Public health leadership in action, with Anjum Sultana

hosted by:


Show Notes

Today on the show, Sujani speaks about leadership once again.

We introduced the topic of leadership in public health on the PHSPOTlight podcast in episode 12 with Nadia Akseer. In that kick-off episode, we committed to bringing conversations with more of our peers around the topic of leadership. We want leadership in public health to be a skill that you are constantly thinking about building on, as much as (if not more) than building technical or software skills. The conversations we are choosing to share with you are with leaders who are not only our peers but those who we feel we can learn a lot from and be inspired by to take real action.

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Anjum Sultana. Anjum is someone Sujani has known for a number of years and has interacted with via phone calls and messaging/email, but this was the first time they both “saw” each other (virtually), so it was a special conversation. Anjum’s advocacy and leadership work is also something that Sujani has been inspired by over the years.

The conversation with Anjum is not only jam-packed with inspiration and motivation to be a leader in public health but also weaves tangible first steps for all of us to take.

Public health needs many strong leaders to push agendas forward, and we hope that by sharing stories like that of Anjum’s, you walk away feeling like you too can be a leader in public health.

You’ll Learn

  • How Anjum defines leadership
  • Whether she intentionally chose to become a leader in her space, or it naturally occurred
  • A bit about the young Anjum, her first memory of thinking that she could be a leader, and how her dad was an inspiration to her, which has resulted in the work she does in her community
  • Attributes of a good leader (skills to build on for anyone wanting to be a leader in their space), and skills Anjum wished she had gained early on
  • Things students can focus on specifically while in school to set themselves up to become a strong leader
  • Step-by-step how we can go from feeling passionate about a topic/issue/cause to taking incremental action that leads to change
    • A couple of examples where Anjum identified a gap/problem and took action
  • Whether leadership only comes from a management/senior-level role (hint: no it doesn’t)
  • Whether leaders are born OR if leadership can be learned
  • Challenges Anjum faces as a leader in her space
  • A final example where Anjum showed that she is a leader in her space: she talks about her journey first authoring Canada’s First Feminist Recovery Plan.
    • It is the first nationally-focused one in the country and possibly the world
    • She encourages the PH SPOT community to read it, make it your own, and reach out to her should you be interested in taking action

Today’s Guest

Anjum Sultana

Recently named the 2020 Global Woman of Distinction by the United Nations NGO Committee on the Status of Women, Anjum Sultana is an internationally-recognized advocate for progressive public policies to create a more just and equitable society.

Currently, Anjum serves as the National Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada, the nation’s oldest and largest women’s serving organization. She also serves on the boards of a number of organizations including, Regent Park Community Health Centre, Toronto Environmental Alliance and the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians; and sits on several research, organizational and policy advisory committees. Anjum is also a Global Shaper for the Toronto Hub, affiliated with the World Economic Forum, a Founding Advisor of Progress Toronto and served as Canadian Delegate at the 2019 G7 Youth Summit in Paris, France through Young Diplomats of Canada. Recently, Anjum was appointed to CivicAction’s Re:Action Task Force which feeds into and advises various COVID19 recovery tables throughout the greater Toronto region. She is also part of the Ontario Council for International Cooperation’s Gender Equality and Youth Policy-Makers Hubs. She is also an Advisor for the 2020/2021 Action Canada Public Policy Fellowship Programme.

Anjum is an accomplished public speaker who has delivered keynote speeches, lectures, workshops and participated in panel discussions. Her media and policy commentary has been featured on networks and publications such as Apolitical, CBC, CityTv, CTV, First Policy Response, Healthy Debate, National Observer, New Canadian Media, Now Toronto, Public Policy Forum, The Walrus, Toronto Sun, and TVO.

Anjum holds a Masters of Public Health from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Anjum is also the founder of Millennial Womxn in Policy, a grassroots organization and community of practice that connects more than 3,000 young women and non-binary people working in policy across North America and Europe in civil society, politics, private sector and public service.


Other PH SPOT resources:

Join the challenge mentioned in the podcast!


Episode Transcript

Anjum 0:00
You know, public health is this incredible asset to society. But it’s often invisible people when it’s working well, no one even realizes it’s there. But when we need more dramatic investments or we’re feeling the burden of investments that hadn’t happened in the past, now bear in fruition like that, that lock. That’s when people realize, oh, this is a crucially important aspect of society.

