Women's Month 2023: Ayesha Hamid Laher

Women’s Month 2023: Ayesha Hamid Laher

August is Women’s Month, and this year the National Research Foundation (NRF) is celebrating the remarkable contributions that have been made by women researchers for the betterment of humanity. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Mrs Ayesha Hamid Laher is a profession scientist and the sole director of AHL Water, a Level 1 BBBEE water and wastewater consultancy focused on the provision holistic solutions to water services challenges for commercial and municipal clients. Mrs Laher received funding from the NRF for her Master’s studies.

What impact did the NRF have on your studies/career?

I received the NRF Prestigious Scholarship for Master’s (2004/2005) and NRF Thuthuka funding (2006).

I was a stay-at-home mom and decided to go back to my studies to improve myself and gain employment. I completed my undergraduate degree as I received funding from a community organisation. However, I could not enrol for a Master’s as I did not have funding and required a basic income to supplement the household income. The UNISA practicals were offered through the North-West University and my lecturer encouraged me to apply to the NRF to further my studies. When I received the NRF funding, I was overwhelmed as it covered my tuition and provided some extra income which I used to pay school fees for my kids. Once I completed my studies, I was able to gain employment, and this changed the lives of my children and my own life.

What has been your study/career journey?

I completed my BSc in Biological Sciences through UNISA (2003) and my Master’s Degree in Environmental Science at North-West University (2006).

I then joined the SA Water Cycle Group as a scientist where I focused on applications of ozone for water treatment which was linked to my dissertation. In 2008, I became Director and scientist at CSV Water, a water and wastewater consultancy. My work included feasibility studies, process optimisation studies, Blue and Green Drop audits for the Department of Water Affairs, and municipal support.

From 2013 I was a scientist at AECOM, a multinational engineering consultancy, where my work also included the development of National Water Strategies for the Department of Water Affairs. In 2015, I became the Hub Sector Lead for Water Systems and led operations for the Water Systems Division which comprised three sub-sectors, namely Water Infrastructure Services; Treatment and Bulk; and Water Governance and Planning.

Since 2016 I have been the sole director of AHL Water, a private consultancy specialising in process audits and risk management of water and wastewater systems for the municipal and private sectors. I am also a lead inspector for Blue and Green Drop Certification for the Department of Water Affairs. I gained the entrepreneurship skills to manage my business by qualifying for and completing the requirements for the one-year M Category of Raizcorp Comprehensive Enterprise Development Programme and receiving the Spirit of Raizcorp award for the 2018 program.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My Master’s study focused on the use of ozone in water, and that set the scene for my involvement in the municipal water sector and my career going forward. 

I am a professionally registered environmental scientist in the water stream and I run my own company. I have 16 years of experience in all aspects of water and wastewater treatment: treatment technologies, design, operation, maintenance, and management of water and wastewater supply systems.

I have participated in various policy and planning projects, including the development of the Second National Water Resources Strategy which has contributed to the understanding of policy, legislation, water resource planning and institutional requirements for management of the entire water cycle.

Why is your research/work important?

I did not envision that my studies would bring me to where I am today. I have gained considerable experience through my work to contribute towards improved water services in the country, in particular through my role as a Lead Inspector for Blue and Green Drop which allowed me to interact and motivate municipalities to improve water services provision. None of this would have been achieved if I was not given the opportunity to complete my studies and this was made possible by the NRF funding.

There is still a long way to go to truly achieve equity and a sense of belonging for women, be it within the research community or society in general. How do you envision yourself contributing to this space?

I am an active member of the Water Institute of South Africa (WISA) and currently a non-executive director on the board for a second term. I also served as a council member for South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) in the Water Resources Division.

I have contributed to several water research publications; presented at numerous conferences (more than 15); and assist with social responsibility initiatives focused on sector building and citizen support, in particular, technical support on water issues to Gift of the Givers. I am a water advocate who is active on LinkedIn and featured in several television, radio and print media articles on issues related to water quality.

I know there is some bias against women in the water sector, but I choose to move forward and prove that I am capable through my work and my words.

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

I loved nature and wanted to save it. Therefore, I studied environmental science. God choose the water sector for me: my Master’s dissertation on water was the most interesting topic offered and that is why I ended up in the water sector. I love my work; I am excited to wake up every day and I do not think I will ever retire.

You may not know where you want to be in the future. Choose an area that interests you, trust your instincts as you grow and learn, and never stop learning.

Someone once told me, “Women are excellent at looking after and cleaning water and the environment because we are always cleaning our homes and caring for our families”. Women are strong, agile and competent. We can do anything we set our minds to.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

Related Posts