Maisha Kabir is a leader in the social impact space whose vision is to make the world more inclusive. She was born in Bangladesh but now calls New York home where she attended NYU as an undergraduate student majoring in Gender & Sexuality Studies. With just seven years in America, she has made it her mission to increase representation of underrepresented groups in successful, high-income careers. At age 25, after graduating college, she decided to then pursue graduate studies right away at Columbia University. Maisha knew there wasn't anything she couldn't achieve. It felt natural from the beginning because she knew exactly what her purpose was: making sure everyone has access to equal opportunity. She is driven and focused on increasing youth engagement in entrepreneurship and social justice through highly engaging and innovative programs. Maisha has always had a calling to lead others and is using her commitment to The Diversity Org to make change in underserved communities.
What was your first year like moving here from Bangladesh?
I grew up in a very conservative city and community. As a young woman, I experienced a lot of restrictions and limitations, both personally and professionally. In all the movies that I watched growing up, New York was always romanticized as a place where goals have a high probability of becoming reality. That remained quite attractive to me. I was also among the most ambitious and enthusiastic people in my family and friend circle. I had decided and begun to manifest quite early on that I needed to be in a big city. New York was it. Of course moving halfway across the world at 18, with no family or friends, I experienced a tad bit of a culture shock in the first couple of months. But that was very soon taken over by a culture integration. I was different and so was everyone else and that is what was normalized here. In a very odd way, I felt both removed and immensely attached to the drive and grit of the people. Within that first year, I immersed myself out of my comfort zone and as a result, I saw the face of opportunity.
What experience or moment made it click for you that you wanted to pursue Nonprofit Management?
Long before I settled on a career track, I knew I wanted to create career enrichment opportunities for my community through the work I do. I wanted to make an impact while making an income. When I came across The Diversity Org, they were implementing a systemic way of creating such opportunities for under-represented youth. The best part was that the work was driven by youth for the youth. I knew right then that I wanted to pursue this pathway. We were curating youth leaders in the flesh. The reward of such work was intangible, which left me with no reason to ever do anything else. So I wouldn’t really call it one moment because moments are ephemeral. The amount of fulfillment I experienced in uplifting at-risk students systematically remained long-standing.
Leading the expansion of The Diversity Org throughout nineteen states is huge! What advice would you give to others who are looking to create a similar impact in such a short period of time?
Your team is your biggest strength. Ask for help. Identify people who bring different sets of talent to the table; people who have different perspectives and personalities, yet similar goals and standards of success. If you’re leading the team, contribute your vision — a vision that is both vivid and almost futuristic. That vision is what will ultimately power your team to success.
What keeps you driven when you aren’t feeling motivated?
I try to always remember my “why” — the reason for why I do what I do. When I try to fathom the fact that the work I do can quite directly allow under-represented youth to flourish professionally, socially and economically, it almost feels selfish to not strive to be my very best every day that I wake up.
When your “why” impacts more than merely yourself, it oftentime becomes nearly impossible to not remain motivated.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I see myself leading my team on a global scale, expanding the work we do exponentially in the most under-resourced nations of the world. I see myself alongside my team creating the most accessible and resourceful pathways for at-risk youth to succeed despite the communities they come from. In five years, I see myself being one of the youngest and most successful leaders in the social impact space.
If you could give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would you tell her?
Don’t just chase the cause, chase the people behind the cause. Relationships are everything. Be more intentional with the people you meet and how you make them feel. Help people when they ask and help people when they don’t ask. And most importantly, when you get a seat at the table, make sure you save a seat — or two — for your people.
To contact Maisha, please visit the following links.