Sujani 0:29
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:47
Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today on the show, I’m talking about leadership once again. I started talking about leadership in public health on episode 12 with Nadia Ekseer and with that episode, I committed to bringing on more of our peers to talk about this topic because I wanted to ensure that leadership is a skill that we constantly think about building on as much as we think about building our technical skills or software skills. And I want to have conversations with leaders who are our peers who are in public health and individuals I feel that we can learn from and be inspired by. So today I’m talking to Anjum Sultana. We’ve known each other for a number of years and have interacted with each other over phone calls and virtually but this is actually the first time we are kind of seeing each other virtually, of course, so I felt like it was a special moment. Recently named the 2020 Global Woman of Distinction by the United Nations NGO Committee on the Status of Women, Anjum Sultana is an internationally recognized advocate for progressive public policies to create a more just and equitable society. Currently, Anjum serves as the National Director of Public Policy and Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada, the nation’s oldest and largest woman serving organization. Anjum is also the first author on Canada’s first feminist recovery plan, the first nationally focused one in the world. She serves on the boards of the region, Park Community Health Center, Toronto Environmental Alliance, and the Council of agencies serving South Asians. Anjum is also a Global Shaper for the Toronto hub, which is affiliated with the World Economic Forum, a founding advisor of progress Toronto and served as a Canadian delegate at the 2019 g7 youth summit in Paris, France, through the Young Diplomats of Canada. Anjum also sits on several research, organizational and policy advisory committees, including being a strategic advisor for Akimbo Care, an online platform to enable health care, access and reduce financial barriers in global south nations. Anjum is also an accomplished public speaker who has delivered keynote speeches, lectures, workshops, and participated in a number of panel discussions. And that’s also something that we talk about in today’s episode, how important that is as a leader. And to add to the great accomplishments she’s had, Anjum also holds a Master of Public Health from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. She is also the founder of millennial woman and policy, a grassroots organization and community of practice that connects more than 3000 young women and non binary people working in policy across North America and Europe, in civil society, politics, private sector and public service. And since 2018, this group has hosted over 12 events in cities across Canada. So as you can imagine, as an individual that follows Anjum quite closely on social media, I am completely inspired over and over again, with all of the work that she does and the care that she brings to the communities that she’s involved in. And so I felt like there couldn’t be a better person to talk about leadership in action than with Anjum Sultana. So without further ado, here’s our conversation.

Sujani 4:50
Hi, Anjum, thank you so much for joining us on the PH SPOTlight podcast. I think this is our third attempt to get together so I’m super excited and welcome, this Friday morning.

Anjum 5:01
Thank you. I’m so excited. I’ve been such a big fan of your work and- and the platform and community we’ve created so thrilled and really happy to be here today.

Sujani 5:12
Wonderful. And yeah, so we’re gonna be talking about a topic that I love speaking to individuals like you, especially about, and it’s around leadership. So I started this kind of leadership type series, I had Nadia Ekseer here on Episode 12, to talk about fueling your leadership drive as a public health professional, because, you know, we need very strong leaders to move public health agendas forward. And I think it’s a skill that we get very little training in. And I don’t think there are many discussions around the topic, or how to foster great leaders that kind of such a young age and at least, that’s what I’ve seen. And you can tell me if you think otherwise. And so I’ve committed to bringing people like yourself on this podcast, to speak about leadership, in a way to, you know, inspire and nudge people to think about how they can be leaders in their communities and area of work. So I thought, you know, right off the bat, I want to ask you, how do you define leadership?

Anjum 6:14
Yeah, this is a great question. Because sometimes it’s, it’s, it’s so I think, nuanced and different depending on who the person is. And you know, the work that they do, I would say, a lot of like, my early realizations of leadership was thinking about my, you know, the way my dad kind of contributed to his community, his- his country, here in Canada. And so he was a- is a trained electrician, but when he initially came to this country, and to Canada, he faced challenges. And, you know, he was able to rise, you know, from those challenges and was, you know, able to secure a job that allowed him to, you know, support his family and support his ambitions and support his work. But he didn’t, he figured out like, it’s not enough that you’re successful, you have to ensure that you give back to the communities that you’re part of. And, you know, seeing his leadership, whether it’s being involved with his like professional association, or doing what he can to ensure that people who are internationally trained, could have a footing here in Canada when they landed, or, you know, doing mentorship with skills for change, and giving back. So I think my earliest, like realizations of leadership were from my dad. And, you know, at the core of it is this- is this commitment to community. So that’s, that’s one of the big things I see. And then I think, kind of building on that. It’s about recognizing where there’s gaps, where things are not working, when things are not fair, or just and looking towards, not just yourself, but looking to the community of peers around you, and figuring out what could be done to change that, and then inspiring people to act. So it’s less about a title, or, you know, a certain position that you hold. But for me, leadership is about a mindset that’s always seeking. How do we all achieve our highest potential and so that’s kind of how I’ve kind of embodied or internalized what leadership means and try my best to practice in the different parts of life that I’m in.

Sujani 8:27
And so that’s interesting that you’ve seen your dad kind of, you know, be the role model for you to take on such like, great leadership roles in the community. I mean, like, for me, I see the work that you do, I’ve been following you for a number of years. And all of the recognition that you’ve gotten, I think, is a testament to the great leader that you’ve been in our community and, you know, uplifting others along the way, just for our listeners to kind of hear of some of these recognitions, you’ve been named as 2020 Global Woman of Distinction by the UN-NGO Committee on the Status of Women, which is phenomenal. Recently, you were nominated for RBC’s top 25 Canadian immigrants award. I mean, just being nominated is also mind blowing. You serve on a number of boards, and you served as a Canadian delegate at the 2019 g7 youth summit. I’m curious, did you kind of you know, seeing your father play such a big role in the community of uplifting others, did you tell yourself, you know, I’m going to be a leader? Was that an intentional choice? Or did it naturally happen?

Anjum 9:39
Yeah, so I think like I’ve always been drawn to just solving problems and- and working in collaboration with others. And so I would say like, even very early on in like elementary school, I think there was like a position. You know, how sometimes elementary schools have like Parent Teacher associations or parent teacher kind of committees?

