“The Feature” highlights the works of Muslim women who are either doing amazing things in their communities, running successful businesses or organising events. Today, we put the spotlight on Yasmine Mohamed, the founder of iEMPOW3R
Quite often, activists do have kernels of good ideas, and on average, they create long-term value, empowering people and building sustainable communities which suggest that they have the will power to not just call out the wrongs in society but to take action to effect positive change. Some of the most vibrant activists we’ve met and spoken with are extremely analytical, very fierce, and very rational people. And often, they have a pretty positive story to be told that should at least be paid attention to. Today, we’re putting the spotlight on Yasmine Mohamed, the founder of iEMPOW3R, a social impact start-up and digital hub established to build, uplift, motivate and empower disadvantaged communities in London.
Yasmine Mohamed is a British-born Somali. Born in Chesterfield and raised in Sheffield, Yasmine was raised by her mother, growing up in a single-parent household with her 6 siblings. She later moved to Nottingham during the second year of her IT degree at The Nottingham Trent University and graduated in the summer of 2009.
Due to the impact of the financial crash, finding a job close to home became a challenge. Whilst working part-time at an Atos Healthcare call centre, Yasmine continued her job search, this time not restricting the location of her search to Yorkshire and surrounding areas, but roles across the country. Persistent in her search, in March 2010, Yasmine received an offer from Thomson Reuters to work in the capital on their global IT change programme.
Within 3 days from receiving the offer, Yasmine packed and moved to London, where she would begin the start of a decade long career working in business change on some of the most high profile, large scale programmes and projects.
Over the last 10 years, Yasmine has had the privilege to work for companies such as Thomson Reuters, Subsea 7, Afiniti, Network Rail, Total, HSBC and Santander UK.
In January 2020, Yasmine formed a Meet Up group to bring together volunteers around London who were interested in volunteering opportunities and giving back to their communities. This garnered interest from over 130 volunteers around London within 5 months, from all walks of life – demonstrating the keen interest people had in wanting to help others.
In August 2020, iEMPOW3R 20:20 was formalised as a Community Interest Company, with Yasmine developing the core functions and services the community would look to progress and deliver moving forward. Passionate about sharing her experiences, skills and knowledge with others from similar backgrounds – Yasmine has made the success of iEMPOW3R her priority, in the hopes of reaching and empowering as many people as possible.
Interested in learning more about iEMPOW3R, TMWT had a chat with Yasmin and here’s what she had to say:
TMWT: When you close your eyes and imagine an empowered community, what do you see?
Yasmine Mohamed: I see opportunities, a better quality of living for all, and the ‘family unit’ being the norm for Black and Minority families. I see more support and resources for working mothers. I see a better standard of living and inclusivity – better communities; cleaner and greener spaces, a better quality of roads and pathways, more local resources for parents and children by leveraging redundant buildings
I see young Black and Minority boys and girls playing community sports, working and learning in community hubs, book clubs, riding bikes in safe spaces, going on organised trips outside of school hours i.e. treks and hiking, visiting museums and galleries, learning and earning. I see Black and Minority families having better access to information to make better-informed decisions for their family. I see Black and Minority families being taught not only how to survive but to thrive, and this includes how to earn and manage money with the future in mind
I see old people in parks doing light training exercises with an instructor, doing group outdoor walks and running knowledge share sessions at their local libraries with the youth
TMWT: Tell us a little bit about your own personal path of empowerment? What was significant?
Yasmine Mohamed: My path of empowerment stems from being a lone wolf and being independently minded since childhood. Never really conforming or fitting into a specific mould or group, I’ve always been sociable but very much my own person.
I’m the third out of seven siblings and I come from a single-parent home – we were raised by our mother. Our mother is smart, strong and savvy, with the most beautiful heart I’ve ever witnessed in a person, and she embodies the word empowerment, not only through her words but her actions. What I’m doing with iEMPOW3R, she’s been doing for 30 years.
I’ve had a lot of significant empowering moments, however, none align with the faith that I practise, which is Islam. From moving out of my mother’s home for my career to going on solo trips around the world (Singapore, Malaysia, Morocco, Emirates, Thailand, France, Spain, Netherlands) and the various work-related achievements over the years. As a hijab-wearing woman, I don’t live the ‘conventional’ Muslim daughter or Muslim woman life. I’ve accepted that my life is not the norm in regard to my faith and its something I’ve made for myself, to create my own peace and happiness in this world. Being my own person, that’s empowering.
TMWT: You created iEMPOW3R to help inspire sustainable change within communities in London. Can you tell us more about this and what inspired you to do this?
Yasmine Mohamed: I’ve lived in various places in London; Leytonstone, Finsbury Park, Aldgate and now Barking & Dagenham. All have their fair share of challenges. The thing about London is, you can live on an affluent street, turn a corner and land in such a deprived area filled with poverty and crime.
When the thought of iEMPOW3R first came to me, I was living in Tower Hamlets, East London, which is one of the most deprived areas in England.
