ISBLI Reflection – Shomaila Khan

  “ISBLI has taken on the task to produce driving leaders all over the globe, especially when leaders are faced with decisions and situations that are testing what good leadership looks like! My experience at ISBLI will help me better myself and any organization I am affiliated with. Leadership is about service to ourselves, our families, and our communities!”

As’salamu Alaikum, my name is Shomaila Riaz Khan and I am a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent. I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia and moved to Canada as a teenager with my family, who still live there. I then moved to the USA as a young adult and call this place my home. As many women do, I wear different hats in my life. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, mother, healthcare professional, and founder and executive director of a local non-profit organization. I am honored to be part of the Islamic Speakers Bureau’s Leadership Institute (ISBLI) class of 2020, which consists of a group of exceptional leaders who are already making such a great difference in their communities.

I benefited immensely from ISBLI’s program in so many ways. Their partnership with CIFAL Atlanta, the United Nations training agency housed at Kennesaw State University, provided us with valuable opportunities to engage with some of Atlanta’s most respected leaders, influential speakers, and professionals. This helped us develop the skills and gave us the confidence to do more in our communities. Throughout my life, I have had so many positive influences that have inspired me to engage in community/charity work. From the beginning, my parents inspired me to help others by assisting their relatives going through hardships and through their volunteer work at the local mosque. As a result, in high school, I started volunteering at hospitals and elderly care facilities. My passion to help others even influenced me to pursue a career in health care. I worked at a Cardio-Pulmonary department as a respiratory therapist at Emory, where I was exposed to many challenges as first responders in a critical care situation. I have also studied medicine from  Medical University in St. Kitts & Nevis. Life throws unexpected yet amazing surprises sometimes. I got married and had two beautiful children upon leaving the Caribbean island.

It seems the stage has always been set for me to move on to my next role, and so with my health care background, I took the opportunity to volunteer at ICNA Relief’s Shifa Clinic where patients without insurance and from different backgrounds receive free care. My tasks were to help assist in running the clinic, manage and train new volunteers, and triage patients, and be a physician’s assistant. This wasn’t the only instance I was pushed to take a leadership role. At the same time, another great project called Apna Ghar, a Michigan-based home health care for the elderly, was established in Georgia for a few years. The idea for this came while I was volunteering at the Shifa Clinic every Saturday for a few years. I noticed that the elderly population was struggling to get much-needed help at home because many of their families work full time. I felt that the Muslim community in Atlanta could benefit from elderly care based on traditional values, where their cultural background, language, and religion are understood by trained and certified caregivers.

I was inspired to do charity work by Abdul Sattar Edhi, a great philanthropist from Pakistan who started the Edhi Foundation. Due to learning about Mr. Edhi’s successful charity work, I started volunteering for projects with various nonprofit organizations. Then in 2013, I used social media to start my own Facebook page called Helping the Community, to post about events and fundraisers that were going on in the community both locally and globally. Helping the Community began as an informative page posting about families in need facing hardships so others could help. Once the page built a larger following, I started posting about small community events as well. Soon this page became a platform where people got informed, learned about volunteer opportunities for various projects/events, or sent monetary donations to reach those in need. By God’s grace and my team’s dedication, the page continued to have an impact and grow its following. Helping the Community is now a Muslim-woman-led, nonprofit Organization that became officially registered in 2015. Now I have a wonderful team of board members and advisors who share the same passion and have similar goals. I make sure my team knows I value their input and efforts. We have a relationship of trust and we resolve any conflicts that come our way in a group setting. As a leader, I wanted to become better and decided to learn from other wonderful leaders around me! My intention was to network and do more collaborative work in in order to have a greater impact on our community.

I decided to join the ISBLI program because I have always admired the work that ISB has done to change the narrative through educating and leading by example in our community. Through this program, I was hoping to achieve the knowledge and skills to polish my leadership abilities. Especially now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a greater need to look at the world’s problems and focus on the solutions to overcome them together. In the past, there have been enormous shifts in power to benefit humanity and it can happen again! Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it is done!”

Over the past 11 months, the Islamic Speakers Bureau Leadership Institute Blue team was tasked with developing a sustainable mentorship program for Al Falah Academy’s High school students. The aim of the program is to support the high school students as they transition into their post-high school life by pairing them with a mentor in their area of interest and possibly giving them the opportunity for an internship. The developed program embodies the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: quality education, decent work, and economic growth, industry innovation, and infrastructure. This group experience helped me to understand that leadership isn’t a profession. My team for this project is a group of amazing leaders that are serving their communities with the aim of meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) of creating sustainable cities and communities; eliminating poverty and hunger; helping to build infrastructure; and providing education, vocational training, and good health care.

What helped break the ice working with my team was behavioral analysis techniques. Behavioral research suggests that the most effective people are those who understand themselves, both their strengths and weaknesses, so they can develop strategies. Great leaders are able to envision the end goal. They are able to see a clear picture. Al-Falah Academy and its guided learning activities gave us the opportunity to discover this first hand, and this has been the epitome of our experience. One of the things I took advantage of while being part of the Islamic Speaker’s Leadership Institute program, was the opportunity to build bridges through networking with other organizations in community efforts. During the early days of the pandemic, I led a 10-week long Initiative called “Curbside Hot meals” that served over 5000 Hot Meals to first responders and families in need in the metro Atlanta area who have been impacted by covid-19. This initiative was possible due to Helping the Community’s collaboration with several nonprofit organizations, sponsors, volunteers, and participating restaurants. The ISBLI program has shown me a step-by-step process for how to build and run a successful and effective team.

The Islamic Speakers Bureaus Leadership program’s opportunity could not have come at a better time for me. ISBLI was quick to adapt to the current changes in the world and successfully make this program virtual after reassessing the critical skills necessary to succeed and lead authentically, helping provide resources that will assist me in advance my own organization’s goals. This has been a challenging, yet one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. My time at ISBLI has been very constructive. ISBLI has taken on the task to produce driving leaders all over the globe, especially when leaders are faced with decisions and situations that are testing what good leadership looks like! My experience at ISBLI will help me better myself and any organization I am affiliated with. Leadership is about service to ourselves, our families, and our communities! We need to rise up and take the lead and tackle the issues we are facing as a community!