Mar 3, 2022 - Farzana Kashfi
“Leadership is a set of skills. And like any skill, it can be acquired with hard work, dedication, and practice.”
– Farzana Kashfi, governing board member, BYLC
With over a decade of experience in the fields of development and youth empowerment, Farzana Kashfi has been committed to serving the underserved. She is currently on the board of BYLC as well as United Trust, an affiliate of United Group. She is also an impact advisor to North South University’s start-up accelerator program and an advisor to BRAC University’s Center of Entrepreneurship Development. She had previously worked with BRAC, the World Bank, Grameen Bank, ILO, Sajida Foundation, and the Acumen Fund.
In an interview with BYLC’s Radeeyah Zaman Khan, Farzana shared insights on critical skills needed for the 21st-century workplace, prevalent biases against women, and the importance of practicing empathy in everyday interactions.
1. As a board member of BYLC and a successful professional, how would you say leadership skills have helped you pave your path to success?
First of all, I would like to thank BYLC for featuring me in your newsletter. I’m honored! When it comes to leadership, I strongly believe in the saying that leaders are not born but made. Leadership is, indeed, a set of skills. And like any skill, it can be acquired with hard work, dedication, and practice. Practicing leadership skills such as taking initiative, being a team player, being an empathetic listener, practicing effective communication, etc, has allowed me to perform better in the roles I have taken on and to create effective solutions for those that my work serves. We don’t have to be in leadership positions or hold leadership titles in order to practice leadership. Each of us is a leader of our own lives and can aspire to lead a meaningful life that can set an example for others to follow.
2. What are some top skills you would suggest are needed to do well in your professional field?
I have been working in the field of international development for over a decade and a half now. Some of the organizations I have worked with include the World Bank, ILO, Grameen Bank, Acumen Fund, BRAC, and Sajida Foundation. The general skill set required in this field is no different than that needed in others- such as critical thinking, ability to work in teams, effective communication, etc. However, one top skill I would say that is strongly required in this field is empathy. In development, you will find yourself working with the most marginalized populations. Unless you develop the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the members of the population you are serving, the work you do will always fall short. In my experience, consciously practicing empathy at the workplace and in the field has been invaluable in delivering effective outcomes. We have evolved to empathize with those that are similar to us. So it does take extra effort to understand and empathize with those that are different from us and hence, it is a skill that one needs to develop.
3. What is the one thing you’re most proud of about women's empowerment and how far we’ve come in the past decade?
Women in Bangladesh have truly made a marvelous journey to empowerment. There is much to be proud of. We now see women claiming their space and taking on leadership roles in their communities, workplaces, and beyond. One thing in particular that I’m proud of is the educational attainment of girls. Just take a look at the HSC results of this year. Among those who participated in the HSC exams, 48% were girls. However, among those who achieved GPA-5, 53% were girls! Girls have wonderfully excelled this year and this has been in the making for many years now. Bangladesh is often referred to as a development miracle and girls’ education and women empowerment are at the center of this story. However, we need to keep in mind that there remain many barriers that prevent girls and women from achieving equality. Girls are among one of the worst affected populations during the Covid pandemic with child marriage rates significantly going up across the country. So we need to remain vigilant and continue challenging these barriers so every girl can reach her full potential.
4. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Break the Bias, what biases do you think still exist and need to be addressed?
Oh, so many! Biases against women exist in every sphere of our lives- home, community, workplace, schools, colleges, etc. In order to break these biases, we need to transform mindsets. You see, in our society, most of us don’t believe that men and women can be equals. The majority, including many women, will come up with a reason for why women can’t or shouldn’t be treated equally, and this is the mindset that leads to bias. A lot is being done to transform this mindset at the level of the individual and the society but we still have a long way to go.
5. What advice would you like to give to the female youth in our country in leading change for women?
Women have been doing a fabulous job in breaking down a million biases that prevent us from being treated as equal to men. Nonetheless, many more biases still remain. Even in today’s society, we expect women to put others before their own choices or dreams. We glorify the women that make sacrifices for the sake of others (their family, children, etc) and label those that pursue their choices or dreams as selfish. Look around- does the same apply to men? No. It’s these double standards that set us, women, back. So my advice for the female youth of our country would be to identify the double standards in your lives and question them. It’s indeed difficult to do because it’s not always easy to acknowledge how we may have been deprived. But it is important nevertheless. Because only when we can identify these double standards in our lives, can we then work towards overcoming them—not just in our lives but in society as a whole. We need to be the change that we want to see in the world. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you can’t do it because you are a girl. Question it, challenge it and then just do it!