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Student Life

Connecting Communities: NPL Student & AMCLI Fellow Reflects on Muslim American Nonprofit Leadership

For Imrul Mazid, a student in the Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership (NPL) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), his deep commitment to social justice is inextricably woven to his professional and personal life as a Muslim.

With experience in education and nonprofit work, Mazid credits his SP2 studies for building philanthropic and fundraising acumen. However, situating himself within the often-hegemonic landscape of philanthropy necessitated further mentorship, professional networks, and training beyond the classroom.

“The practices of fundraising and philanthropy, and what is defined as ‘legitimate,’ is very narrowly tailored,” Mazid said. “I wanted to zoom out and broaden that, and to find a way to situate myself in the narrative.”

When a friend recommended a leadership development program offered by the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI), Mazid felt instantly drawn to the opportunity to connect with other rising and established Muslim leaders. He applied to the program and attended a retreat in Nashville as an AMCLI fellow in Spring 2019.

AMCLI, administered through the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, supports and connects emerging Muslim civic leaders through national fellowship and regional training programs across the United States. Programming in Nashville included strategy and leadership-oriented sessions, peer mentorship opportunities, feedback circles, time for faith reflections, and, of course, the requisite game nights—all complemented by gourmet, Southern halal meals.

“We call ourselves Fam-CLI— it’s a very familial type of environment,” Mazid said, with a laugh. “It’s geared towards nascent Muslim leaders around the country, and there are cohort cycles all over the US. There’s a real sense of a broader network and getting plugged into that network.”

“The Muslim population in America is both old and new, and we’ve reached a critical time period in terms of defining our narrative and taking on leadership roles,” he continued. “Intellectually, I wonder about the trajectory for Muslim philanthropy and nonprofits in the U.S. That was a really key part of the program—and it’s an open-ended question. We’re defining it as we speak.”

As he considers the next step in his career, Mazid intends to foster and leverage the professional networks, peer-based support, and enduring connections that he’s establishing through AMCLI. In November, he will travel to Long Beach as part of a nationwide convening of hundreds of AMCLI fellows from cohorts across the country.

Mazid emphasizes that NPL students should always take the initiative toward pursuing opportunities such as fellowships, with the intention of supplementing and broadening their knowledge beyond requisite coursework.

“Understanding and unraveling resources takes time, and I encourage folks who take the NPL route to immerse themselves in the communities outside of this building,” Mazid said. “There are a lot of front-line workers who don’t have fancy degrees and high-income brackets. For anybody who looks into the NPL degree, I would encourage them to visit these communities, as well—before, during, and after the program.”

“It takes a lot of initiative and drive, and people aren’t always going to tell you where to go—you have to follow your internal compass,” he added. “Some of those resources are fellowships like AMCLI—there are a lot of points of intersection between AMCLI and NPL, so they complement one another really well.”

The knowledge and ideas that Mazid is cultivating through AMCLI tie directly into his work at SP2—and his plans for future community involvement, as well. Citing one recent example, Mazid shared how he interviewed Brie Loskota, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC, for a paper about Muslim disaster relief.

“I got an A on the paper, but more importantly, I learned a lot in the process,” Mazid said. “I hope to continue to engage not only with the fellowship, but also with the SP2 and Penn communities.”

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