Aila Malik is a multipreneur, social justice warrior, planet protector, and world explorer. She’s a lawyer by schooling, nonprofit executive by trade, and founder of Venture Leadership Consulting, a management consulting firm that partners with nonprofits to close systemic gaps of inequity.
In this episode, we chat about social impact leadership, multipreneurship, and doing the inner work to drive change in our communities. That inner work can sometimes be found in interesting places! Aila speaks to how the app Clubhouse served as a “free life coach” – presenting her with opportunities for inner healing.
“We [the national nonprofit community of practitioners] are now called upon to solve some of the world’s toughest issues. How do we get very intentional about garnering the empathy and resources that are needed to solve the world’s most pressing issues? For me, that comes down to really doing that inner work in a micro-macro level.” – Aila Malik
Note: multipreneurship is different to being a hybrid professional, which we cover in a previous episode with Dr. Sarabeth Berk.
Highlights from the podcast episode:
[02:30] Aila Malik’s path to activism
I’m a South Asian immigrant and first-generation American. I was born and raised here from parents who came from Pakistan in the 70s. They were met with a lot of challenges, and were successful in their own right. They did their very best to raise me which I am so grateful for.
So, I’m a product of a lot of love and a lot of challenges. There was always the mantra to work. At age 14, I got my first job – when I could get my workers permit at high school – and found myself always leaning into whatever experience was in front of me.
I went to UC Santa Barbara, undeclared as a major again, and wanted to figure out what it was that I was going to do. I ended up becoming an environmental studies major in Santa Barbara. And at the time, there was a lot of activism on campus against oil rigging, and there were people living in trees as a form of civil disobedience. I didn’t see myself as an activist, because that title was reserved for people who looked a certain way. They didn’t shave their legs and lived in trees, and that wasn’t something that I saw myself in. I thought for many years that I was anything but an activist.
But every single moment and every single turn, I was drawn to people who were standing up for something. And they were standing up for a better world – whether that was through a hearing, whether that was through visiting someone who was incarcerated, whether that was through being in a substance abuse or mental hospital and navigating that path.
I realized that activism looked like a deep intention and a desire for a better planet. Whether that’s through parenting, or building companies to elevate the nonprofit sector, or community building through volunteerism, or through my own advocacy within my community.
[06:59] What do children of immigrants and nonprofit leaders have in common?
The immigrant story, even if you’re born here, is a story of resourcefulness and resilience. It’s not always resilience necessarily by desire, but it’s resilience of necessity. It’s being able to find the resources that you need to navigate that moment. The shadow side of that, is when you get older, you’ve missed some proactive support in that area.
Education was a huge priority, but no one knew how to navigate it. Right? No one knew that you’re supposed to have college advisors and essay support writers. It was sort of a free-for-all. Years later, when I came full circle in the nonprofit entrepreneurial space, [that helped me realize] that many founders of social enterprises start with a network base of wealth to help seed those ideas. Many folks who didn’t have that curated approach to systems find themselves in a place where they’re proud of how far they’ve come in the mileage they’ve walked. But they also see what could have been, had there been more intention around that network or around that type of system entry.
It’s really cool to be in a position of trying to now navigate, “What are the resources I can give my privileged kid that probably does not know how privileged he is, right?”
[Similarly,] in the nonprofit sector, a lot of us are homegrown and self-taught. The old guard of founders and CEOs come from a network that is really well funded and resourced. Maybe not necessarily in business, but they have a network. Now that we’re looking at a movement of BIPOC-led organizations, many of us don’t have access to those networks built in from our childhood or adolescence. And we have to tap into those now. And those networks are largely Old Guard networks of white folks who have a lot of wealth and generational privilege.
[10:50] Doing the inner work of leadership
When we work with humans, we learn about ourselves through others. You don’t learn about yourself sitting in a box. You learn about yourself through what irks you, triggers you, what brings you joy, what brings you peace. Whatever inner work you have not paid attention to will show up in your work. It will present itself for healing. And when you feel like you have worked on it, it’s going to show up again, to present itself for mastery.
Because the nonprofit community is one in which we are working with people in community (our staff, teams, and boards) that inner work shows up in various forms again and again. Coupled with that, a lot of us in the nonprofit sector have a very difficult and complicated relationship with conflict. It is the one through thread that I see in most difficult leadership structures.
Somewhere in there, the leader is uncomfortable with conflict. They have not yet transformed conflict as a way to deepen relationship. Somewhere in their childhood experience it was destructive, or as something that was irreparable or caused a lot of pain. So, people either railroad through decisions or railroad through meetings or they become avoidant.
I’ve spent a lot of years trying to reorient and pay attention to what mode I’m showing up in with respect to any kind of conflict, whether that’s a decision, whether that’s a debate, or a full on disagreement of process and leadership with a board or with a co executive. I think the savior complex of our sector, that martyrdom syndrome, is starting to wear off. There were a lot of executives and founders that sort of lifted their gaze and realized that nobody wanted their jobs because they had put so much into it at the sacrifice of their health and wellbeing. Nobody was standing in line for that baton. I’ve seen that in the last 20 years.
But what’s now coming up is like, “How do you do this and not burnout? How are you bringing your whole self to work around conflict, codependency and checking your ego constantly?”
[16:43] How to drive change in your organization
William Miller and Stephen Rollnick started looking at how we can get substance addicted individuals to change their habits and behavior, and came up with motivational interviewing. When we talk about organizational change, organizations are made from people. It’s about behavioral change at its core. So, so we essentially use that framework to understand what stage of change is that organization in.
