A Looking Glass into Learn to Lead

By: Onsia Ansari

This blog entry has been brought to you by the letter R. R is for Resilience, Refreshing, and Revolutionary.

After having been a part of Learn to Lead for almost 6 years, you’d think I’d be at least a little used to the routine by now. Nope.

The thing with Learn to Lead is that no two years are exactly alike. And this year was no exception.

Looking back, the 2015-2016 term for Learn to Lead has been a transformative one and I’m not just saying that to sound deep and profound. You see, for the last five years preceding this term, Learn to Lead followed a general mold for its year-long plans and ambitions.  In general, we would invite student leaders from high schools (MSA students mostly) and host monthly workshops for them addressing some key issues and values that are important to mentoring young holistic leaders. Year in and year out it would be the same LTL grind. The same pizza but different toppings.

This year, the LTL team took the proverbial pizza, tossed it up and somehow ended up a batch of brand new minestrone soup instead. The team this year was more focused, more close-knit and valued quality over quantity. We may not have been a very big team (there was just nine of us in total), but we grew close over time.

Right off the bat, the executive team knew that we wanted to change the structure of LTL this year. We wanted to let our students take on a more empowering and involved role in the program. But how were we supposed to do that with the regular monthly workshop structure? I mean, as much as we wanted to push the student's leadership capabilities, we simply couldn’t let them take charge of a big project right from the get-go.

So, we did it in baby steps. We kept the regular monthly workshops at first and trained our students on some key values and skills that every leader should embody. We wanted students to walk away with real-world knowledge that they could actually apply rather than just the fluffy theory-based stuff. Along the way, we invited some special guests to attend our workshops so that A) the students could be exposed to great Muslim role models and B) so that they had an opportunity to network and learn from people who had been in a similar position as them a few years ago.

We even managed to squeeze in a trip to an escape room (but that deserves a small blog post of its own).

The overarching guideline for this year underlined that as social animals, humans learn by example and by imitation. The LTL attendees had seen our team put together workshops for them for the first half of the year and now, it was their turn to take on a project and make a change in their community. As we presented the potential projects that the students could take on, I remember how each of the executives had a secret (or in my case, not-so-secret) attachment to one cause or the other. Ultimately, we agreed that it was up to the students to decide which project to pursue. After having chosen said project and designating each student with a special role, we dove into planning and strategizing on how to execute a successful event.

But it would’ve been too easy for everything to go as planned. And let’s face it, hardly anything in the real-world goes exactly as planned.

“…But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” (8:30)

Our team faced some significant road blocks[1][2] along the way and it was an emotional rollercoaster. As with any major project you’re involved in, your patience with yourself and others is tested. We pulled through and tweaked our plan along the way. Our team built resilience with each roadblock and for each time that we had to “go back to the drawing board” we ended up doing a little introspection on how to better ourselves for next time.I applaud our team for being patient, assertive and persistent in their vision.

For many of our attendees, they had never been involved so directly in a project of this scale[3]. And whilst they haven’t had a chance to directly tell me all that they’ve learnt from this experience, I can only hope they walked away more confident in their abilities to make a positive impact in their communities. I also hope they walked away with a sense of wisdom having learnt all the work that goes into making a vision into a reality.

You know, I’m not too sure what the next year holds for LTL or what big changes are in store. But I’m thankful to have been part of the process and to have seen it grow so much over the last 6 years. It’s certainly a far cry from the workshops I used to attend as a student myself[4]. I want to thank each and every one of the LTL members this year for all of their hard work and for all the laughs. I can attest to each of their character and know that they’re all capable of great things in the future insha’Allah.

For the incoming LTL team, let's just say this, "y’all have a lot to live up to. And I’m excited to see how many more amazing things you’ll accomplish."


[1] Like having our project changed a bajillion times.

[2] Or that fun time when we thought we had funding secured but hah, we really didn’t! …Maybe we should spend more time on the communication skills workshops next year?

[3] Btw, we ended up choosing to host a family fun BBQ for our new Syrian neighbours

[4]The workshops I attended used to be held at the local community center where we’d be competing with the Senior’s Bollywood Boogie class in the next room in terms of noise level.  These young attendees don’t know how good they’ve got it now that we have the REC. (I’m only partly teasing.)