Promoting inclusivity and accessibility, Ismaili Centres and Jamatkhanas around the world are opening their doors to dialogue and conversation – a cornerstone to pluralism and a long-standing tradition of our faith.

Whether within purpose-built Ismaili Centres featuring thoughtful architecture and landscaping, or a makeshift prayer and community gathering space, the Ismaili community around the world has remained steadfast in its continued pursuit of dialogue and discussion in order to shape the present, and help guide our future. 

The theme of accessibility was shared by the recent TEDx events held at Plano Jamatkhana in the United States, and at the Ismaili Centre, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, with another scheduled at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada in the spring. 

Beginning in the UAE, TEDxOudMetha explored a theme of “Exponential Impact,” assembling decision-makers and thought leaders across a variety of industries, the public sector, private sector, NGOs and academia, because “change happens most efficiently through cross-sector collaboration,” said Soraya Sarif, TEDxOudMetha’s executive director. 

Participants were encouraged to think proactively with an eye towards becoming socially conscious global citizens. The event was an enriching intellectual experience for those present, with the backdrop of the Ismaili Centre and its magnificent courtyards serving as a perfect setting for an exchange of ideas at an inspirational event.

The audience was addressed by industry disruptors and speakers who delved into thought-provoking questions, and presented intriguing ideas and solutions. 

Aziz Merchant, President of the Ismaili Council for the UAE said, “As a strategic partner of TEDxOudMetha, extending support to such a meaningful initiative that spreads thoughtful and relevant ideas resonates strongly with the ethos of the Ismaili Centre, which is to share knowledge, broaden the intellectual and cultural horizons, and to foster pluralistic ideas.”

Her Excellency Dr Maryam Mohd Fatma Matar, founder and chair of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association said, Today’s event at The Ismaili Centre is a clear reflection of tolerance in the United Arab Emirates and specifically in Dubai. What we experienced today was multiculturalism and diversity across all spectrums. The speakers created a rich mosaic, each bringing a unique perspective to the theme ‘Exponential Impact.’ It is wonderful to see so many volunteers coming together at the Ismaili Centre to give back to the community with a clear understanding of the values, rules, and regulations of the wider community.

Dr Jennifer Camulli and Steve Dering explored the impact of accessibility from an economic perspective, ensuring that businesses make themselves accessible to people of determination. They concluded that “the cost of inaccessibility is much more costly than accessibility.”

The Centre’s courtyard presented a unique avenue for forging new friendships and collaborations, while performing artists added a musical touch during interludes between speeches.   

“For us, the importance today is really to be able to tell a unique story. We hope that the stories shared by participants communicates our passion and celebrates the spirit of inclusivity, while inspiring the entire community at large. It is such an honour for us to be a part of our first TEDx and we truly believe that through all our stories, we can make a difference. I am very grateful to the Ismaili Centre for offering such a wonderful opportunity,” said Nick Watson of Team Angel Wolf.

Soraya concluded that, "when you bring together strategic partnerships, curated content, and an audience of change makers, improvements in quality of life become all the more possible for all, inclusively." Similarly in the United States, a number of thought-provoking questions sparked intense dialogue about “Inclusive Leadership for an Equitable Society” at the TEDxPlano event on 15 February at the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Plano, Texas.  

TEDxPlano curator Shannah Hayley moderated the event that was attended by more than 50 people.

Attendees were encouraged to become “intentional” leaders that accept diversity and share stories of those marginalised communities and individuals that may not have the power to be heard.

“Telling my story is the best thing I can do and it took me a long time to understand that,” said Farzana Nayani, a diversity, equity and inclusion specialist.

“I want people to walk out of here choosing their purpose, moving toward that, and connecting to the community to understand that deeper ethic around how we can come together. When we see the value of being the same, even with our differences, then the differences can really thrive because we can try to see how we can both live in this world together and honour that.”

This is the fifth quarterly TEDxPlano series hosted in partnership with the Ismaili Professionals Network, meant to encourage meaningful dialogue on issues of interest to the local community.

“It’s one thing for our opinions to be formulated by writers and by the media,” noted Shannah, but it’s an entirely different matter to “internalise [these thoughts] within ourselves and move to address blind spots about the role one can play in moving change forward.”

As a concluding comment, Farzana noted, “I’ve come to understand, in addition to transformation [of minds and hearts], there is also healing. There is a lot of trauma or historical injustice that has led to the point where we are today.” Her solution? “In order for us to progress we do have to look back and see the wrong-doings of the past, however unfortunate they are, in order to heal so we can all move forward together.”