The Leadership Training Program (LTP), an initiative of the National Council for the USA, was designed to inspire and empower the leaders of tomorrow. At the end of June 2019, twenty-nine attendees from Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Syria participated in the final session of the program. LTP created encouraged participants in ways to contribute to the progress of the Jamat both in the US and their countries of origin.

Dr. Barkat Fazal, President for the National Council for USA, hoped that the attendees would learn about the intricacies of leadership skills from one another, and asked: “As project managers, what makes a team motivated to produce results, what can be major challenges for you in terms of communications, and how do you manage conflict? These are some of the skills you will learn during your training and you will use these skills not only within our Jamati institutions in the United States but also for improving the quality of life of the worldwide Jamat. These skills are also required as part of professional acumen throughout the world in every leadership role.”

Lead organizer and National Council Member, Adiba Karimi, worked with the Council leadership to include a hands-on critical thinking model, with case studies of real-life scenarios and problem-solving. This program created a platform for individuals from diverse cultures to learn about institutional engagement, peer-to-peer conflict, and ways to resolve them.

Sessions covered topics such as Islamophobia and its origins, the role of civil society, conflict resolution, and their connection with our faith. Dr. Zahra Jamal, the Associate Director at Rice University’s Boniuk Institute, conducted an interactive session on Islamophobia. She remarked, that given “[...] the relative lack of literacy about Islam and diverse Muslim societies, it is important that Muslims are able to respond to misconceptions about the faith clearly, competently, compassionately and calmly.”

With a deeper dive into the conversation on the Ismaili tariqah of Islam, Dr. Jamal articulated how service has a long tradition in our faith, and that “[...] sincere prayer and good deeds can help one to advance spiritually and to leave the world improved. Service can be seen as a sacred duty -- one that is ideally offered with humility, compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. It enables each individual to use their God-given gifts to better understand and serve creation, and, if God wills, to be graced with blessings for themselves and their future generations.”

Attendees were excited to participate in group discussions and during one session, Ali Mashal, from Afghanistan, expressed his views on the training: “It has totally changed my mindset on how I used to perceive the institutions from an exterior lens. Before, I would question why the institution doesn’t solve some of the problems that exist, but now after being assigned a project and having an immersive tour, I quickly realized how much effort is involved in the deliverables.” He added that another major contribution of this program is learning how to collaborate with various individuals in a team setting.

The interactive session on Civil Society engaged participants on the different definitions and examples of civil society, including the work of the Aga Khan Development Network. Typically referred to as private action for public good, or tasks performed by ordinary people for extraordinary results, Dr. Shaheen Kassim Lakha, National Member for Communications and Publications, remarked that “the role of civil society and its existence can be traced back to the time of the Prophet. As Hazar Imam has identified, 'A healthy Civil Society is a meritocratic one, where ethics are honored, and excellence is valued.’”

There are numerous examples of such initiatives throughout our own history, while the work of the AKDN and Jamati Institutions are contemporary examples seeking to improve the quality of life through health, education, social, and economic programs. These were key principles addressed in this training module, the aim of which was energize these emerging leaders to seek out their areas of passion which could be utilized to complement in governmental and private sector services for the betterment of all.

One program of the Jamati institutions is settlement assistance to new immigrants. Bakhtatun Bakhtalieva, a Tajik commented: “Prior to the program, I questioned my ability to create and deliver a successful platform for new immigrants, and I was worried if I was doing justice to my role. But now, I have a better understanding of what options and ideas to consider and implement, to improve certain processes to ensure these individuals feel welcomed and can be easily be assimilated into the lifestyle here.”

LTP encouraged attendees to give generously of their time, talent, and material resources, to improve the quality of life of the Jamat and the communities in which we live. There are numerous examples of active institutional engagement, such as Ismaili Community Engaged Responsible Volunteer (I-CERV) that has helped organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and local food banks, to provide shelter or prepare several hundred thousand meals for those in need. The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Houston has hosted numerous Jamati and external programs, such as the Ethics in Action exhibit, TEDx lectures, civic debates, art exhibitions, book reviews, lectures, etc. that increase cultural understanding and promote pluralism. The Atlanta and Glenview Jamatkhanas have also held similar programs.

Conflict resolution skills are important for leaders, and Zenat Belkin, a national training member for the Conciliation and Arbitration Board, conducted a session on this topic. Hazar Imam noted, in his inaugural address of the restoration at Mughal Emperor Humayun in 2003, “tolerance, openness, and understanding towards other peoples’ cultures, social structures, values, and faith, are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.”

Zenat described the purpose of the module as providing participants with self-awareness, communication and leadership skills. Time was spent examining values such as honesty, integrity, humility, forgiveness, and compassion. Ultimately, participants considered their words and actions within the context of serving the Jamat. Zenat remarked, “there is an innate communication style individuals possess and these are engaged in our ability to deliver goals. Realizing which style is most applicable and being able to change approaches leads to a successful mediation.”

Zura Kerdieh, a Syrian native, shared her experience: “The program allowed me to meet new people and engage with those whom I otherwise would not have met. I was the project coordinator within the team, and the position allowed me to experience how communication is vital in team settings, and how, if misinterpreted, performance can be impacted. The other important skill I am taking away from the program is minimizing bias against a team member who may not be able to perform or attend calls, because of other responsibilities or situations that prevent engagement.”

Several presentations were held involving project assignments. Seven teams were assigned broad topics of concern, including settlement, financial planning, youth involvement, community building, mental health, and REC. In the mental health module, the first step was to analyze the existing program and identifying gaps which needed to be addressed, including the issue of stigma surrounding this issue.

In his closing remarks, Vice President Zahir Ladhani said: “The United States is a land of opportunities, with which comes a heavy responsibility for civic duty. For 1400 years, our community has been guided towards public service for all of humankind, regardless of their identity. We are all capable of representing this value and letting it be the focus of our personal and professional paths. Hold yourself accountable to the best practices and hold steadfast to your faith. Balance your duties and apply what you have learnt to leave this world a better place.”