Urusa Fahim brings to her teaching in the Transformative Leadership and Transformative Studies at CIIS an amazing variety of interests and experiences. She grew up in Bangladesh and Pakistan, and has studied or speaks six languages: English, Urdu, Arabic, French, Hindi, and Bengali. She earned a master’s degree in applied psychology at Punjab University, one of the leading centers of learning in South Asia. After graduating, she worked as a clinical psychologist both in private practice and in government-run hospitals in Pakistan, before taking a training in women’s leadership that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) offered.
“That workshop literally changed my career overnight,” she recalls. “I could see the application of concepts I was familiar with in a clinical context, how they could be used to train leaders and entrepreneurs.” By coincidence, the program leader was leaving right after Fahim took the training. Fahim applied to become the new director, and was accepted. She spent the next couple of years teaching women in Pakistan how to become managers, entrepreneurs, and trainers.
She attributes her ability to exercise authority and train future leaders partly to her mother. “My mother had the equivalent of a sixth grade education, but she headed a department in an international hotel. She always told me I could be anything I wanted. It wasn’t till later that I realized that not all girls were being given that same message. Understanding that was a factor in my wanting to train women leaders.”
When she decided to go on to a doctoral degree, she chose CIIS. Fahim completed her PhD at the Institute, and after several intervening positions, is now a faculty member in both Transformative Leadership and Transformative Studies. “The cohort model in the department resonated with me when I applied to the program, and it still feels like an important part of the education in Transformative Inquiry,” she explains. “The cohorts are not just students who enter the program at the same time, they learn together and from one another.”
To be a good teacher, Fahim believes you have to be open to receiving new ideas and information from your students. “Teaching and learning are like yin and yang,” she says. “You can’t be a good teacher without being a good learner.”
She sees the leadership programs at CIIS as being about much more than simply learning skills. “Skills you can learn in a book by yourself,” she says. “What I try to teach is developing capacities. The programs are about embodying leadership and scholarship, and there are many ways to do that. It can be different for each person.”