Sujani 10:00

Anjum 10:00
I think there was a role, I want to say in grade five or grade six, where, you know, there’s an opportunity for a student to be part of that. And I remember I was just really excited by that, like, it seemed interesting, like, oh, like, you know, different groups of people, like parents, teachers and students like, what could we possibly do together? So I was intrigued, I was curious by it. And then once I started doing that, I in many ways, just fell in love with that idea of service. You know, I was someone who, you know, like school, I love to learn, but I was very, very adamant that learning is not enough, if you don’t apply it and community service often allowed that opportunity. And it also I think, just like, activated another part of learning, you know, that was above and beyond just books and classrooms, it was about being in community. So I think- I think that’s kind of where it started. And then it’s been something you know, throughout my, you know, school years, going into higher education, like undergrad and grad school, it always added, I would say, like a flavor or a different perspective to my life. And I think it just made everything more just tangible. Beyond the theory and rhetoric, it was something I often tell a lot of young people and you know, even for myself, it’s been quite true. Like I learned more from my peers, as well as like my outside of classroom engagements, then just slowly school like school was essential for the skills development. But to actually practice that, that’s, that’s where my extracurriculars, my service that’s- that’s where I got more of the practical- practical skills.

Sujani 11:51
Yeah. And you said, this first, I guess, exposure to the sort of leadership role was in elementary school, would you say that’s the first memory you have of thinking? Okay, like, I think I want to be a leader. I want to contribute to my community?

Anjum 12:09
I think so. I think so. I think it was probably like, in threads like even before that, but I think that was like my first kind of taste of it, or experience of it. And in many ways, I feel like I’ve never looked back.

Sujani 12:24
And were you the same Anjum you are now when you were younger? What I mean by that is, I mean, like you, you were well spoken, you represent the community well, at numerous stages, like was that kind of the role that you were playing even at a young age?

Anjum 12:39
I- Yeah. Well, I you know, one thing, you know, I was talking to a friend who’s known me since undergrad, and then I was talking with another friend who’s known me since elementary school, like, the last few weeks, and they’re like, you know, what’s so funny about you Anjum, like, you’re always so excited and just enthusiastic about life, and just, you know, very just optimistic, and it was, it was, yeah, it was like, Oh, I guess I haven’t really changed. So it’s been something I think, like, at the core. And so I think, I think that energy and enthusiasm and optimism, I think has served me well, because I’m very, so I’ll say, you know, I grew up in Scarborough, and one of the things I came to know, once I went into university, is just the inequities across the city, but also how certain parts of the city are represented. And I felt, you know, there was unfairness and how different parts of the city were represented. And-

Sujani 13:35

Anjum 13:35
And I think partially it’s because of the demographics and people having stereotypes and- and not really understanding the systemic issues. And so I’ve always seen myself as someone who wants to make sure the full picture is seen. And so I think that’s part of my drive around, like telling stories or telling perspectives. So people get the full picture, because I think oftentimes, there is misrepresentation that happens, or the full picture is not captured. And I’ll say also, I think, you know, as a young woman, as a racialized woman, as a Muslim woman, I’ve seen how society when there is stereotypes and misrepresentation, the dramatic effects that could have on- on a community wide level systemically for four different groups.

Sujani 14:25
Now, that’s a good example. And maybe we can talk that- talk about that a little bit. So if we’re thinking okay, so this episode is going to come out in October when students let’s say, are starting out their MPH is, and they’re extremely passionate about understanding the inequities in their communities and they’ve got the drive, they’ve got the passion, they have that optimism, but then they’re stuck at taking action. Right. And so, how do you break through that and what is that kind of like one thing they can do or are there certain skills they need to brush up on like someone who’s just stuck in that action path, like what can they do?

Anjum 15:06
Yeah, so I often tell people, like the biggest step I think is just read, inform yourself on the issues. And it could be reading blogs, it can be reading newspaper articles, it could be listening to podcasts such as this, I think one of the first steps and sometimes this is probably why it stopped- why people feel challenged to take, the next step is they feel they don’t know enough. So- so do your part, make sure you you inform yourself, you are bright, you are talented. And sometimes it’s just reading a primer on an issue. And then you’ll feel more comfortable. And when you feel more comfortable, you’ll be more willing to go out and do more. And I think the next step then is to connect connect with like minded people. I think there’s nothing that beats, you know, having someone who is excited about a topic that you’re excited about, and you can just have those like, free flowing conversations. And I think naturally, what comes out of those interactions is hey, like, could we do something about this?

Sujani 16:06

Anjum 16:07
That’s the power of collective action. You, like, change can kind of happen if people do individual actions, but the most effective change is when people come together. So I think I would say, if people are passionate about a topic and want to take action, see is an organization that’s already working on the issue. And, you know, reach out and say, Hey, how can I do my part? How can I contribute, and I will say is to advocacy movements, like I was involved briefly with doctors for refugee health care. As a non medical person, I was as an undergrad and as a public health student. And I got involved with other campaigns looking at increasing access to health care coverage for all people in Ontario and Canada. So we know we have health care coverage in Canada. But sometimes, depending on immigration status, not everyone gets access to the full set of services. And so that is where I learned how to write my press, first press release, for example, or learned other key skills that I think has molded me to where I am now.

