Ayesha Mattu once thought her hyphenated identity of straddling East and West, First World and Third World, and majority and minority was a weakness. She later discovered, however, that being both an insider and an outsider was a strength in her work in international grant-making and philanthropy, where being able to understand different cultures is an asset. She helped create the Muslim Women’s Fund for Social Justice, which brings together Muslim women leaders from around the world to develop strategies and share ideas. Today, Ayesha, 34, is a Philanthropy Consultant , focusing on social change philanthropy. She helps organizations and individuals formulate goals, strategies, and practices to foster a social-change grant-making model. Since 9/11, she has also assisted American-Muslim organizations with strengthening their strategic communications and program initiatives. To learn more about how Ayesha is helping philanthropic organizations become even better at what they do, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
San Jose, California
San Francisco, California
Global Fund for Women
September 2002-July 2004
Coordinator for Institutional Giving
December 1999-August 2002
Information Services Officer
April 1999-August 1999
Public Relations Manager
March 1998-March 1999
What’s your story? What’s your background?
I’m a Pakistan-American Muslim, born in the Midwest and raised on the coasts of the United States and in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. My life story takes place at the crossroads of East and West, “First” and “Third” worlds, local and global, and as both a minority and
majority in faith, race, and gender depending on my location.
Once I considered this hyphenated identity to be a weakness because I never quite felt fully one or the other. Now I realize the strength of being a part and yet apart, of rooted empathy and an outside perspective, and of the possibilities of utilizing my skills flexibly across different communities, classes, and countries.
Many of the positive aspects of my background crystallized through my work in international grant making and philanthropy, where the ability to understand different cultures and amplify their diverse voices here in the US is a daily undertaking.
While I have reconciled most aspects, I still regularly fall between the cracks of three languages when attempting to express myself!
What is it be a Philanthropy Consultant? What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
There are many types of philanthropy consultants but my focus is social change philanthropy.
My passion for respectful, international social change philanthropy is one that I want to share with others, so my role begins primarily as one of education to develop (for the individual or organization) a specific set of goals, strategies, practices, and values to promote a social change grant making model.
These include but are not limited to:
- Promoting a philanthropic model based on respect, trust, and the belief that local organizations are the best judge of development needs in their own communities instead of imposing an outsider’s idea of what’s best for them.
- Fostering greater US donor awareness of funding grassroots activities internationally, and encouraging increased support for community-based programs at a national level.
- Highlighting issues such as human rights, environmental activism, reproductive health and rights, economic globalization, and access to education with a focus on marginalized, minority, and indigenous populations in the global South.
What have been some accomplishments you are most proud of?
The career milestone that comes to mind, one that set me on the path that I am now on, is my first real job out of college working at Sahil, a Pakistani non-governmental organization addressing child sexual abuse. Working on this controversial and taboo subject in a conservative Islamic society was a challenging and very rewarding experience.
The fact that we got Pakistani society to talk about the issue in their homes and schools; motivated the media through training to change its reporting tactics on the issue (e.g., to protect the identities of abuse survivors instead of publishing their photos and addresses); and published an internationally disseminated report on local male child prostitution during the time that I worked there as part of a five-person staff is truly amazing.
In the years since, watching that small Islamabad-based organization grow into one with national outreach has made me very proud.
The accomplishment I am most proud of is helping to establish the Muslim Women’s Fund for Social Justice. This Fund is already bringing Muslim women leaders from around the world together to formulate strategies and to share best practices as well as investing in leadership development for young Muslim men and women.
It’s the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on and I think its impact is going to be enormous because we’re willing to engage with mainstream human rights issues as well as with the impact of religious and cultural practices in Muslim communities and nations. This is an area that most foundations from the UN on down either veer away from or completely ignore.
What’s your niche?
Social change begins with oneself and embodying it is the most powerful way to inspire it in others.
Second, although philanthropy in the US is very well developed only about 2% of it is given internationally. International causes and issues are therefore set for huge growth here in the US, especially as an increasing number of Americans realize that we can choose how we want to impact the world around us, and that we can do it through our generosity rather than with weapons.
Third, as part of a religious/cultural group that is under huge scrutiny these days and as one of the few American Muslims in social change philanthropy I am in a unique position to articulate and explain the diversity of my community to those who want to learn more.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Always and daily, living up to my ideals.
What’s in store for the future?
So much to do and so little time!
- Launch the remaining programs of the Muslim Women’s Fund for Social Justice.
- Continue strengthening American Muslim organizations and leadership.
- Start an organization for disabled Muslims.
- Adopt a child from Pakistan.
- Develop my photography
- Own a home in the surreal estate market of San Francisco.
