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Yasmeen Akhtar

Yasmeen Akhtar

Friends Stories
Religion : Muslim
Ethnicity : British Pakistani
Profession : Programmes Manager at 3 Faiths Forum

Yasmeen was a participant on one of our first young adult leadership programmes in 2015, called the Phoenix Project (which has evolved into the Spiritual Ecology Fellowship). The Phoenix Project was designed to explore how emerging forms of economics, rooted in ecological and social justice, could form the basis of radical peacemaking from a systemic perspective.

What
has changed for you since you participated in the Phoenix Project? What were the most valuable aspects of the program for you?
Everything, really. It feels like everything changed from having become part of a community where we all shared in the complexity of these issues. Some of the other participants had read more, and had more technical language, and it provided me with the language to articulate these ideas and concepts.

How has your understanding and vision about our generation and the socio-ecological issues that we face changed since the program?
The Phoenix Project gave me the language and the confidence to articulate my ideas, but also helped me understand for myself, how the things I feel passionate about are connected with one another – my spirituality, values, and commitments to the world with ecology and further social issues.

What have you gone on to do with your learning? What are your current projects, ideas or actions?
I’ve adapted the spaces that I am currently in. For example, I shifted the way I communicate with staff and prefer for us to be present together as more of a community. I am much more aware of bringing in diverse staff and not afraid of alternative voices. One of the key concepts that become a bit of a mantra to me, is to be positively open to conflict, and see conflict as a source for solutions. I think that shift of mindset has been really significant in the way that I cope with conflict.

How have you drawn on the skills you learned or developed? Did the learning or inspiration feed into any other form of action or change?
I work in the third sector and leadership development. I took a lot of the collaborative learning and, more importantly, the distributed decision making that I experienced throughout the Phoenix Course and applied that in how I deliver the leadership work that I do. The Sociocracy training was part of the Phoenix Project course, and I used that with a board of trustees that I chair. That was a powerful experience for that and really interesting for me to try.

I “outed” myself as someone who cares about this stuff, and there’s no going back. Like on the Neon network group, I follow things that are a lot more alternative, and I think about my relationship with the world around me in quite a different way. It provided me with a heightened awareness and I talk about these issues more because now I have the language to do it.

Has the program shifted how you interact with your environment and your community?
I’m in central London, where it is difficult to have a sustained community in the traditional sense, but I have been more active. For example, I invite my colleagues to a book class at my house, which I wouldn’t normally do. I understand people as people and build community, rather than separating that from work. There are also small things like being careful what I eat and looking at sustainability of my clothing, or how much I travel. I try to be more considerate about that stuff, not because they told us to, but because I felt inspired by the people on the program who were already practicing these values.

What support does your relationship with the other participants and St Ethelburga’s offer you now, if any?
The people I met are very significant to me, and very special. I hold them all very dear, and seek their counsel often. We continued meeting regularly after Phoenix for almost a year, so what we really felt passionate about as a group was the potential for us emerging together as a diverse, comfortable and connected community. Amrita and St Ethelburga’s got us to that place

We shifted our language as a graduating cohort and in our post-Phoenix gathering we talked at length about what we wanted for each other. It’s no longer a project for us, but is actually about being a community that could stay in touch and lean on one another. So we kept our meetings consistent but with very light touch. They were open spaces for learning from one another.