Sujani 17:18
And when you reflect back on some of the projects that you’ve been involved in, or like the path that you’ve taken, are there certain skills that you wish that you had gained a little bit early years so that you could have kind of steered your path or accelerated a little bit?

Anjum 17:34
Yeah, so you know, as someone who did a public health degree, and I know, many of the audience here is doing that, or is in that field. You know, public health is this incredible asset to society. But it’s often invisible people, when it’s working well, no one even realizes it’s there. But when we need more dramatic investments, or we’re feeling the burden of investments that hadn’t happened in the past, now bearing fruition like that, that lock, that’s when people realize, oh, this is a crucially important aspect of society. And so I think one of the things I would be really encouraged if people learned more is things like media advocacy, how do we ensure and be vigilant that the importance of public health is not forgotten? So right now, for example, we’re in a global pandemic. And I am hopeful that we will be able to surpass this and, you know, build back better, which is the rhetoric right now. But what I’m fearful of is that people will forget, and we may be in a position where we as a society are more vulnerable. And the thing is, you know, there’s certain communities that will be more vulnerable because of historical lack of investments in public health or the social determinants of health. So you know, the burden is not going to be felt equally, and I’m afraid that we will forget. So I think one of the key things is how do we build that media advocacy, literacy and skill set? So that’s something I really want to see more. And I think, you know, part of that is, how do you write an op ed? How do you engage the media? How do you do a good interview? How do you make information accessible so people feel that they’re understanding what we’re seeing as members of public health?

Sujani 19:24
I don’t know about you, but I know I have probably never gotten training in those areas of media advocacy or literacy or, you know, writing op eds in my MPH, did you at all get any sort of training?

Anjum 19:39
I would say formally, no, but I am very glad that I was involved in some of the social movements and kind of organizing I mentioned, because I was able to learn some of those key skills like for example, you know, how do you influence government? How do you participate in government committees? You know, as residents of different provinces and territories, that is part of our right as residents of this country, but we often I think that civic literacy is so crucial for that change making that leadership. And so I think that’s also a key element, not just like the policies, but like, actually, how do you make those policies happen? Yeah, the actual navigation of the political and political machinery, I think that’s crucial.

Sujani 20:28
So I heard optimism, media advocacy, kind of writing skills, speaking skills to give good interviews, and kind of civic literacy. Would you say there are other additional attributes of a good leader?

Anjum 20:46
Yeah, so I think I’m at the core of it is being able to listen, I think, if you have members, that you’re part- if you’re part of a collective art team, and every single person has value that they bring to the table, but if people feel that if they speak, they will be heard, or when they do, you know, have the courage to speak, that their ideas will be dismissed, then it’s as if their contribution was never made in the first place. So I think the most important piece is listening, and making sure people feel valued and heard. Because that’s ultimately it from my humble perspective, where you will make the best and most effective intervention or change or or contribution as a collective.

Sujani 21:38
Yeah, that’s a that’s a good point. Because I think sometimes leadership is equated with management. And there’s a myth that you can only be a leader if you’re sitting at kind of like the senior level of tables. But I believe that that doesn’t have to happen. Like it’s not synonymous. Would you kind of agree like does leadership happen only by those in senior level positions?

Anjum 22:04
Absolutely not, in fact, I think perhaps the most effective leadership is, is when people don’t necessarily have that position or title, but they’re making that change. And I think part of it is also that influencing. So management in some ways, like the piece I hear from it is telling people what to do. Whereas leadership is people telling you what they want to do. So it kind of reverses that. And there is more ownership that people take over the work that they want to contribute and the ideas they want to bring forward. And so what you’re essentially doing, what I would think, as a leader, is you’re either creating other leaders, or you’re just giving people the space to demonstrate their comp- to give their full contribution. And you’re, you’re more of a facilitator than I guess, in some ways, the person telling people exactly what they need to do.

Sujani 23:02
Here’s another sort of myth that I wonder like, what your thoughts are? Do you think leaders are born like the famous saying, or do you think it can be learned, like, Can leadership be learned?

Anjum 23:15
I think absolutely. Leadership can be learned. I think it’s something where every single person has a contribution to make. And I think, you know, they’re such diverse leaders, right? Leadership does not fit like a singular mold. And I think personalities, right, like people ofcourse, have different personalities and different ways they want to engage. But those are all valid types of leadership. I think, what’s, what’s crucial, and sometimes what is the challenge is leadership skills are often contextual, if people don’t have the ability to practice them, or don’t have exposure. So I think a lot about I think what was really fundamental to my learning and education, especially through elementary school, middle school, high school, was having the opportunity to do things outside of the classroom. I was lucky in the sense that, you know, we had some extra curricular opportunities. You know, having said that, I realized when I went to university, that there were still disparities, in what access I had compared to other peers in different high schools. And this is just in Scarborough. So I can imagine, across the city across the country, it’s- it’s even more different. But I think part of it is contextual. If people don’t have access to opportunities or exposure, then that will limit people’s full leadership development. But I think, yeah, life teaches us, but then also all these other exposures to interesting programs and opportunities.

