Professional sports are popular around the world and until recently, little was known about the many Ismailis working in the field of athletics. A new event, called the Pioneers Retreat, is hoping to bring these Ismaili professionals out of the woodwork.

The Pioneers Retreat is part of Global Encounters (GE), which is a new institution that harnesses and advances the potential of the Jamat through a wide variety of international initiatives. One of the pillars of GE is the Talent Institute, which identifies, develops, and promotes world-class talent in sports, arts, education, and youth leadership.

Danish Pradhan, Project Manager for the North American Pioneers Retreat, said the idea came from the Ismaili professional networks that exist for other types of work.

“We have formal networks for doctors, lawyers, engineers, and almost every other professional group, except for sports professionals and elite athletes within our community.” Danish said. “The goal of this event was to create a space for them to engage with each other and the community.”

The Retreats are expected to be held in different locations around the world, with the first recently taking place in Los Angeles, California, where 56 elite athletes and sports professionals from across North America convened for a weekend to cultivate relationships, share best practices, and engage in professional development. The participants represented prestigious organisations including ESPN, NBA, NHL, NFL, UFC, WNBA, MLB, and more. Individuals bonded over the shared challenges of their craft, the genuine pride for one another’s achievements, and the unique opportunity to be part of a small group of Ismailis forging new pathways in sport.

The event kicked off with an entertaining fireside chat featuring NBA sports reporter Shams Charania. Toronto Raptors scouting coordinator, Aleem Hassanali, and others also shared stories of their career paths in the NBA. Sessions included topics such as representation in sports, building your brand, and the future of sports and media. Content panellists and moderators were experts in their respective fields, and offered insightful and open perspectives to their peers.

Among the seasoned panellists was President and CEO of the Bay Area Host Committee, Zaileen Janmohamed. She leads all preparations for the San Francisco Bay Area to host events such as the 2026 FIFA World Cup™.

“Twenty years ago,” Zaileen said, “I was perhaps the only Ismaili working in sport in North America. I am so amazed at the growth of our community in the sports industry. The Pioneers Retreat allowed us to come together and discuss ways in which we can propel ourselves even further, and feel comfortable, proud and excel, in an industry that is not typically diverse.”

In addition to providing an intimate platform for participants to share their experience, the Retreat enabled select athletes to lead training sessions in areas such as kickboxing, mobility and visualisation, and pickleball throughout the weekend.

As part of GE’s mission of connecting talent in multiple industries, on Saturday night, the Pioneers Retreat welcomed a number of distinguished local artists to dinner, including talented actors, dancers, singers, and others. Rizwan Manji, a professional actor, provided opening remarks to the smiling crowd and shared his thoughts following the event.

“What an amazing opportunity for artists and athletes to come together and share ideas,” he said. “The Ismaili talent in both these fields is tremendous and I’m hoping we all get to do this again and invite more folks to the table.”

Rizwan’s hopes may be answered sooner than expected.

The spirited gathering represented a microcosm of the global talent footprint. According to Zahra Hayat, Lead for the Global Encounters Talent Institute, it is just a prelude to the organisation’s future plans.

“This crucial milestone, Pioneers Retreat, marks a vibrant stride forward in the captivating journey of sports and arts within the Jamat,” she said. “With eager anticipation, we will host retreats in other parts of the world, and envision a convergence of talents from across the globe culminating next summer at the GE Festival 2024 in Dubai, featuring Jubilee Games and Jubilee Arts.”

To support the development of high potential athletic and artistic talent in the Jamat, visit