Elina Ashimbayeva

Elina Ashimbayeva

Co-Founder, Storyo / Experience Designer, Ara Manawa, Auckland District Health Board
Postgraduate Diploma in Human Rights

When Elina Ashimbayeva was tired of constantly seeing the same type of success stories online, she decided to do something about it and co-founded Storyo, a platform that shares stories of women and gender diverse people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“My partner and I started Storyo in June 2019. After scrolling through and being tired of the same ‘success’ stories online, we wanted to share the journeys of our amazing friends. We wanted to celebrate people who are social workers, local artists and local politicians, sex workers and teachers. We also wanted to celebrate gender diversity! These narratives are shared so rarely in the media, making many of us feel like we’re not good enough, unless we fit into a very narrow measure of success.

“Over the past two and a half years, we shared stories of over 150 people, ran multiple community events, organised a video and podcast series and met so many incredible people. Some of my closest friends are with me now because we met through Storyo. I now have a team of seven volunteers to help me out too – how awesome is that? People joining this kaupapa that we created from scratch, because they also believe in challenging the stories of success that exist out there.”

As if addressing the gender balance in storytelling wasn’t enough to keep her busy, somehow Elina also found the time to work as an experience designer at Ara Manawa, which is part of the Auckland District Health Board.

“Ara Manawa champions the needs of users in the design of new spaces, services, experiences and products via the application of human-centred design methodology and co-design. My role currently centres around designing a health and wellbeing Hub in the Tāmaki community. We’re working to bring the last 10 years of project whakapapa together with current community insights to co-design an outcome to improve health inequities that currently exist in Tāmaki.”

A passion for social impact
Social impact has always been at the heart of her career, says Elina whose experiences include immunology research, health strategy at a Big 4 consultancy, UX research for a music education start-up and looking at online safety and security for school children. But the one thing she hadn’t done was study anything related to social sciences or sociology.

“I talked to a friend who recommended doing a sociology crash course on YouTube to see if I liked it – and I absolutely loved it. But I’m super extroverted and love having people around me so I wanted to find a university degree in this field. I stumbled upon AUT’s human rights programmes after talking to a few friends who work at AUT, and then talked to a few past students, professors and thought, ‘Heck, I don’t know much about human rights at all or the United Nations’.

“I also liked that the programme enabled people to keep working full-time or part time, which was really important to me. So I jumped at the opportunity, kept enrolling in one or two courses at a time and a year later graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Rights.”

She loved being surrounded by people who are all passionate about social impact, says Elina who joined a Pacific Women’s Watch committee right after graduating.

“My first course was with Associate Professor Jane Verbitsky and gosh, she was amazing! Going to lectures with her, being challenged and challenging others – I so enjoyed it. Being back at uni at a postgraduate level was awesome because everyone has so much experience behind them. I felt like I learned just as much from my classmates as from the lectures. Bring together a group of people passionate about impact, throw in a challenging topic and you have really wonderful discussions. We also had a lot of guest speakers, including from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and Living Wages Campaign.”

Advice for other students
Elina’s advice for other students is simple: don’t be afraid if you don’t know exactly where you’re going and what the plan ahead might look like.

“Most of us don’t have a clue, and there are so many exciting ways to cross-utilise knowledge and transfer skills. I wish I had heard more stories of people doing awesome things that were not related to their degrees directly or more people talking about not having well-laid out plans.”

As to her own studies, she certainly didn’t have a specific end goal when she started her Postgraduate Diploma in Human Rights.

“I didn’t have a specific reason for why I wanted to study and I think that’s totally OK. So many people always push that question on you, ‘What’s your goal? What do you want to achieve in the end of it?’ and honestly, my answer was ‘I just want to learn’. I feel that was enough for me.”

More about Elina and her work