Sujani 24:48
So you gave us this example that you just spoke about, and then you talked about the early example in elementary school being part of that committee of parents, teachers and students. Can you share with our listeners some other examples where you showed that leadership within your community, I think it’d be nice for people to just kind of hear these examples and the steps that you took.

Anjum 25:10
Yeah, so, ah, yeah, so I’ll give one example. So and this was during my master’s in public health program. So hopefully, this is relevant to a lot of young people and people listening. Um, so one of the things so I did my Master’s in Public Health at the University of Toronto a couple of years ago. And I remember thinking, wow, like, you know, I felt very lucky, because, you know, I grew up in the city, and it’s been home for a while. And I was really excited to go to school. But I noticed that we didn’t talk enough about things like immigration, or race and racism. And it was surprising to me, given that, you know, the City of Toronto is diverse. And me, my peers, we were really curious by this, and there was an opportunity. So every year, our program has something called student led conference. And so the year, so it’s a two year program. So in my second year, me and my peers were like, oh, let’s use this opportunity, this platform to actually talk about racism as a public health issue, and actually, essentially complement our education in the Public Health faculty. With this, you know, other realms, and perhaps maybe, you know, our hope was, this will inspire, perhaps more active engagement in this issue in the rest of our public health education. And so it was a two day conference we had, I think over 300 people attend over the two days, and it was a really great event. And people just felt really glad to have these conversations and to learn about the scholarship, but also the proxy. So one of the things we did was, we didn’t just want to have, like researchers come in and talk that was crucial and important. But we also wanted to connect with people that apply this research in local communities, whether it’s community health centers, who do community based research, whether it’s other types of health, and health equity organizations in the city. And so that was really great, because we were able to, you know, bring it together, to bring together academia and also community based initiatives. So that was really, really wonderful. And then, you know, fast forward a couple months, there was an opportunity to actually establish a course, that talked about these issues. And, you know, fast forward a couple more months, and it got established. And I think part of what happened was, the conference gave students more confidence, but also understanding about how critical this is in our education. And then they galvanized and organize to call for such a course. And I’m really glad that we saw that kind of journey. And you know, it doesn’t always happen that way. But I think it also taught me that sometimes people just need to know why something is important. And then naturally, that will create the opportunity for them to become champions of that work. So I think that was a really helpful and hopeful example. And I think what he showed me is also the power of students, right? Sometimes you feel like, if we’re students in certain programs, you can’t rock the boat. But the thing is, it’s all about how you message, the the action you want to see, but also the power of you know, you don’t have to go it alone brings different people to the table, whocan also advocate for that.

Sujani 28:40
That’s such a perfect example. Because it really touches on the tangible steps that you provided earlier on in our conversation where you said, you know, when you identify that something isn’t going well sit with that thought, talk about it, inform yourself, and it sounds like you then got together with your peers who are also feeling the same way you kept talking about the problem, and then brainstorm this idea. And then like, I guess the products of that was evidently this conference that created more, more interest in the topic, and then the course right. So like, between your peers, and you kind of brainstorming and being able to run that conference in between what sort of steps did you have to take? Did you like bring this up with a committee at the school? What are some initial steps you had to take as a group?

Anjum 29:37
Yeah, I think sometimes a challenge, especially when you want to do institutional change is just even understanding how the institution works and where decisions get made. So I was really grateful that we had faculty members who were champions of the work and, you know, essentially aligned and as allies of this work. And so that gave us insight into like, what would be some of the process and put seizures. And then I think part of it was just making a compelling case talking about in different faculties outside of Canada, this was like, you know, part of the curriculum. So doing our research, part of it was also demonstrating the groundswell of support. So we did a bit of a letter writing campaign, if you will. So, you know, big joint letter, and different members of the student body that signed on. And I think also, we tried to expand it to alumni. So trying to figure out other people who would be supporters, and then being relentless, right, it wasn’t going to be easy.

Sujani 30:38

Anjum 30:39
It wasn’t going to be hard. So we couldn’t abandon midway. And, you know, doing our best to see it through. And the thing is, sometimes these things take a very, very long time, it does take energy, it does take time, and you know, definitely want to let people know, it’s okay to take time and space for yourself. Because burnout is real, and you know, to protect people’s energies. And that’s why it’s so crucial to do it in a group. So then it’s not all on you. And the burden is more equitably shared. But I think part of it, those were some of the steps that we took, and then also talking about the success or celebrating it or acknowledging it, so people know, it happened.

Sujani 31:20

Anjum 31:20
And then people become more ready to fight for it, when there’s potential things to remove that contribution or, you know, just to protect it. So I think, you know, with any change, you have to be vigilant, but part of it is just socializing, and making sure people are aware that it even exists, right. So kind of going back to what I was saying about public health, just like demonstrating it’s not just demonstrating its impact, but communicating about it. So people also kind of take it on and and hold on to it and then protect it.

