Jemmila Leaders: Suad Ali
Our first Jemmila Leader is Suad Ali, a Resettlement Expert for the Swedish Migration Agency, to nominate yourself or another inspiring Muslim woman, click here.
“All things people attributed to me as something negative, as something that would hinder me in my studies and career; that I am a woman, I’m black, and that I am Muslim, are actually all good things, which carry with them a cultural sensitivity, languages and experiences, which makes me stick out from the crowd.”
You were chosen as a Jemmila Leader due to your tireless engagement in migration issues and enthusiasm to inspire. Tell us about your professional role!
Since 2014, I have been an Expert at the Swedish Migration Agency’s Resettlement unit, focusing on Sweden’s refugee quota. However, I joined already in 2012 as an Asylum examination officer, after having submitted an unsolicited application, working on an hourly basis whilst juggling full time studies at the same time. The overall objective of the Migration Agency is to examine people’s application for asylum, and to ensure people protection.
What specific experiences and skill sets do you bring to the table?
My educational background in combination with knowing different languages is a great asset when visiting Syrian and Somali refugee camps, and also my cultural competence—knowing first hand what refugees experience, as I myself was once a refugee from Somalia. My young age is also an advantage. I’m flexible in my work, energetic, and not afraid of thinking outside of the box.
“Refugees I meet testify that I as a person, a former refugee, give them a boost of inspiration, proving that it is possible to realize your dreams, even after times of hardship.”
You hold a BA in Political Science from Linköping University. Tell us more!
I started out a natural science major in high school, being told those subjects would offer me the most choices in life; especially as an immigrant, black, Muslim, woman, who was expected to work harder than everyone else to prove myself. But I ended up joining the international social science program instead, and I knew immediately it was right for me! Applying for university I faced similar hurdles. I was told dreams were all very nice, but that odds would be odds against me. I was told to consider a hard topic, for instance something to do with science, which would launch me into a steady career. I had no connections, and with no role models I started to listen to what people told me. It was difficult deciding between studying for a career that didn’t interest me and to follow my interest and dreams and just going for it.
How does one overcome these moments in life?
As an 18-year old girl dreaming of working at the United Nations, I thought perhaps those people were right. This is why representation and role models is so important! Had I known someone, a mentor who had been in my shoes, I needed not to be worried. But my parents always supported me. I made my choice—Political Science—and became involved with The Red Cross and the Foreign Relations Students Association. I tied my theoretical skills with the real world and got an insight into how organizations work and where to focus my career goals. Blogging is meaningful to me; my readers at suam.se are encouraged by my topics, advice and concrete tips on how to succeed with their goals. By blogging I can be there for people and be that role model I never had myself!
You were the Swedish representative at One Young World, give us an insight!
One Young World is the world’s largest annual forum for young leaders from all over the world, a 4-day conference, where they hand pick engaged youth. I participated in Pittsburgh in 2012. Together with international key actors we participated in workshops, panel discussions, and lectures on sustainable development, sustainable businesses, and human rights. It all filled me with such energy—it was a great experience!
What is your proudest moment, thus far?
I am proud of the fact that I, despite people’s discouragement, chose to listen to myself and followed my dreams. Secondly I am proud of the job I do. I was working in Dadaab, Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp, with refugees that were selected for resettlement to Sweden by UNCHR. I held a cultural orientation program for the refugees in Dadaab and a year later a met with one of them again in Sweden. I get goose bumps just thinking about it—it got real! Meeting this person again, knowing I had a hand in finding him a safe home, that feeling is hard to match.
What is the key to stay inspired and inspire others?
Stéphane Hessel mentions in his book “Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous!” injustices and frustration as key factors. In 2011 when famine hit the Horn of Africa, I was frustrated I couldn’t help, but I started a fundraising campaign. I can’t save the world by myself. But everyone can do something, including myself. That’s what spurs me!
There are many paths you could choose. What does the future hold for you?
This fall I will move onto a new position within the Agency, becoming part of the General Director’s Office, working on leadership topics. In my work, I always want to develop, to receive more responsibility, and gain increased trust from people. I’m always one to move up and forward, looking for new adventures. This new position will be a fun challenge for me. Where it will take me? I am not sure, but I know it will be exciting!
Your appearance is strikingly confident looking. Any favorite fashion styles?
I love fashion, it’s great fun! I also love colors and often dress in lively colorful fabrics. But overall I have a fairly simplistic style, I do skirts and dresses, at work I wear a blouse and blazers, coats, and I accessorize, especially with handbags. I’m always finding new combinations to match my hijab (scarf) with the rest of the outfit. It took some time to find my personal hijab style, but I think I found it now, and the combinations are endless!
Does your fieldwork require a different wardrobe than your normal one?
I dress very comfortable in the heat, often times in traditional Somali dresses. A large scarf to match it, coupled with sneakers, it’s ideal in those conditions. But if I’m in a UN meeting, business attire is required, so there I’ll sport a blouse and a blazer of course.
What is your impression of the Jemmila Prologue – Collection, and which is your absolute favorite?
It’s a very simplistic and timeless collection. My favorite is the Black Tuxedo Blazer Dress! It’s totally my style and I would wear it with a statement colored blouse, heels, heavily accessorized and with my Celine bag.
Suad's top 3 tips for anyone who wants to make it in her field:
- Focus broader than just on your studies, because there is so much more out there. You need to stand out from the crowd, so make sure to invest in something that will get you, not your classmate, that dream job!
- Use the opportunity to write your final paper on something that will be useful for your future job hunting/career. You have to write it anyway, why not tailor it to the topic/organization that interests you, and make the most of it?
- Attend conferences, talks, open debates, and events, to network with key people in your field and keep abreast of developments in your area of interest. It’s definitively worth the time and money spent!
Interview contributed by Aygül Kabaca