Inspiring the next generation

Sadiqa Jabbar is an architect and a MWC school speaker. 

The first ever public speaking gig that I did was back in March 2016. It was a stand in for a couple of Thinking Development colleagues unavailable for an undergrad Geography lecture on Pursuing Sustainable Post-Disaster Reconstruction at the University of Manchester. Thinking Development’s Centre Rosalie Javouhey School reconstruction in Haiti was the case study.

Imagine a lecture room packed with about 200 first year Geography students. My heart was thumping throughout. Hands shaking non-stop. Despite knowing my topic, I was praying for no questions at the end!

The group engagement segment was well received although my preparation and the delivery of the presentation could have been improved. I made up for this by recording a podcast over the presentation and sending it over to the class professor. However, it was a good learning experience.

The key things to remember were:

  • be prepared well in advance (even if you work full time)
  • know your topic
  • time the presentation and keep to the allocated time
  • stick to the main talking points
  • listen to other speakers and audience responses and make references to any overlaps (I found this really useful)
  • engage the audience
  • enjoy the experience!

Fast forward a year later to MWC’s call to action. I had completely forgotten about the UoM talk. Signing up to the School Speaker programme, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. From not having spoken to groups of teenagers (and soon to be teens) to just over a year and a few events later, I was genuinely surprised at how much fun it has been!

So far, I have attended a couple of career fairs and a couple of school assemblies. Each event was different so there was no single formula to adhere to. I found that it was relatively easy talking about something that you genuinely enjoy doing. The challenge is keeping to a time limit and ‘performing’ in an engaging manner suitable to the young age group.

Ultimately, it’s important to be authentic, honest and have respect for your audience, regardless of the age group. I found that being enthusiastic about what you do and showing genuine interest in what they have to say works wonders. There is nothing worse than being patronising and disingenuous.

The Al Azhar Girls Academy Careers Fair for years 10 and 11, in October 2017, was my first experience of interacting with a group of teenagers. It was nerve wracking in the sense that a) I had never had a table at a careers fair before – I was usually on the other side of the booth! And b) I was not at all sure how to engage with young adults!

There were branded rulers and information packs to hand out and samples of architectural projects on display. To bring the profession to life, I also showcased a few ‘A Day in the Life’ zigzag books and 3D goggles to view panoramic perspectives of selected projects. Both of these were well received. I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it became. All I did was show my genuine love for architecture and the rest as they say was history.

The lightning talk assembly at Tayibah Girls School in December 2017 was another first. It was the first time that I, along with another sister, Rajeh, spoke in a school assembly. The format was 5 minutes each to talk about what we do, why we love what we do, our personal journey, and what the educational requirements are. This was followed by a 20 minute Q&A session.

It was great having another sister to partner up with as it enabled us both to bounce off of each other during the Q&As. Sister Rajeh comes from the PR and marketing industry with a film production background. It gave the girls an insight into two professions not typically on the list of career destinations within the Muslim community. 

While these two sessions were being organised, MWC profiled me on their social media platforms, it was different in the sense that not enough Muslim women architects are showcased in the media. One of the many reasons that pulled me into becoming part of the School Speaker programme.

A couple of architecture students spotted my profile and made contact; one through MWC and another directly via LinkedIn. Both wanted some career advice as 1st and 3rd year undergrad students looking for CV and cover letter writing tips for work placements. It was interesting as one of the students had really done her homework – quoting one of my blogs from some years ago that I had almost forgotten that I had written! Cue me going back to revisit and reading all my blogs!

Tooting’s Al Risalah Secondary School assembly in January 2018 was the next slot that I volunteered for. This was actually a lot more structured than the previous one which I did off the hoof. I had to prepare a PowerPoint presentation which covered a series of questions that would help the students consider architecture as a potential career choice. It comprised a morning of two assemblies – one for 50 girls and the second for 50 boys. 2-hit combo, not quite what I was expecting!

However, it was good practice to have the PowerPoint presentation ready for future school assemblies. It helped me structure a presentation and reflect upon my experience while narrating the journey towards becoming an architect. What it also highlighted was my need to time the presentation and keep to the allotted time slot to enable a Q&A session at the end.

With the above experience in hand I became confident enough to join another architect for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) stand at the Mulberry Girls School Careers Fair in March 2018. It was a shame that I forgot my mobile at home that day and couldn’t make use of the 3D goggles or record the experience!

In May 2018 MWC commissioned a Muslim Women at Work survey which I took part in. I firmly believe that for every negative experience there is a positive. Although considering the triple penalty discrimination that being an ethnic minority Muslim woman brings, it will be interesting to read the outcome.

Al Azhar Academy for Girls contacted me in September 2018 to attend their Careers Fair in November 2018. This was a great opportunity to review what I had learnt previously and improve upon it. It wasn’t any less nerve-wracking although I found that more girls were interested in architecture this time round. Result!

Over the past year I have gained confidence in my ability to speak to young people. To the extent that I am now a Mentor on Mosaic’s Secondary School Mentoring programme and the RIBA Student Mentoring programme for third year architecture students. I don’t think it would have been possible if it was not for MWC’s School Speaker programme. Everything happens for a reason it seems.

All these experiences have enabled me to talk about the things I love in a fun and passionate way. The challenge is to make it engaging, relevant, and interesting for young girls and boys. As we grow and enter adulthood with increasing responsibilities and changing priorities along the way, we often forget the impact we have as role models for our younger sisters and brothers.

As I have mentioned to many people my main aim with attending schools and mentoring young adults is to show them that they can achieve anything that they desire. So long as you have the passion, drive and are willing to work hard, you can achieve anything. If through my contribution I can inspire even one or two future female Muslim architects, I will be more than happy and satisfied.

As with everything, it’s important to question what is the legacy we want to leave behind?

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