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(Interview by Phebe Ferrer)
On Friday, February 17, I sat down with Zamina Mithani, President of the IC-Kindness Foundation, to talk about her work on social sustainability. IC-Kindness has recently been involved in the SLC as well as the UBC Sustainability Fair, where its social approach to sustainability was highlighted by the fair’s organizers. It has also done projects towards helping Syrian refugees and residents in the DTES.
Zamina and I talk about these and more in the interview below.
P: So to start off, tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do, what you’re passionate about…
Z: My name is Zamina Mithani, and I’m the President of the IC-Kindness Foundation – the Interfaith Collaboration for Kindness Foundation. I’m also the President of the Thaqalayn Muslim Association. Both of those things really embody two values which are important to me, and that’s identity and diversity. So identity – being authentic to yourself, understanding what your values are, and then leading from that.
My background is in Science and Master of Management, so I really enjoy business, but I also enjoy business with a purpose, and business with social responsibility attached to it, which I think is where sustainability fits in really nicely, and where the themes of the main two clubs I’m working with right now fit in, in terms of diversity. Embracing different ways of thinking, embracing the whole idea of social sustainability and empowering communities, but also embracing the idea that it comes from within, and it comes from having a good sense of who you are, your values and what’s important to you, and then building from that.
So those are the two main things that I’m doing on campus!
P: Sounds great! So focusing on IC-Kindness, tell me a bit more about it. What does the name mean, why did you set it up, what work does the organization do, and what do you hope it will accomplish.
Z: Sure! So the IC-Kindness Foundation is kind of a punny name. It stands for “I see kindness,” but also Interfaith Collaboration for Kindness, and that’s exactly what our mandate is. It’s to bring together and unite youth of different backgrounds, different races, religions and cultures towards a common goal of social responsibility and doing good.
We really have a triangle approach to how we try and do things in the organization. It starts off with being kind to yourself, and so that includes mental health, random acts of kindness, embracing that within yourself, then being kind to others, obviously again, through having wonderful conversations, doing events like how we did for the Syrian refugees. We had a big fundraiser for them and we actually volunteered with an organization that helped give out food to those families. We have done work with the DTES in the past as well. And then the environment – the Earth and being kind to the Earth, but the environment can also mean society, and raising awareness about global issues and how we can be kinder.
P: Cool! You also mentioned before to me in another conversation that part of your passions and the organization’s mandate is towards social sustainability, and I was wondering what work IC-Kindness is doing towards that, or what maybe you personally are doing towards that?
Z: Yeah! So IC-Kindness is still pretty new, so it’s an area we’re still exploring, and it’s still something we’re working towards. We did have a booth at the UBC Sustainability Fair this year which was really awesome. We really got to talk about the whole idea that sustainability and the culture of sustainability. Often we just link it to the environment – recycling, being clean and being green – and those are all very important and absolutely necessary for our efforts to lobby governments and mitigate climate change, as well as work towards adaptation, mitigation, and public awareness. But in that whole idea of sustainability also comes people’s attitudes towards it and towards their environment, not just being something that they can take for granted, which is sometimes what we do here, but part in parcel of how you live your life, and you live your life with kindness and respect of the Earth around you.
I think different cultures, and also in terms of IC-Kindness and the spirit of the organization being interfaith and intercultural; different cultures have beautiful variations of how they are sustainable. You look at India, you look at China, you look at the Philippines, you look everywhere – you see different ideas of what the Earth means to different people. It’s about embracing that and allowing that to guide how people form and engage their communities, in acts that protect our environment with the spirit that you’re also doing it for each other. I think that’s so important, because we need strong communities who are respectful and kind, and have that sense of empathy and aren’t divisive. Division is contrary to the goals of sustainability, if we want to be united in our effort towards global change, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability.
Social sustainability is really connected to environmental sustainability, but it can also exist by itself, because I feel like it’s about having sustainable communities. I think that social sustainability is such a cool term, it’s like adopting this mindset where whatever you do comes back from a set of values, and our societies are governed always by values. Social sustainability is then having those values be enduring, having those values be a driving force for continual progression for a community. Take UBC as a small example, with our values of being together when horrible things happen, like what happened in Quebec, and then coming together and doing protest and other activities – that all comes from a sense of value, and that value contributes to the drive of social sustainability, and how as people we’re ultimately affected by everything, be it to other people, ourselves, or be it to the environment.
It’s a pretty broad concept and I think IC-Kindness is a very small, small part in that whole movement, but what I hope to do is just empower people to embrace whatever they feel they can impact and whatever their passions are in that sort of web in how we can make sustainable communities. This would be different for different people, but I think that’s what makes it such a cool concept.
At an IC-Kindness event, Feb 17 2017. Image courtesy of Phebe Ferrer.
P: I was going to ask you how you would define social sustainability, and you kind of allude to the fact that it’s a very broad concept, though not in a bad sort of way.
