Growing and Developing Diverse Leaders:
A Practical Model for Companies, Organizations and Communities
Empowering is a very popular idea and it is a tricky one. How do you do it in a way that does not feel like a top-down action done from a position of a well-meaning but unexamined privilege? Developing leadership skills within underprivileged or marginalized populations has been a challenge for many groups and organizations. There are dozens if not hundreds of leadership programs across the country that bring together leaders at every level and sector of society, including faith and culture, for training and networking. But for many minority and immigrant communities, there needs to be specific approaches to leadership development.
In Atlanta, I was fortunate enough to lead a team that designed, created and executed a Leadership Institute for the Muslim Community (it was open to all).
Recognizing the significant need for leadership development both within the organization and in the greater community, in 2018 ISB (Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta) launched ISBLI (ISB Leadership Institute). The institute was created with a clear purpose: to cultivate and train highly competent and effective leaders to serve throughout Georgia. ISB envisioned a program that would lead to a more vibrant, inclusive, and interconnected civic environment. To meet those goals, ISBLI was imbued with a set very specific core values:
EXCELLENCE – Embrace accountability for excellence in planning, effort, and outcomes.
INTEGRITY – Adhere to truthfulness, honesty and “walking the talk” of the leader.
SERVICE – Put the needs of those we serve above our own personal needs and desires.
By keeping these values in the forefront, ISB set expectations for all facets of the institute, from creating the overall curriculum, establishing a recruitment, nomination and selection process for participants, and involving leaders as trainers and facilitators to pulling together the logistics of the nine-month program.
We were very successful creating a model where participants attended a one Saturday a month session for 9 months to develop their skills on topics ranging from personal leadership, to transformational leadership, to diversity and inclusion, to running a non-profit and many other topics. In addition to the Saturday sessions, each cohort was assigned a team to work on a project. The projects included developing a public service announcement about Georgia Muslims.
Every workshop was facilitated by Fortune 100 facilitators or key people in their field conduct the workshop. In addition, every month we invited key leaders from across industries to speak to the class. This provided an opportunity to network with key leaders and also give them exposure to the Muslim community and its young talent.
Our goals for the LI included breaking down barriers between different communities, increase their skill set and provide an opportunity to work together and learn together. We also wanted to prepare these young leaders for other leadership programs across the state.
Our results from the inaugural class were amazing. Several people were promoted or landed new jobs. Two of the participants were accepted in mainstream leadership programs and they specifically mentioned that our ISB Leadership Institute was key in getting accepted. Another positive outcome, we were approached by CIFAL, a United Nations Organization, asking us if we can partner for the next class.
There were many lessons learned from this initiative (1) it takes a lot of work and connections to make such an initiate work (2) I was absolutely delighted to see my fellow interculturalists come forward and help this initiative be a reality (3) there Is a tremendous need for developing leaders and talent in our community and it was not done before.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my interculturalist colleagues Jeremy Solomons, Rita Wuebbler and Vicki Flier Hudson. Without them, the dream of the Leadership Institute would not have come to fruition.
Soumaya Khalifa is the President of Khalifa Consulting, an Atlanta-based intercultural, leadership development consulting firm. Soumaya specializes in the US culture and Arab cultures along with Muslims in the US workplace. She also founded and started a non-profit in Atlanta, the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB). In 2019, Soumaya joined the Atlanta YWCA Academy of Women Achievers and was named by the Atlanta Magazine’s Women Making a Mark.