CEO/Founder, Alia Consulting
Master of Science in Geography 2017
Bachelors of Arts, Geography 2013
I'm able to be a credible, recognized professional in my field, being a woman, being minority, and then being of a young age, it shows that us women have that platform to contribute and make an impact internationally, too
About Alia Abbas
Alia Abbas (she/her) is the CEO/Founder of Alia Consulting – an Economic Development Firm with an offices in Toronto and Texas. She was previously an Economic Development Officer at the City of Toronto. She has experience assisting local and foreign businesses with their expansion plans into the Toronto Region. Her academic accomplishments have granted her opportunities to work on projects both in Canada and the US. She is passionate about supporting businesses grow, expand and retain within communities. She was recently recognized as the only Canadian recognized for DCI’s 2023 Economic Development 40 Under 40 Award. She was also awarded for her COVID-19 recovery strategy for businesses across Ontario and her team was recognized by the Premier of Ontario.
Outside of economic development, you will find Alia horseback riding and enjoying recipes made from her cookbook.
What made you choose your program at York? From your BA to MA?
I chose York because it provided me with the opportunity to live away from home and to be able to have that quintessential on-campus experience. I think York University is the only campus with a mall inside, which was really attractive and exciting for me. Additionally, the fact that there are so many different activities and extracurricular programs that you can be a part of. I appreciate the fact that students had the opportunity to embark on a number of international experiences. Another draw to York I had was the TASTE mentorship program, where you get to connect with alumni who work in your respective field as it is incredibly insightful and a great way to network. And then it's also generational, my mother graduated from the Tourism and Hospitality field at York, which gave me a lot of ties here as well. But in terms of my program, I love the professors I had and always enjoyed reading about their research. I really appreciated the opportunity to look at geography in tandem with urban studies, a lot of other universities were not offering the opportunity to do a similar double major at the time. During my degree, I was able to add a certificate in disaster emergency management, which has complemented my degree very well during my professional career.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career journey? How do you feel your degrees prepared you for it?
With my background in Geography and Urban Studies, I learned about city development and about placemaking and understanding a sense of place. So in terms of geography, looking at why businesses choose a certain community, and then from a planning perspective, how do we support and attract those businesses into your community by looking at land use, planning, and zoning bylaws, and then moving forward in terms of disaster emergency management so that if a major business were to undergo a disaster such as flooding or a significant loss of employees, how would we work with them in terms of a business continuity side and support them. This last point is what made me want to pursue my Master's in Geography because I had the opportunity to specialize in local economic development, which is something I was very passionate about. For me, having that university familiarity, but also having that background and depth was very beneficial a large factor in me choosing to stay at York for my Masters.
You mentioned you used to work as an Economic Development Officer for the City of Toronto. What was your experience like getting into government?
My degree was a major stepping stone and played a huge role in me getting my foot in the door. With York University being in Toronto, I did have a baseline understanding of the current complexities and issues facing the city because most of the case studies we examined in my courses were centered around Toronto. Now, working with the city, I actually do see from a different lens where I'm like, “okay, this was taught in school, but now I'm actually handling those projects in those neighbourhoods that we covered in our subject matter” and that's where I feel like I get to leverage my degree that in that way, too. But in terms of getting the opportunity, it was because in my master's level paper that I wrote, I looked at university-government relationships, and looking at attracting a university campus. That was because York University was putting their call to different municipalities trying to expand the campus, and how they can be a part of it. From that experience, working with Toronto and then working to understand the different municipalities, I was able to understand the importance of university campus development, but through the role that economic development plays, which is the role I have now at the city, so having that experience in the courses, but also through the projects that I took on at York University very much helped me with my career advancement.
You were recently the only Canadian recognized for DCI’s 2023 Economic Development 40 Under 40 Award. Can you explain what this award means to you?
I’m very humbled to have been considered for and receive this award. Considering the fact that DCI has around 5000 members internationally and considering the field is still very niche, it's still very unfamiliar to a lot of people, it was very humbling. I'm here to advocate that this field is more than just about being an economist but knowing your city and the work that you do to improve it and how passionate you are. I'm very proud to say I’m York alumnus, and I'm based in Toronto, and then I got to work for the city that I learned about studied about through my courses at work. This award for me meant a lot because I was able to showcase that I'm a York alumnus, that's where I got this background in my studies. What it means to me is that I'm able to be a credible, recognized professional in my field, being a woman, being minority, and then being of a young age, it shows that us women have that platform to contribute and make an impact internationally, too. I'm very proud of that opportunity. It's definitely has a lot to do with my studies, my background, the projects and my job involvement, I got to be a part of different associations and groups at York University, to kind of do volunteer work to be a part of a sense of community, which I think contributed greatly to this
As CEO of your own company, what is a typical day like for you and what’s the most fulfilling thing about your job?
Running my own business is quite the learning experience because all projects require different areas of focus and different stakeholders and players to be involved. I am a people person and having my own business allows me to work with professionals across the globe that are champions of economic development in their own communities.
A typical day for me at work is that I have to cater to the needs of my clients and the projects I am working on with them. My work requires me to travel a lot to different cities and countries to work with my clients and to better understand their communities. The most fulfilling thing about my job is being able to work on different project portfolios. I am leading the conversations for these projects as an economic development professional with expertise in disaster recovery and procurement.
The projects I focus are: disaster management and how to incorporate economic recovery strategies, working with waterfront communities on attracting hydrogen companies, addressing cross borders relations in regards to USMCA agreement, developing and designing economic development courses to focus on addressing UN SDG goals, and the development of an app for procurement training. These projects allow me to learn and be a part of different communities across Canada and U.S. I am proud to be a part of these projects and to advocate business development, investment attraction and procurement.
If you could leave current students with a piece of advice, what would it be?
Make the most of your experience at York, engage with the Career Center, get involved, and complete your passport to success because those extracurricular activities you do, do come in handy, especially with your resume development. There's a wide array of resources and communities at York that you can tap into and be a part of. Importantly, make sure that you're always in touch with your professors even after you've completed the course.