Samoan woman keen on wine business

A young Samoan woman is determined to run a wine-growing business in the Pacific islands in the near future and hopes her master's degree studies will enable her to realise her dream.

New Zealand-born Catherine Mika-Zahidi believes that the research she is currently undertaking in her pursuit of a master's degree [commerce in global management and innovation] would give her the best chance of success in achieving her dream.

She is currently studying two masters of commerce, one in ‘global management and innovation’ at the University of Auckland and ‘marketing’ at the University of Canterbury, while living in Christchurch.

A bachelor of commerce degree [international business] and a bachelor of commerce degree [with honours in marketing] from the University of Canterbury is already in the basket for the young woman who hails from the villages of Togafuafua and Vaivase Uta.

While living in Samoa, Ms Mika-Zahidi attended Saint Mary’s Primary and College and the National University of Samoa [N.U.S.], graduating with a foundation certificate before moving to New Zealand to pursue university studies. 

She told the Samoa Observer that her academic journey started off as a small administration and sales student, doing part-time jobs during her years of undergraduate studies, in order to earn extra income.

“Being a student was never easy, although you would receive allowances during then, it was only ever enough to cover rent,” she said.

Acknowledging that all students take a similar path, Ms Mika-Zahidi said those experiences give them an advantage to consider high job offers as well as build their self-confidence and independence.

“I landed a job as a business developer working full time at Shine Lawyers subsidiary My Insurance Claim and studying full time towards a masters of marketing at the University Canterbury which was also a huge challenge,” she emphasised. 

“Working from 8.00am to 5pm, rushing to attend postgraduate classes during my lunch breaks and studying after work was something I was struggling with, because I was also planning and saving up for my wedding during the short period of time. 

“Full time work, studies and planning a wedding at the same time was not easy at first.”

Ms Mika-Zahidi went through a few bumps on the road to get to her masters degree at the University of Canterbury, which she has now got  approved to undertake as well.

“I ended up going through different hoops to get into the thesis. I didn’t want to give up even though everyone kept saying it would be hard for me to make it with my workload but I proved them wrong and still made it to the thesis,” she reiterated. 

“It’s hard to get to your final destinations when you also have a lot going on at the same time.”

And her eyes have not strayed from her dream to become an entrepreneur one day and she is keen on getting into New Zealand’s wine industry.

“I had my eyes on one of the growing industries in New Zealand, the wine industry, and I decided to start another masters study with the University of Auckland to get a management perspective on the project.

“The management side of my project was also very critical and would require the best expertise available to supervise it. 

“The University of Auckland was highly ranked internationally currently in top 100, the University offered the best business school and was also the top throughout the country. 

“I got in contact with the University and they were helpful in sorting me into the master’s program straight away and arranging face to face meetings monthly with my supervisor.

Furthermore, she said adopting another field was challenging due to the different disciplines she would have to switch from one to another when doing her research.

“However, I am managing the workload as much as I possibly can. When I got into the Auckland master’s program, I also decided to quit my job at the same time so I can finish up my studies."

In saying that, she said that undertaking a masters degree study is literally a full time job with all hands on deck and it is double the workload. 

“The research process takes longer and you will need determination and patients to complete the work. It takes long hours of work and less hours of sleep to get through research papers. 

“Those that take postgraduate studies don’t just do the research for the sake of researching, they do it because they want to find answers on their topics that would have an effect on their careers or on projects they are working on. 

“To get through postgraduate studies, you would really have to manage your time wisely when you are in the research field because the days will seem shorter to you and you still have a lot of papers to get through. The process may not be easy but the results definitely seem rewarding.”

Ms Mika-Zahidi’s research projects with both universities create a foundation for setting up a vineyard in Samoa from a business perspective.

“With the technical part of my project, I will be initiating contacts with different organisations in Samoa for their assistance and guidance around the project,” she revealed.

“Agriculture and tourism has always been Samoa’s main revenue and by setting up the vineyard back home allows a combination of them.

“Wine tourism is a growing segment and is a great source of revenue contribution for the Samoa economy with the potential of internationalisation. If I am fortunate enough to also receive the Samoan government's support on my project when I submit my proposal and research, it would make all the difference.”

According to Ms Mika-Zahidi, wine growing in the tropics is possible and there are several tropical countries doing this such as Tahiti, India, Thailand, Bali and Brazil.

“Studies have shown that although quality wine is traditionally produced from temperate climates in countries such as New Zealand, US and U.K, this has also been made a reality in the tropics,” she said. 

“However consumers are not aware that wine can also be produced from such climatic conditions.

“Now that I am all in, it is only a matter of time, till I finish up my research projects with both Universities and make a move towards starting a vineyard back home with the help of families and several other organisations involved.”

Her advice for students considering a similar path is a quote from South African human rights icon, the late Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it's done. Studying may not always be easy but the rewards are all worth the struggle.”

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