Family and faith instilled a sense of volunteerism in Ayaz Bhanji, ’91 BSc(Pharm), early in life. He grew up serving meals to seniors, helping to prepare for prayer services and giving rides to families without cars. Today, the former pharmacist owns the largest Re/Max real estate office in Edmonton, and service to community continues to permeate his life — from past involvement with the Children’s Miracle Network to sitting as president of the Aga Khan Council for Edmonton. It wasn’t until he volunteered with the University of Alberta’s Alumni Council, though, that he realized the potential of the alumni body. Now that he’s poised to take over the association’s presidency in June, we chatted with Bhanji about the benefits of giving back.
You graduated back in 1991; what made you want to stay connected to the U of A?
I often tell my children that university will be the best time of their lives. I became the vice-president of the Ismaili Students Association in my third year of pharmacy school. Each year we would organize a camp for first-year students to help them get comfortable with their new environment and to network with peers — socializing, cooking together, singing songs around the fire. Now, as an alumnus, I realize that the warmth and passion I have for my university stems directly from the opportunity it gave me as a student to serve and meet the people who are now my best friends.
What led you to get involved with the Alumni Association?
When I was still practising pharmacy, I was a clinical instructor at the U of A. I was also a guest speaker on entrepreneurship in the economics course taught to third- and fourth-year pharmacy students. Becoming a member on Alumni Council really opened my eyes to what the association does for alumni — from offering OneCard access to the campus libraries to events like Alumni Weekend. It also offers a lot of ways to give back to the university and community, such as volunteering or becoming a mentor to current students.
Volunteerism is a huge part of your life. What do you get from giving back?
Without volunteering, my life would feel empty and without purpose, and to me it is a privilege and a blessing.
What excites you most about the future of the association?
A lot of people want to make a difference to society once they graduate, and becoming involved with the association is a great vehicle for that. We have the opportunity to mobilize the time and knowledge of more than 275,000 alumni. I believe time and knowledge are the most valuable currency — if we can harness it, it’s as precious as any other resource.
This interview has been edited and condensed.