At the time, I read that the borough had the highest rate of child poverty. This hit me because I was living in the borough and working in Canary Wharf (banking district), earning a high salary and living a life far from the realities of my doorstep. Knowing where I came from, God’s blessings were always on my mind.
I would give money to charity but felt I wasn’t doing enough with my time when it came to giving back, completely consumed by the corporate world. This internal conflict went on for a couple of years before I decided to do something – I needed to create a balance with my work life and time spent on doing purposeful and meaningful work.
I started by reaching out to Muslim charities to see how I could support them by volunteering. I spent a short time with the National Zakat Foundation where I used my tech skills to upgrade a number of their laptops. Then I would start going to more events around London, events for Black Women around mental health and wellbeing, workshops and training around Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace, talks by Black actors on their lived experience. I also joined a Mentoring organisation, and became a mentor to a young girl in a Secondary School in Shadwell. All of these steps would later help bring me out of the cages of my corporate life, and effectively lead me to setting up a volunteering group on the Meetup App called ‘EMPOW3R 20:20’. And this later evolved into its official company form ‘iEMPOW3R 20:20’ that exists today.
With our company, we hope to instill ‘sustainable change’ within communities. By this, I mean looking at the bigger picture, putting things in place that are impactful and can be repeated and improved for years, seeing it all the way through, making a tangible difference in people’s lives, and people left empowered – reaping the longer term life changing benefits from the projects we deliver.
Because the government and councils are responsible for how money is distributed and utilised in communities, dependent on the agenda / hot topic at the time, you’ll see something start and never really come to fruition. Additionally, the pace of change if left to the government, when it comes to Black and Minority Communities, is really slow. It’ll take a collective effort of various individuals and organisations doing grassroots work, to chip away in their respective corners, within their sphere of control – to really make a sustainable impact for people in our communities.
I plan on doing this by lending my skillset to other organisations to help execute their social impact projects, as well as deliver projects defined and designed by iEMPOW3R.
TMWT: What are your most remarkable milestones on this journey?
Yasmine Mohamed: My abilities have surprised me. I picked up a lot of skills over the years, having studied IT at University and working in Programme/Project Management over the last 10 years. But what I’ve been able to do with iEMPOW3R has really caught me by surprise because a lot of it is for the first time.
Since August 2020, I created iEMPOW3R’s website, started a handmade charity shop on Etsy, selling ‘feel-good’ products which I learned how to make during the UK lockdown – and we’re getting fantastic reviews! I created short ‘life skills’ stories for children with diverse characters – and now making short videos for our YouTube channel. I delivered our Creative Writing Competition for young children, with over 100 participants; the winner will receive a new laptop and branded iEMPOW3R writing materials.
I have been repairing old laptops for children who need to work virtually due to COVID, matching Somali children with free educational resources i.e. Maths, Science and English tutors, helping others find work by leveraging the network I built over the last 11 years.
I started a working group for our ‘No Somali Left Behind’ programme to tackle inequalities impacting the Somali community – where we’re conducting research to understand the baseline re: education, employment and healthcare, but also looking into the statistics of refugee wellbeing.
There have been a lot of milestones for me on this journey, simply because of the sheer level of engagement with other people and work rate since I started this. Passion and a sense of purpose are really fuelling this work. I’ve met a lot of great people, and have a lot of confidence in our ability to grow and partner with other likeminded people, to really make a difference in people’s lives.
“I don’t have a team as yet, so everything is being done by me, with the hopes that once the foundations are set and a strategy is in place, I will be able to start bringing in full-time and part-time resources. Being self-funded has become more difficult as the company grows.” – Yasmine Mohamed
TMWT: Working on this humanitarian project, what challenges have you faced?
Yasmine Mohamed: iEMPOW3R was built using my own funds and skills, and this is very much still the case. I don’t have a team as yet, so everything is being done by me, with the hopes that once the foundations are set and a strategy is in place, I will be able to start bringing in full-time and part-time resources. Being self-funded has become more difficult as the company grows. iEMPOW3R is new, therefore for a lot of the funding applications, we need to show what we’re capable of before requesting support from funders.
Additionally, COVID and the national lockdown has impacted our ability to get out there in the community and start building relationships.
I’ve engaged with some parents and understand their needs, and given the constraints of lockdown and COVID, have been addressing the needs that can be met via digital capabilities where possible.
All of this just means we’ll start slower than anticipated. But I’m very fortunate to have met a lot people who believe in my vision, can see that I’m in this for the long haul and are keen to support. People have been really kind to me, lending free support, guidance and advice, knowing where I am in this journey.
TMWT: What is your vision or hope for black people and POCs in London?
Yasmine Mohamed: That we’re afforded the same standard of living, opportunity, respect and dignity as our white counterparts.
TMWT: What would you say to young women who may be aspiring towards this career path?
Yasmine Mohamed: Whatever you choose to do in life, ask yourself why you’re doing it. If that ‘why’ lights a fire within you and if you are constantly thinking about it for lengthy periods of time, go for it wholeheartedly. Because we need more passionate people who care about what they’re doing to really make a positive impact in society.
TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.