Sujani 31:54
Yeah. And that’s so important, the- the celebrating the wins and the successes, and it just reminded me like you do that so well. And if you haven’t heard it enough, it’s- it’s very inspiring, at least for me like to see kind of all of the things that you’re working on. And then you’re so good at sharing it within all of your social media channels. And it truly does inspire people. So thank you for doing that. And thank you for saying that that’s an important part of the step. Because if you don’t show, if you’re only showing all of the barriers that you face, and all the challenges, and you don’t show the success, people can’t kind of reflect and say, okay, maybe I can also do this. And maybe I can create change in my community. challenges as a leader is, I don’t know, if you want to use this one as an example to share some of those challenges you faced, or maybe there’s a better example, but what are some things that you’ve come across that you had to, you know, fight and overcome?

Anjum 32:55
Yeah, so I think the biggest thing has been impostor syndrome, because it’s something where, you know, all people have self doubt. But sometimes, if you’re, you know, if you’re part of an underrepresented group, that’s part of, you know, kind of in a leadership role, or in a more high profile position, then people, you know, in implicit ways, perhaps, or in definitely more covert ways.

Sujani 33:22

Anjum 33:23
You feel a sense of exclusion, or not feeling welcomed, or finding, not being appreciated. And I’ll say, like, you know, very frankly, as a younger woman, as a woman of color, as someone who doesn’t, I guess, fit the traditional mold of a public policy professional in Canadian advocacy circles. You know, I will say, the first couple months in my current role, I was like, huh, why does this feel different? And, and I realized part of it is, is yeah, I was not seeing that sense of community. I had made a pivot from more, I would say, traditional research work or applied research, to doing more public policy, government relations, strategic communications. And so I was like, huh, you know, I kind of took a look at, like, how did I deal with such feelings before and I realized, like, for me, at the core of it was community, right, like, having nothing, nothing beats like, the fact of the matter is, no one knows, as soon as they wake up in the morning, or, you know, as soon as they arrive in a roll, all the different nuances to it, but the way they learn, partly through experience, but partly also with speaking with their peers, bouncing ideas off of each other sharing, sharing perspectives and insights and that knowledge sharing is so crucial. And so I was- I was, you know, what, like, I’m always the type of person if I- if I don’t see something working, yeah, I’m like trying to figure out okay, how do I fill the gap or how can I contribute, how can I help again? And I realized, you know, I was seeking something that was about professional development, but also just professionally supporting each other creating that support network, if you will. And so that was the inspiration behind creating millennial women and policy.

Sujani 35:18

Anjum 35:19
And so it started in October 2018. So it- I think, yeah, hopefully, when your time listeners listen to this, it will be two years. And over, you know, in many ways, a short two years, the network, which is online community practice has grown from, you know, just a couple dozen people, to now over 3000 folks from across North America and Europe, primarily in Canada, because that’s where I’m based. And it’s been a place where people can share job postings, share insights, intelligence, you know, what does it mean, when Parliament is doing this? And where are opportunities to influence and it’s just a place for people to connect. And so it’s been, it’s been really great. And I think, you know, I was speaking earlier, but some of the challenges, I’ll say, like that group has been so essential to my growth. But I think for the growth of so many people who are experiencing that sense of imposter syndrome, and the fact of the matter is, we are so crucially needed in so many different spaces. And so I always tell myself, you know, what do I bring to the table, I bring, of course, my skills, my expertise. But I also I think, because I’m always trying to stay grounded in community, I also bring that perspective to the table in ways that I think people who don’t have the same experiences as me would not. And so in some ways, I’m able to bring perhaps more to the table than someone who may have not had those same experiences. So I think that’s, that’s an internal challenge. And I think a lot of people face in different ways. But that’s been just kind of a bit of my journey, in that. And I think the other piece is about leadership and responsibility. You know, I feel, I think, because of my upbringing, I was mentioning my dad and the way he kind of inspired me, always wanting to figure out, like, what is the best way to serve. And, you know, really, I think, this last year, I’ve been evaluating how I want to show up in the world and how I want to contribute to be the most effective, but also think about balance and all the different aspects of my life. So I think that’s something also I’m kind of thinking about and going on a journey about.

Sujani 37:45
Maybe I’ll just quickly say that that group that you have of millennial women in policy, it’s phenomenal. They’re such a well engaged group, I’ve- I’ve been able to fortunately be part of that as well, and really took out quite a bit of great stuff. And on the on the point of imposter syndrome, thank you for bringing that up. It’s nice to hear it even someone like you is also dealing with it on a daily basis. And then you mentioned, you know, young women of color have possibly more imposter syndrome, especially young people, I think when they want to see themselves as leader, they can be discouraged by their age, maybe when they’re sitting at tables, or they want to approach tables where there’s tables, where there’s more experienced public health professionals. How do you kind of deal with that? Or what sort of advice would you give to younger listeners who are thinking, you know, I’d like to be a leader in this space, because I know I can contribute. But I’m not feeling so confident that I could present myself in front of more established individuals.

