opportunity to be educated and then to use that to give back to others. I am grateful to many wonderful people who have enriched my life and for the amazing experiences I have had.”
When he’s not prosecuting cases, mentoring vulnerable youth, or teaching newcomers to Canada to ice skate, Hafeez Amarshi is providing light to children in the developing world so they can read and succeed.
“Lights for Life is the accomplishment I’m most proud of,” he says of the Canadian non-profit he was inspired to co-found with a friend while working for the United Nations in Central Asia. “I was struck by the lack of opportunities bright and talented children missed out on because they couldn’t do something many take for granted, like read and study after dark. We didn’t set out to change the world, just to make the lives of the poorest children a little better.”
The mission of Lights for Life is to provide sustainable lighting through the distribution of low-cost, durable and environmentally friendly lanterns that can be either solar or pedal powered. The duo targeted areas with the most need, starting with the Gihemebe refugee camp in northern Rwanda, and distributed the lanterns to children in homes with no access to electricity.
“We saw the change almost immediately. Nothing is more satisfying than being invited into a home to see a child read or practice writing with a lantern nearby. It’s a small act of giving, but it has a tremendous impact on the life of a school-age child.”
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Amarshi grew up in Toronto, where his parents ran a small grocery store. The first in his family to attend university, he completed his BA and his master’s degree in Journalism at Western. Next, he attended law school and served at the UN’s Office of Peacekeeping Operations prior to returning to Canada, where he worked in private practice before joining the Department of Justice as a Crown Prosecutor.
“My parents instilled in me the value of education and importance of community service. I’ve always had an interest in the well-being of communities, whether it was my work abroad or volunteer work locally,” said Amarshi, who was recognized with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his community involvement.
“I had a sociology professor at Western who really inspired my interest in development issues and to think globally,” he said. “He stressed how we have the opportunity to make a difference and to cast our nets broadly. It was infectious. That opened my eyes and encouraged me to think big and I’m grateful for that perspective.”
In 1996, in a Huron University College dorm room, 19-year-old Shafi n Diamond Tejani’s first company – and his career as a philanthropreneur – was born.
“Our business exploded,” said Tejani of the matchmaking company he co-founded with a fellow Western student as a way to earn money for tuition. “We were doing $3 million in revenue while at school.” Since then, Tejani has launched more than 40 start-ups around the world and received numerous awards for his business achievements and work in the community, including the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award, EY Technology Entrepreneur Of The Year, Startup Canada Award for Entrepreneur Support, as well as the Canadian Angel Investor of the Year.
His most recent venture, Victory Square (VS), funds start-ups in the web, mobile, gaming and film spaces with a special focus on socially responsible companies, international start-ups and female founders. “I’m most proud that what we do improves the lives of individuals here and around the globe.”
Born and raised in Vancouver, Tejani’s parents were granted refugee status after escaping a military coup in Uganda. Growing up, his parents ingrained in him the importance of education and philanthropy.
“As new immigrants, my parents didn’t have a lot of money but they made sure that my siblings and I had a roof over our head, nutritious food, unconditional love and education. With that, I realized that children don’t get to choose the environment they are born into; if you’re able to provide them with just the basics, you’re giving them a chance to overcome the possible negative effects of that environment. So, I made it my mission to help ensure more children and youth reach their full potential. When you have education, you have opportunities.”
Tejani’s family was entrepreneurial and inspired his interest in business, prompting his decision to attend Western, where he completed his degree in Political Science and Economics. Now, he says, he feels fortunate to combine his passion for business with his desire to help others live their dreams.
“It’s amazing. I get to work with young people who have the passion, the time and the energy to make change, to be innovative and to address global issues. Starting out, I didn’t have a lot of experience or established mentors, but I leveraged the great resources I had at Western. I really leaned on those resources and my fellow students. The knowledge, skills, experience, values and lifelong friendships I gained at Western played such an important role in shaping who I am today.”
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