Muslim Aid Media Centre

What I learnt from a week with forty charity leaders

This week I was fortunate to attend the American Express Leadership Academy which brought together 45 diverse leaders from the not-for-profit sector for four days of intensive, immersive learning. 

It was refreshing to be around many people working to help others and make a positive impact in their communities and the wider world. But it also was an important reminder of how far leadership in the charity sector has to go to be representative of the communities we serve and challenge the injustices and inequalities of the present.

The sector, and society in general, has come a long way. My course was led by American Express UK Director Charlotte Duerden, whose story of breaking the glass ceiling from a working class background was inspiring for me, and as a young Muslim woman, relatable. Our own chief executive, Jehangir Malik addressed the Leadership Academy audience too and his determination and resilience has been inspiring. 

Being part of a broad group of different people from across the UK reminded me of the importance of building coalitions in places we might not always think to look. I was able to count on the people outside of my usual spheres of influence to give me valuable advice.

I was part of the John Lewis group (which was a lot of fun because I love to shop there!) and it helped me think more about how charities and good business can find new ways of building ethical and sustainable communities. The more common the goals of a partner and the stronger and broader the alliances we forge, the more valuable the partnership will be in driving a positive change in society.

I also reflected on my faith and its teachings about leadership, and what this could contribute to an understanding of roles which necessarily require spiritual, emotional and moral intelligence. I firmly believe we have a duty to always hold ourselves accountable and ask if we are doing the right thing.

The Leadership Academy taught me that the sector needs to be more brave and bold in its communication methods. This also means finding more innovative ways to engage with our supporters. We have a world full of challenges especially where aid is concerned, and we have to rise to them. The turbulent political landscape means that the sector must show moral leadership in standing up to injustices and inequality so that they are not simply forgotten about.

By Lotifa Begum

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