Anjum 38:52
I think something that’s been really, I’m taking into heart. And I remember one of my friends and undergrad had this like saying,

Sujani 38:59

Anjum 39:00
Her name is Nisha. And her saying was, and I think she- she saw this somewhere or something that she talked about a few times with me, which is preparation is or sorry, no, no, luck. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So I think there’s so many different opportunities that can come into our life to make an impact or influence and part of the way that you can leverage that opportunity is if you’re prepared. And so kind of going back to what I was saying about comfort levels and just feeling secure. Part of it is just I personally, I will say my part is reading up on an issue and making sure I understand the different perspectives. And you know, I try to push myself like I want to be the most prepared person in a room just because I want to make sure that I can ask the right questions if I need to, you know, push a point forward. But also if a question is asked to me, I have answers and if not, you know, there’s always going to be I- times when you won’t know the answer right then and there, but what do you do, you kind of go back and take a look at that, and prepare yourself for the next time or, or follow up with that person. So I think, for me, preparation has been essential, you know, on a daily basis, trying to be prepared for the different things that come in my day. But also for for the longer term thing. So I try to take my free time to engage. So for me, I find like the different issues and topics and passionate about like, something I want to read and learn about. So I kind of go naturally, where my curiosity takes me. And I think, I think the other piece, and hopefully I’ve kind of mentioned this a few times, but I try to also engage with like minded peers, so then I can understand the other aspects. And I think that’s sometimes the fastest way to learn, you can go out and read something. But you know, having a half an hour conversation with someone who kind of does that on a daily basis, active on an issue, you’ll know so much more about the nuances and insights. So I think that’s something I think also, yeah, communication is a very important skill. I think I would, you know, if I could, you know, highlight that as a skill that graduate school should like invest in I would say, absolutely, not just written skills, written skills are, of course, important. But, you know, a lot of influencing and a lot of change happens at the conversation level.

Sujani 39:00

Anjum 39:15
So being able to be persuasive and share your point of view, I think probably what also comes, what helps with that type of influencing or change making is also thinking about storytelling. So I think data and statistics are crucial and critical for any type of evidence informed decision making. But storytelling actually really shares the impact that will be felt on the ground. So I think someone who is able to kind of bring those two different elements to the table will be more effective in their work.

Sujani 42:00
You said, I like to be the most prepared person in the room. I love that. And yeah, I think just being able to pitch your ideas is such a critical skill, I like to tell people that it’s almost like, we need to learn if not take some of the skills from the business industry, you know, about like making a pitch, sell- selling idea. Because you’re always in that position, whether you’re speaking to your team or people at a, you know, senior management level, if you want to, if you want to see action in some of the ideas that you’re bringing forward, you need to be able to tell a persuasive story, you need to be able to pitch that to somebody, and you need to be able to sell the idea. So communication, I think, very, very crucial. I kind of just wanted to end off with talking about one of one of your favorite projects, or maybe I might ask you to speak specifically about one of them. You recently authored Canada’s first feminist recovery plan. And from what I read, it’s the first nationally focused one in the country and possibly in the world. Just congratulations on that first. And can you speak a bit about that kind of journey? And what led you to possibly like be the lead author on this?

Anjum 43:31
Yeah, so thank you. It’s something that has definitely been taking up quite a bit of time over the last number of weeks. And it’s been really great to see the engagement it’s been getting, so I speak. So it came out of the work that I do at the YWCA Canada, which is the largest and oldest gender equity organization. And so, during this pandemic, a lot of our YWCA is we’re still open, they’re we’re still delivering essential services, like housing, and shelter services and child care. And, you know, we were hearing from our colleagues on the ground that they’re really seeing this pandemic, impact women and non binary people differently. Like it wasn’t, you know, a uniform impact of this pandemic, especially, I would say, the economic impacts as well as the social impacts. And so we were at our organization, figuring out how to bring those stories to the forefront. And so we had this virtual series we created called Gender Equity during a pandemic. And we were trying to understand what was happening on the ground and just, you know, telling that- that story. And then for us, we recognize this- this is a reset- the recession that we’re currently in and we’ll be experiencing for the next little while. This was different. This was something that had never before happened truly in the history of the country. You know, not even, you know, including the fact that this is an unprecedented global crisis. It was actually impacting women more in terms of the job losses, in terms of the reduction in hours, in terms of potentially stopping labor market participation for women altogether, because of unpaid care work, for example, like taking care of children or household duties or elder care. And, you know, recent statistics say that, in April of this year, the women’s labor market participation dropped to levels not seen since the mid 1980s. And so we were like, okay, so we know that we have a problem on our hand, what is the solution? And so we recently saw that in mid April, the state of Hawaii actually released their feminist economic recovery plan. And we were, we were so inspired by it. And so they had a plan for the state of Hawaii. And for us, because we work in nine provinces and two territories, we were like looking at that, and we’re like, Okay, what would this look like in Canada, we’re a different country, we have a different contacts, and just this diversity of geographies and populations. And so we kind of put our heads together. And in partnership with the Institute for Gender and the economy, we- we, we figured out what would be in our plan, our set of recommendations. And in many ways, you know, my Public Health Training was essential for this, because when we look at this crisis, it’s if we invested in the social determinants of health, we would be in a different spot. That means like income security, better working conditions, housing for all. And so in many ways that is like the backbone of the set of recommendations. And since we launched, in the end of July, we’ve seen incredible uptake, in fact, just the other day. So we’re right now, in the late part of summer, a sitting member of Provincial Parliament in the province of Ontario took a look at our plan, it was like, oh, we need to do this, we need to do this for Ontario. And she pin she wrote an op ed, her name is MPP Jill Andrew. And so she’s the official opposition’s women’s critic. So it’s been really interesting to see elected officials take this and that was our hope, but to also see that they are championing this. So it’s not just civil society pushing this forward. We’ve also had businesses reach out to us and talk to us about you know, they’ve seen the impacts on small business owners, and banks reach out and you know, asking, like, what can we do? How can we support and underrepresented business owners, for example, women and black, indigenous and racialized business owner. So it’s been really interesting to see. But I think, you know, people can talk about the problems that if you bring solutions, especially in a time of such turmoil, people will appreciate that and people are willing to try. It’s not going to be 100% all the time. But it’s gonna get us towards the goal that we want, which is an inclusive recovery, a recovery that doesn’t leave anyone behind and to make the economy work for everyone. So yeah, that’s kind of been our journey.

