Kazi Nazifa Tabassum Ilmika is a 2019 SUSI alumna and a marketing professional who advocates for servant leadership, especially in young women entering the military. This blog post is part of a series highlighting and celebrating women leaders in Meridian’s network during Women’s History Month.
My early childhood was always filled with many extra-curricular activities and sports, thanks to my late military father. I was busy playing European football, volleyball, basketball and doing debates and public speaking besides studying in school. All these experiences made an impact in my life later, when I decided to join a para-military school for training my mind and body to be adaptive to any possible situation. As a sophomore at university, I got an amazing opportunity to be a part of a program called “Study in the United States Institutes” or SUSI. That was the first time SUSI had ever taken cohorts from Bangladesh, hence the selection process was pretty competitive. When the final list of participants was revealed, I came to know only three people were selected – and I was one of them. I was really happy, but I was even more excited when I heard all three participants were women on the team from Bangladesh.
SUSI was truly a life changing opportunity for me. Meeting so many like-minded and diverse people was nothing short of phenomenal. In our SUSI program, we were taught about servant leadership and rule of law. The classes held at the National Judicial College of University of Nevada, Reno, were interactive and insightful. I still miss them. The professors were very friendly and helpful. We actively took part in many social work projects and day trips, which broadened my perspective about how to apply new insights to my capstone project upon return to my homeland.
My capstone project included brainstorming sessions with the young girls of my community about how to practice servant leadership. I hosted seven sessions, all online, and reached out to 300 young girls who will lead the society in the upcoming years in various fields. It was very intense and engaging to meet so many young women and share my SUSI experience with them, specifically how servant leadership can help anyone become a better person and a better leader in everyday life.
My view of women’s leadership evolved when I realized that a 10-year-old girl guiding her younger sibling to cross roads safely is a sign of leadership. My personal journey during and after the SUSI program was full of this two-way learning: I became a better leader and I also learned from the young women in my capstone project. My takeaways from SUSI will always be with me, and I will pass those learnings onto the young women of my community so that they can lead in their own way.