Pre contemplation is the lowest denominator for example, and that is: people don’t think there’s a problem to change. Or they may think everything else is the problem, but not them. Nothing that they’re doing is the problem. They’re a victim of everybody else’s problems, right? That type of mentality is what we call pre contemplative. The intervention to move that person or type of behavior is with high information and low intrusion. Low intrusion means we’re not here to take your job. You enter with a lot of listening, and authentic relationship. And then high information is “Here’s what a clear role for a case manager looks like. Here’s what high performing sexual trafficking organizations look like.” So you’re sharing information that people can step into and begin to see a discrepancy between where they are today and what they could be when they start to contemplate.
That’s what I think is really beautiful about a change champion. They have the perspective to see how organizations have made it on the other side and storytell backwards and say, “Listen, this could be you guys. You guys get to co create this next chapter. Let’s honor however we got to this moment and rally for this next phase.
The reason I started applying [Stages of Change] was I came from case management practice working with juvenile justice. That was a framework that I started using in my practice and teaching staff and felt like, “Oh, I get I get how you help make change accessible. How do we do this in a bigger sandbox? How do we do this with systems? How do we do this with organizations?”
Not everybody is interested in doing that work. And that is okay. It’s not a judgment that you’re not ‘down’ enough. What’s central to our work, and central to any change initiative, is the mission. We can have the best relationships with the person who brought us in. And guess what, in in face of the mission, everybody is indispensable. Even the boss that brought us in – the CEO, the board chair – nobody is above the mission. That’s what that’s who our loyalty is. Even if the funder paid for us [to be there[, we’re really about the mission and that helps us stay very grounded and intentional to do whatever we need to do.
[25:08] Clubhouse for thought leadership and self-coaching
So, Clubhouse. My value set is around building community: finding ways to connect or deeply see people or be seen by people. During the pandemic, Clubhouse launched and it was invitation only. I was curious about it. I started putzing, around on Clubhouse and seeing what it was all about.
Soon, I was like, “Where’s my nonprofit people?” I couldn’t really find those kinds of [conversations.] I started a nonprofit club. I committed to twice a week being on Clubhouse with this nonprofit room.
I started saying “Oh my god, Clubhouse is the best life coach.” It’s a free life coach, because I learned so much about myself in doing Clubhouse. There were a lot of things triggering me that I wanted to better explore.
One was, I got very quickly frustrated by not being able to have a physical cue to tell people that I was trying to see them. Like on Zoom, I’m constantly doing thumbs up and going “uh-huh” but that’s not appropriate in Clubhouse. You mute yourself when you’re not speaking. The “Clubhouse as a life coach” question to me was like, “What’s that about? Like, the person is actually just fine. The person is speaking their truth, and has the mic. Why do you Aila need that person to see that you’re validating them? Right? Like, what is that about?” That’s my own self validation: that I want to feel good about contributing to somebody else’s being seen. Clubhouse immediately began to help me question how I was showing up in spaces, and who that showing up was actually for.
The second trigger that I had was moderating and holding space. It takes intention, thought and practice and being present. I don’t moderate rooms and walk around. I am sitting taking notes – like I am really holding that space, even though participants may be doing multitasking. A trigger for me was seeing some moderators let people speak, on and on and on. I found myself getting really frustrated. And after I got frustrated, I realized how there’s so much beauty in the fact that this moderator is not trying to cut the person off, but is actually really focused on letting that person go.
I started to then ask myself that “How much do I control in settings and conversations? How much can I let go, and really listen and not be so impatient about getting to the punch line or getting to the action? That was a really beautiful lesson.
[40:30] Aila’s vision: how do we solve the world’s most pressing issues?
My personal vision is to write a book about my mom and being a first generation Pakistani American. I want to travel a whole bunch. [Professionally] the next five or six years is really around the nonprofit community. And I’m not talking about nonprofit industrial complex, I’m talking about the nonprofit community of practitioners. We are now called upon to solve some of the world’s toughest issues?
There’s a calling around how do we get very intentional about garnering the empathy and resources that are needed to solve the world’s most pressing issues. For me, that comes down to doing that inner work at a micro macro level.
How are we using all of the experiences that we’re doing in the community to build ourselves to be more empathetic and connect people to causes we can solve? It requires being comfortable with conflict and doing our own work there. So for me, the next couple years is about that connective tissue and about advancing our voice as a sector in the national arena.
I’m really feeling called to the next big sandbox, which is, how do we do that as a country with a lot of diverse thoughts? We have a lot of diverse pain and experiences, power structures, so how do we do we do that in a way where it’s not dominated by just the polarized extremes? How do we actually bring community empathy to the center of our work as a country and as an international community – as a planet? That’s the sandbox. I want to try motivational interviewing in that sandbox. What conversations have to be had? What kind of fights need to be had, what tears, what reparations, what reconciliations? I want to be intentional about spending time in that place.
Resources from this episode:
14 LinkedIn Content Prompts: Build your personal brand and thought leadership, show up for your target audience and grow your know-like-trust factor with your professional audience on LinkedIn.
Aila and Tania mention a couple of models and frameworks to help them guide and drive change. The first is William Miller and Stephen Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing, which you can read more about here. The second is Prochaska’s Stages of Change Model and you can find more information about it here.
Connect with Aila Malik:
Company Website: ventureleader.org
Personal Website: ailamalik.com
Connect with Tania Bhattacharyya:
LinkedIn: Tania Bhattacharyya
Demystify LinkedIn and Thought Leadership with Tania
The people who can make your social impact dreams come true are on LinkedIn. They’ve probably even connected with you already! Our LinkedIn VIP Day is a 1:1 intensive for purpose-driven women who are ready to take their place as the trusted, go-to voice in their niche.
To become an approachable expert. To stand out as you stand up for your mission. Learn more at: https://lumosmarketing.co/linkedin-vip-day