Sujani 48:13
Well, first off, thank you for putting this forward for the country. And it sounds like you’re very hopeful. And I am too, about kind of the next steps and more and more people discovering this. Maybe just I know, we’re sort of cutting close to our time with you. So thank you for sticking around for this long. Just quickly, what are some next steps you’re kind of hoping to take with this project that you’ve led to really, you know, bring it in front of the people that decision makers or policymakers in the next little while?

Anjum 48:51
Yeah, so great question. So I’m a big proponent of multi sectoral engagement. So not just civil society, but the public service, the corporate sector and other players in society, labor, pushing ideas forward together. So that’s kind of what we’re working on figuring out the coalition to bring this forward and to encourage more action. I’ve sent it to all the members of parliament and have sent to this to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Minister of finances office. So for maybe it’ll be different. It’ll be old news by them. But, you know, just a couple of days ago this week, they announced Canada’s first woman as a minister of finance, Chrystia Freeland, so I think she’s talked a lot about a green recovery, but also talked about the importance of understanding the gendered impacts of COVID-19. So I’m hopeful that on September 23, so we’ll see. The- they’ll be announcing, you know, some of the framework for an initial economic recovery plan for Canada in the Speech from the Throne. So my goal would be to make sure that a feminist economic recovery plan And our recommendations show up in some shape or form in that. So that would be, you know, my hope. But also, what I’m starting to see is our plan, it was definitely federally focused, but there’s recommendations for all orders of government. So I’m starting to reach out to cities, municipalities, to see how we can influence their recovery plan. So for us, you know, I, we say this very clearly in our plan, we cannot hope to even have any type of recovery, economic recovery, if we don’t put women to spirit and gender diverse people at the core. So I’m hoping that key message resonates and people take note of that. So that’s what’s next.

Sujani 50:42
One last question. If individuals are interested in the recovery plan, of course, we’ll link it so they can give it a read. But are there any opportunities through the YWCA for individuals to contribute their skills or time or get involved in any any way?

Anjum 50:57
Oh, my God, this is such a great question. So definitely, I will hopefully, share my email address so people can reach out directly, we want people to take the plan, and make it their own. So read through the plan, there’s eight different pillars, see what resonates with you, and write an op ed to your local paper, email your elected officials contact your institution to see how you can take on some of these recommendations. And if you reach out, I’m happy to share with you some of the things that have worked well for us and to brainstorm how you can push the plan, because we need everybody to be pushing this. So I look forward to people reaching out.

Sujani 51:35
Wonderful, I think we’ll have to have you on again and Jim to talk about some of these things like writing an op ed and teaching people various various skills that you were mentioning throughout the call. So thank you so much for this.

Anjum 51:50
Yeah, no, I appreciate it. And I you know, the final message, I’ll tell each and every person, you have so much potential and so much people need you at the decision making table. So you have an important perspective. So yeah, definitely reach out and reach out to your peers. And we need you there. So I hope you take on the challenge, but also the wonderful pleasure that is leadership and action. So thank you.

Sujani 52:12
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Anjum. How inspiring is she, she really you know, motivates you to want to be a leader in your space and helps you take action in those areas. So I hope you’ll be able to take away some you know, actionables from this conversation and perhaps the areas that she talked about are of interest to you, especially the recovery plan. So if any of that sounds like something you’d like to be involved in as Anjum suggested, do reach out to her. We will have all of the links and information that we mentioned in today’s episode in our show notes page over at pH So check that out. And I hope to bring on more inspiring leaders like Nadia and Anjum to talk to us and inspire us to be leaders in our own fields. And if you have any suggestions or recommendations of great leaders that you’ve come across that should be on this podcast. Definitely reach out to me at And we’ll make sure that they’re also on this podcast to turn around and inspire the PH SPOT community. And before you leave, I wanted to let you know about our six day infographic planning challenge that we’re running. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at developing public health infographics but just didn’t know whether you even had anything worth developing an infographic for, you have to join this challenge. At the end of the six days you will have not only selected a product to work on, but you will essentially have completed the planning phase of your first infographic. So head over to pH For more information and to join this challenge, and until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to the PH SPOTlight podcast and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

Join the PH SPOT public health community

A place where passionate public health professionals commit to take their career to the next level – there is no other place like it online!


A simple template to get you started.

We will also add you to our Public Health community so that you can receive more awesome stuff from us. If you’re not enjoying them, you can unsubscribe instantly.