Z: I think that it’s something that’s still very new, and I’m still learning about how different people define it too, but it’s generally part of a whole idea that protecting our world is a systemic thing. You can’t just look at one aspect of sustainability and say like, c’est la vie and that’s it and call it a year, but it’s a movement of people getting together, the environment and different factors. It’s a whole systemic approach to knowing that everything is a system – something you do affects somebody else.
P: So IC-Kindness is focused on the value of kindness – what role do you think kindness plays towards social sustainability, and towards sustainability in general?
Z: I think kindness has a huge role to play in sustainability, because I think part of the movement that drives consumerism, and drives this extra spending and waste, is this movement that we’re not fulfilled with our lives, and we’re not fulfilled with what we have. But we have this obligation to look after the environment around us, and that comes from adopting a mindset of kindness. The problem is, when you ask how kindness fits in with social sustainability and sustainability in general, is that it’s a very feel good term – it’s very ‘kumbaya’. Of course, the two fit together because you have to be kind to the Earth, but I think the challenge is defining what that really means.
Being kind to the Earth is a series of actions that need to come after that. One needs to prove that kindness is within their mindset, and sometimes it sounds so big to be kind to the Earth and adopt this mindset, that it seems almost unattainable. I think part of our challenge is how to take these big ideas and break them down into things that we can do on a daily basis. We talk about these issues a lot, like sustainability, what kindness is, what it means to be a good person…but how do you actually achieve this? For example, when you see a homeless person and you don’t look at them, or you don’t smile at them, is that you being kind? That’s not a question I can answer – that’s something you have to constantly strive for within yourself, like what decisions you make and how these impact the world around you.
P: I was also wondering since IC-Kindness is an interfaith organization, what role do interfaith organizations like IC-Kindness play towards sustainability, in that specific aspect of collaborating with other faiths and religions?
Z: Yeah! I also talked about this at the SLC workshop that I did – right now, diversity is very important in people’s lives, be it sexual diversity, race diversity, even ableism, so the ability of people, that kind of diversity as well, but we don’t often talk about faith-based diversity. It’s always a question to me of why that is, and I feel like the reason behind it is when you talk about faith and religion, it taps into ideology, and it’s difficult to discuss how to be kind and how to collaborate within that. Whenever you believe something, and you get together with someone who thinks something different, you’re always going to have that subliminal bias that what you think is slightly better. That’s really going to prevent you from having actual collaboration, because you’ll likely think ‘oh that’s really cool, but my thing is slightly better.’
So I think that the challenge and the beauty of interfaith, and how this comes back to the whole idea of sustainability, is that it’s about understanding each other’s identities and ideologies, in a way that’s beyond appearance, how people act, but what they really think and how their minds work. I think that once you can collaborate on an ideological basis, you can collaborate on any term. That’s a bit of a generalization, but I think it’s very possible, because once you break through the ideological barrier, you really open yourself up to a lot more of an acceptance based mindset than you would otherwise.
That’s what I think is important with sustainability as well, like if we want to have a greener planet, if we want to work towards food security, empowering communities, working with Aboriginal communities, then we need to understand how they think, and understand their ideology. We can’t go into scenarios thinking we’re better, and I think that’s what interfaith really teaches you, is how you can look at someone who believes different things, and understand that and learn to see the beauty in it. I feel like once we learn to do that, we’ll learn how to see the beauty in how everybody looks at the environment, and then learn about how we can change it.
Part of IC-Kindness’ projects are kindness notes, where people write notes with a kind message and give it to someone else. Image courtesy of IC-Kindness.
P: That’s beautiful. So in terms of IC-Kindness’ goals, in cultivating collaborations between different religions, making connections between different people, and looking at sustainability through a social, community-based lens- what has the organization done in achieving those goals?
Z: I think the prime example was our fundraiser that we did for Syrian refugee families, in that we really just wanted to humanize their struggles. One of our biggest values is tangible humanitarianism. I know that sounds vague, but basically what it means is like, good things that you can do, and know that you’re doing it. So instead of buying a donut for a dollar and not knowing where your money is going, it’s about actually giving the food to a Syrian refugee family, and having that human interaction with them, which I think is so valuable.
When we did this for these families, people on our team, who have never been to the Middle East, or Syria, didn’t really know anybody from there. They thought it was a super cool experience because they got a glimpse into another way of thinking, and into the real people behind such a horrible humanitarian crisis. I think that when we see something bad happen, like floods and political migration crises, you think of the people and you see them on Facebook, but we’re so passive in how we like posts, share posts, without really thinking or acting upon that after.
So I think that that’s really important, and for IC-Kindness, we’re still a young organization and still growing. We’re doing a lot of different things and still working towards that goal. But that’s my vision for it, to eventually create this beautiful culture of tangible humanitarianism, to humanize the people within the issues we see around us. This again goes back to social sustainability, because we are social beings, and we stop being social beings once we start dehumanizing each other, like believing stereotypes and dogmas about other religions. I think that the mentality we should have is a unified mentality – that we all are human, and that we all should try our best to be kind to each other.
Special thanks to Zamina Mithani! Find IC-Kindness at their website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.