Keeping Cultures Connected: An Interview With Lobna Ismail

 

Lobna Ismail is the founder and President of Connecting Cultures and a member of the ABPA’s Advisory Board.

 

How did you come up with the idea of Connecting Cultures? What inspired you?

After giving birth to my first child, Sharif, I couldn’t bear to leave him at six-weeks-old. My desire to integrate ‘mom-hood’ with ‘mind-hood’ led to the founding and inspiration for Connecting Cultures to pursue my two passions: a mother and interculturalist, “Momhood and Mindhood”. What I thought would be 2 years is now 28 years. Before cell phones, websites, and Skype, I began by looking at Washington Post job ads under ‘International’. My first gig was as an Orientation Coordinator for AU Pairs and Host families. In the 90’s, diversity training was booming, and I conducted training for nonprofits, schools, and other agencies. My frame of reference was based on my experience as an Arab-American and Muslim growing up between two cultures known as a “Third Culture Kid”.

As more Muslims found their way into the American workforce, corporations like Disney and Marriott began to request training on Muslims in the workplace. What catapulted my business was 9/11 — the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services, called “America’s Peacemakers,” announced that there was a need to train law enforcement and community leaders on ways to ease tensions to protect Arab and Muslim Americans from the backlash. In the past 18 years, I continue to speak and train for CRS; however, public speaking has taken me around the world. The latest dimension of my identity is living with multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition. When my MS was no longer invisible, I spoke about living with a disability as being like adapting to a new culture, learning to navigate a world and space not easy to move and work in. As an Arab and Muslim American mother, wife, and businesswoman with a disability, the greatest barriers are stereotypes and bias. Connecting Cultures’ mission remains to help people communicate, conduct business and engage across cultures and faiths.

 

What kind of work outside of Connecting Cultures have you participated in? 

My first job when I completed my BA in International Service was with an Egyptian company invested in USAID projects. However, I wanted to engage more directly with people. After receiving my MA in Intercultural Relations, I was an International Student Advisor at Bunker Hill Community College and The American University. I am the daughter of two international students. My parents came to this country in pursuit of their PhD’s from Egypt; seems like a natural place for me to begin.

 

Why is it important for you to bridge the gap between the Arab and United States worlds?  

It’s important because it represents me, my family, my children, my world. Fear leads to misconceptions and misunderstandings. When we provide opportunities to meet, engage, and know one another, it leads to productive workplaces and, ultimately, to peace at home and in the world.

 

Why did you choose to be member of the ABPA’s Advisory Board? What does this position mean you? 

Being a part of ABPA brings me back to my role as an International Student Advisor. I love mentoring students who are ready to contribute to the world. Pursuing a profession that taps into your passion will lead to your lifelong work and success. I want to help, support, and lift up the students to make them realize their potential as bridge-builders, regardless of the internship. ABPA’s mission aligns right with me and my life’s work to help you JOIN, CONNECT, GROW.

Leave a Comment