SFU Beedie School of Business: Liv & Lola’s Alia Sunderji

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Alia Sunderji:
Social Entrepreneur – Liv & Lola
Associate Brand Manager – Tim Hortons
Mentor – Vancouver Board of Trade
Lecturer – Sustainable Innovation

Like many graduates of the Beedie School of Business, Alia Sunderji’s student experience laid the foundations for a successful career – and even provided the inspiration to found her own socially responsible business.

Alia is the co-founder of Liv & Lola, a socially responsible, stylish home décor and accessories online retailer. The company, which was originally called Soul Collective, partners with women living in poverty in Guatemala and Nicaragua to provide them with jobs, training, supplies, and ideas for products that are viable in the North American market. To date, the company has employed over 125 women, with plans to expand to India later this year.

“I was inspired by a business case I learned of in my undergraduate studies about Grameen Danone, a successful organization that was also socially responsible,” she says. “They created a yogurt to specifically meet the nutritional needs of Bangladeshi children while employing people locally. By employing impoverished locals to sell the yogurt they simultaneously provided them with a means for upward social mobility which extended to themselves, their families, and their communities.”

The opportunity to participate in international exchanges during her studies at Beedie helped pave the way for Alia to ultimately co-found her internationally focused organization. Through exchanges at Universidad de Navarra in Spain andESCP Europe in France, she gained a global network of business leaders that she remains in contact with to this day.

“My time abroad was so valuable – having context learning international business in an international setting added a layer to my education,” she said. “The experience not only taught me how to speak a different language, but how to be independent.”

Prior to founding her own business, Alia worked in marketing for a number of organizations. She started her career as a Marketing and PR Intern at Nettwerk Music Group, a music label that manages artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Fun, and Christina Perri.

She followed that with a position in Regional Marketing for Tim Hortons, after which she was appointed as Associate Brand Manager for Breakfast for Canada and USA, working in the Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto offices. In this role, Alia worked alongside the Category Brand Manager as the project lead for the execution of innovative breakfast menu items – a multi-faceted role that encompassed nutrition, legal, distribution, sourcing, demand planning, communications, and social media.

“Because students at Beedie are exposed to all aspects of business, I was able to excel in my positions with Tim Hortons,” she says. “I was involved within a wide range of areas within the company because I was well-rounded as a result of my undergraduate studies.”

Since graduating, Alia has remained engaged with the Beedie community, acting as a case competition judge for Ace the Case, Enactus, and coaching SFU’s JDC West team. She is also currently advising Enactus SFU, who hope to launch a similar program based on Alia’s Liv & Lola business model to support Syrian refugees in Vancouver.

“I always enjoy judging case competitions and learning from the fresh ideas students come up with even under pressure,” she said. “Case competitions are able to simulate real world situations that a book might not be able to teach you.”

Passionate about teaching and mentoring the next generation of business leaders, Alia has returned to Beedie as a speaker in class for the BUS 201 Introduction to Business, and as a teacher in the BUS 453 Sustainable Innovation class. In the latter, she often references her own business as an example, helping students to grasp ideas beyond the textbook and offering input on a real-world social business.

“Talking to students gives me a lot of hope for the next generation of change makers,” she says. “Because I also was an SFU student, students can relate to my story and learn from the different fields I’ve worked in. It’s important to love what you are teaching and be willing to share with your students. I am able to show them the process of launching a product and how it can change the lives of a group of women.”

Alia has taken time out from her busy schedule to pass on the secrets of success to a younger generation of business leaders. As a mentor in the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Leaders of Tomorrow program, she was able to guide her mentee through the different facets of the marketing industry – and helped him successfully land a full time job before he had even graduated.

“We are both learning from each other,” she says. “As a student, you are exposed to new ideas daily. I share what I’m going through with my business and he gives useful feedback from his perspective.”