- Learn flamenco.
- Work on a book inspired by my award-winning blog, Truth & Beauty.
- Live gracefully, fully and strongly.
- Truly listen to and engage with every person I meet.
- Deepen my commitment, everyday.
Where do you find your inspiration to continue in your line of work?
The extraordinary women and men that I meet through my work and travels who are working at the grassroots and advocacy levels to make change in their societies are the heroes who inspire me.
Amplifying their voices here in a nation where they are seldom heard is truly an honor.
Guiding principle in life
“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”
– Jalal ad Din Rumi
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
What’s your yardstick of success?
At the end of the day – or at the end of my life – to know that I reflected light, beauty and goodness into the world, made someone’s life better, and left an honorable legacy.
Best practical advice
First, figure out your values and think about what you would like your legacy to be. And then embody those values in your life and work to begin building your legacy no matter how young or old you may be.
Second, without being selfish or individualistic to an extreme, be good to yourself.
There’s a tendency at non-profits (and personally, as women) for us to burn-out, so take the time to nurture yourself spiritually, physically and mentally so that you can in turn nurture others with that deepened reservoir.
If you don’t nurture yourself, the work will go on, but eventually, you won’t.
Who are your mentors?
I have been blessed to have had many mentors in my life, mostly women who took me under their wing to tell me what’s what.
Two current mentors:
Kathy LeMay from Raising Change because she embodies the values that she preaches.
Daisy Khan of the ASMA Society for her wit and wisdom in leading the Muslim Women’s Fund for Social Justice project.
Like best about what you do?
I can see the immediate positive impact in the lives of individuals and families. Over time, there is a chance for whole societies and nations to change for the better.
Like least about what you do?
It can be hard to draw a line between the work I feel passionately about and everything else I want to be doing with equal passion!
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A fashion designer creating Western-style clothing with a distinct Eastern influence!
What was your first job?
Working as an undergrad to raise alumni funds for the university’s endowment.
Biggest pastimes outside of work
Traveling the globe, exploring magical San Francisco on foot, macro photography and reading about the wide wonderful world (and beyond).
Person most interested in meeting?
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) because I have so many questions!
Otherwise, movers, thinkers, and shakers who bring insight and beauty into the world in unique ways and in vastly different professions, including Shigeru Ban, Shirin Ebadi, James Nachtwey, Arundhati Roy, Rudolf Amenga-Etego, Colleen Quen, Farid Esack, Emma Thompson, Cornell West, Maya Angelou, Tariq Ramadan, Mira Nair, Viggo Mortensen, and Hussein Chalayan.
(And if anyone has George Clooney’s number, that’s a plus!)
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I spent my teen years living in Pakistan, a move by my parents I resented at the time, but which has truly enriched my life and perspectives as well as given me a finely-tuned ear for propaganda.
- Though my work and spirituality helped bring it all together too, my marriage to a wonderful Albanian-English American has made me even more celebratory of all the identity hats I wear daily.
- And, finally, I can’t go anywhere without lipstick!
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- God and family
- My work as service and legacy
- The sheer joy and blessings of being alive and healthy
Make that 4 books:
“Dear Beloved Son” by Al-Ghazali
“Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien
“Cien sonetos de amor” by Pablo Neruda
“Cracking India” by Bapsi Sidhwa
Creating new forms of living and connecting with each other that make us less likely to fill our spiritual voids with extreme materialism and environmental devastation.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
I would love to hear from Muslim individuals and organizations both here in the US and abroad about how we might connect professionally.
I would also love to hear from people of all backgrounds working in social change philanthropy, writers, artists, poets, photographers, and those interested in learning more about, supporting and becoming involved with the Muslim Women’s Fund for Social Justice.
Photo Credit: All photos taken by Randy Nasson
|October 3rd, 2007, 13:23:22||permalink|
I thought I knew Ayesha well but thank you for this interview which has showed me more about her than she was (in her humility) willing to share!
|October 3rd, 2007, 15:02:41||permalink|
Ayesha is talented, beautiful, a great writer, and a humble person. I knew that I am so happy that she finally has the recognition she deserves
|October 3rd, 2007, 16:03:21||permalink|
Here’s some words to describe Ayesha. Insightful, Caring, Cultured, Modest, Motivated, Motivating, Passionate, Responsible. She’s by far one of the most interesting people I’ve met, and an ocean of wisdom.
|October 5th, 2007, 10:49:39||permalink|
Wow, I’m impressed and inspired. Go Ayesha!
|October 10th, 2007, 14:21:17||permalink|
Thank you for reading, for your support and lovely comments!