Zoya Islam - Charity Savant

Humans of Nonprofit Zoya Islam

Communications Coordinator
Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter

How did you first got involved in the nonprofit sector?

I have always been passionate about bettering the world and helping others. By the age of 17, my goal was to work in international development, so right after I completed my undergrad in gender studies, I started an internship at an NGO called BRAC, in Bangladesh. While I enjoyed my foray into the field of international development, I quickly realized that my calling was to work on women’s issues at home, so since 2013 I have been involved with various Canadian nonprofits.

Where are you currently working? How did you get there?

I’m currently working at Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter as their Communications Coordinator.

My previous volunteer and employment experiences prepared me to work in the field of digital marketing and communications and my current job at Ernestine’s allows me to apply these communication skills to my passion for ending gender-based violence and empowering women.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about social justice and intersectional feminism, but I am particularly invested in raising awareness about, and ending gender-based violence. I believe in the importance of providing support to the diverse communities affected by violence, to live without the threat or fear of violence.  I am invested in building a world where violence against women and children isn’t an epidemic, where hopefully one day, there won’t be a need for professions like mine to exist. That’s the future that I’m working towards, and it’s one that is achievable through public education, awareness-building, and the dismantling of social inequalities and institutional barriers.

My understanding of gender-based violence exceeds traditional understanding, because I believe that it’s incredibly important to use an intersectional lens when we attempt to understand violence. My Master’s research examines a particular kind of violence against women –  that is, the exploitation of Bangladeshi women in the transnational garment industry. My project is called “Reworking Canadian Understanding of Transnational Labour Exploitation” and it will be available online Fall 2017.

What do you love about your job?

I personally find meaning in life through helping others help themselves, and what I love most about my job is that it allows me to see this goal come to fruition. I get to see the impact of my work on a day-to-day basis, by seeing women rebuild their lives free from violence, and that’s really rewarding. I also love that I get to work alongside my feminist mentors and advise and uplift others along the way.

What are some of challenges you’ve faced in your career?

It’s very difficult to get noticed when you’re applying for a job as one of 400 other candidates. No matter how much you try, sometimes it’s just impossible to stand out amongst a pool of other outstanding professionals. Even worse, about 80% of job openings are never even posted and employees are often recruited through word of mouth. I overcome this challenge by always taking the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals, and I don’t mean just connecting on Linkedin. I’m talking about building meaningful connections with people by: being authentic; being open to mentorship; staying connected; sharing my passion and skills; and asking to be informed about opportunities as they come about.

Humans of Nonprofit Zoya IslamWhat do you wish you could change – either related to your work, or in the world?

People often think that working in the nonprofit sector means that you have to compromise and have lower salary expectations because you’re performing a social good, either because you don’t possess the skills, the education, or the desire to receive a decent standard of living. I want people to understand that we don’t work in this sector as a hobby – we dedicate our lives to these causes and it takes hard work and skill to work in this sector – and we deserve to be treated as such when it comes to salaries and benefits.

People assume that charities shouldn’t have “administration costs”, but these costs are often the salaries of its employees. These costs provide employees with livable wages to pay their bills and provide for themselves and their families. I wish more people would understand this about the nonprofit sector.

What do you do when you’re not working? What do you do to take care of yourself?

I just finished my Master’s, which I completed while taking on various contract positions in the nonprofit sector. At the same time, I tried to remain politically engaged and active to keep myself grounded. This led to a lot of burn out, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

My tried and trust self-care practices include spending time with my puppy, taking baths, making gratitude lists, and practicing mindfulness. When I find the news particularly toxic and triggering, I take the initiative to disengage from social media and avoid watching or reading the news until I’m feeling better. To me, self-care is also a form of resistance.

Humans of Nonprofit

Humans of Nonprofit celebrates the human stories of the nonprofit sector. This blog series features personal interviews with nonprofit employees and volunteers about what drives them.