Leading the Way

Dr. Ruha Shadab's Led By Foundation is empowering Muslim women to join the workforce, fostering inclusivity and career advancement.

By Syed Sulaiman Akhtar

February 2024

Leading the Way

Dr. Ruha Shadab (right) and the team at the Led By Foundation help Muslim women build leadership abilities and access professional opportunities. (Photograph courtesy Dr. Ruha Shadab)

A medical doctor and social entrepreneur, Dr. Ruha Shadab completed her master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. This is where she started the Led By Foundation in 2019, which focuses on the professional development of Indian Muslim women, aiming to increase their participation in the workforce.

In December 2023, the foundation collaborated with the American Center New Delhi for a networking event for Muslim women. At the event, participants connected with industry experts and explored exhibitions by Muslim women entrepreneurs and artists.

The Led By Foundation seeks to cultivate an environment where women get equal opportunities to contribute to the country’s development. It also works on building leadership abilities among Muslim women by providing them with a supportive ecosystem and access to relevant opportunities and networks.

Excerpts from an interview with Dr. Shadab.

What inspired you to launch the Led By Foundation? Please tell us about the foundation’s work to empower Muslim women.

As a health professional in India, I was acutely aware of the lack of Muslim women in professional settings like hospitals and offices. I was also aware of how few women within my extended family were pursuing professional careers. I wanted to create something productive and impactful for Muslim women. This culminated in the Led By Foundation.

Led By works with early-career Indian Muslim women and provides professional upskilling and connections with recruiting companies. Our fully-funded programs are bridging the gap between education and employment.

What was the response to the Led By networking event at the American Center New Delhi? What are some of the key outcomes and takeaways?

We received an overwhelming response to the event, with the main takeaway being the profoundly positive impact of bringing together courageous, career-driven professionals—especially women—in one space. The energy shared among attendees was palpable, amplifying the dreams and aspirations of the women present in the auditorium. It is truly amazing to create such empowering spaces for people, and that’s exactly what happened at the event.

What challenges did you face when setting up the Led By Foundation and how did you overcome them?

During the incubation phase of the Led By Foundation, I was questioned a lot about our objectives and about our target audience. While people saw the need for something that focused on Indian Muslim women, they were concerned about the longevity and sustainability of such an endeavor. Despite these doubts, I persisted in advocating for the inclusion of Muslim women in the workforce in India, driven by my strong belief in the benefits it would bring to all stakeholders, including men. What has helped keep me going is also the discovery of tremendously talented and supportive individuals along the way, who have joined the Led By mission.

What does a typical working day at the foundation look like? What opportunities do you plan to explore in the coming months?

A typical day at Led By includes conducting sessions for the young Muslim women enrolled in our programs, followed by open sessions on professional upskilling. It also involves getting feedback from those who have joined our classes and then strategically discussing how to improve our programming. We conduct research to stay up to date on the representation of minorities. Through research, we also explore how to improve the representation of minorities or the direction of our work. We are very excited to continue this research as we embark on the fifth year of our programs.

What was the community’s response to the Led By Foundation?

The community’s response to our work has been extremely positive. During one of our graduation ceremonies, we invited a father to speak, as we often like to involve family members and other supporters who have played significant roles in the lives of the women we coach and work with. At the end of the speech, he said, “This is the first time I’m speaking in public. Led By has empowered my daughter, and my daughter has empowered me.” This kind of positive externality warms my heart because it reinforces the social impact that we want to create.

Can you tell us about some of the women who have benefited from the foundation’s support?

Our graduates have achieved remarkable milestones. They’ve secured their dream jobs, convinced their families to relocate for better career opportunities, and succeeded in negotiating higher salaries. They have been able to dream bigger.

What advice do you have for women who want to support others to launch professional careers?

It’s important to make yourself available. Let it be known that you are open to providing mentorship, creating platforms, or simply engaging in recruiting conversations with women to help them advance in their careers. You can start big or small, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you just start.

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