It has been a lifetime opportunity for me to get Bush Fellowship and it has been a great learning experience for me last 6 months. I have learned a lot about myself, my leadership style and had a lot of learning growth. In the last 6 months I had the opportunity to have a leadership coach which has been helpful to have someone to talk to and run with the ideas I have about my learning journey and ways to approach. I never had a leadership coach before and so this was learning process and support that I needed. The first 3 months of my fellowship I have focused on doing literature review on cosmetic manufacturers that produce skin-lightening products, type of ingredients they use, their target population and global regions. I have also been conducting key informant interviews with individuals who worked for the cosmetic industry as an investigative journalism, and some individuals who have interest in combating colorism and skin-lightening practices in their countries. Moreover, I have applied to Harvard University to do Executive Non-Profit Leadership Certificate and I have started taking the first course from August to December. The class I took was Public Narrative: Leadership, Storytelling and Action, this course has helped my leadership learning in many ways including learning how to become effective storyteller. I have always struggled with storytelling and sharing my lived experience since I came from a culture where people do not talk about themselves a lot, I have always wanted to share my narrative at first hand and become a great narrator. This course helped a lot to practice writing and presenting stories of myself and others that I work with and as result I’m interviewing 25 people from the US and globally on their lived is experience of colorism and this will be featured on our Beauty Wellness Talk Podcast. I have also learned leadership theories that helped to apply to my leadership and ways to sustain my leadership. I have also connected and formed network with many global leaders who were talking the course with me.
Given the work that I do of combating colorism and skin-lightening practices I facilitate many meetings and discussions and so I always wanted to build my facilitation skills and become confident facilitator. I took the Art of Hosting facilitation training which help me learn multiple facilitation styles that I can use different meetings and focus group sessions; as well as tools to use during facilitations.
I have traveled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to interview 5 global skin-lightening manufactures and products dealers that are based in Dubai. Dubai is global hub for businesses especially for skn-lightening products that exported to other global regions. These interviews were huge learning experience for me where I learned a lot about skin-lightening manufactures and their ingredient differentiation of targeting most toxic ingredients to low-income countries. It was also learning lesson for me to learn how these skin-lightening dealers knew that they are making business promoting colorism and also being focused on capitalism. Interviewing these dealers was a bravery moment for me as I never thought they will agree in participating my interview process. I have reached to them several time to schedule a zoom interview but none of them wanted to participate and so that is one of the reasons I traveled to Dubai to interview them. The information that I learned from them helped me design the data collection on skin-lightening practices, chemical exposures and product marketing that I’m now doing in East Africa.
I got the opportunity to travel to East Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia), to see the situation of colorism, skin-lightening practices and how these communities get marketed by the cosmetic companies. I have done interviews in all these three countries for both interviewing consumers and the business owners. I also got the opportunity to buy samples and asked the Kenyan Bureau of Standards to test the products in their lab. The product testing was finalized this week and 90% of the skin-lightening products tested contained high levels of hydroquinone which is very toxic ingredient. I have learned that colorism is so deep, the practice of skin-lightening became so much impeded in cultures. I have also learned that the most toxic skin-lightening products are marketed to this side of global region. Also, this was very emotional and healing trip, this was my first time going back to Somali after 34 years. I look forward to continuing the data collection and publish within next few months. I’m also looking forward to expanding my learning to other global regions who are experiencing colorism.
I have also developed wellness ritual to help me with my health and overall wellbeing. I regularly meditate and pray to have spiritual routine build in my daily wellness and have a healthier life. I have been also exercising regularly and intentionally build into my daily schedule. Having to focus on my wellness both mentally and physically have been helpful in my leadership and my overall productivity.