HARVARD University has been named one of the best universities in the world. It was founded in 1636 and is known as the country’s oldest higher education institution located in the beautiful city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT spoke to three of our own Cape Town Muslim women attending this prestigious university.
Soraya Mohideen, who grew up in Walmer Estate and now lives in Cape Town’s northern suburbs, recently graduated from Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government with a master’s in public administration. In addition, she received the prestigious certificate, with distinction, in management, leadership, and decision sciences.
Soraya is also a Harvard South Africa Fellowship recipient and an Edward S Mason Fellow in the public administration programme.
Some of the highlights of her time at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) have included developing her leadership and negotiation abilities, as well as expanding her technical knowledge of international trade, economic development, and technology. She was also able to take courses at the university’s Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Business School.
Soraya has worked on projects for stakeholders all over the world, including tackling labour issues in Bogota, Colombia, economic development strategies for the City of Boston, and workforce initiatives for an international non-profit, City Year.
She considers her Master’s degree at Harvard to be highly beneficial since she was able to gather perspectives from a diverse range of global experts, including distinguished classmates who were all leaders in respective public service professions.
Soraya was accompanied by her family during her year in Cambridge, and she stressed the importance of her two young children being active participants in this journey in order to instil a love of education in them.
Her advice to South African women is to foster a culture of curiosity and lifelong learning, and she reminds us that scholarships and support systems are available for those seeking transformative growth opportunities.
She was due to return to Cape Town at the end of June and hopes to work on accelerating Africa’s economic growth.
Zeenith Ebrahim of Kensington graduated from Harvard Kennedy School in 2019 with a mid-career master’s in public administration in the Edward S Mason Programme.
She is a doctoral student at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and her dissertation examines how the public and private sectors can collaborate to create and sustain jobs in the care economy.
Zeenith is also a Harvard South Africa Fellow, a New World Social Innovation (Cheng) Fellow at HKS, a Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund Fellow, and a Prajna Fellow at HSPH. She currently splits her time between Boston and Cape Town.
Some of her Harvard highlights include her time as a Cheng fellow when she developed a social enterprise concept with 14 other Harvard social innovators, focusing on various important societal and environmental concerns throughout the world.
Her doctoral studies provide her with the opportunity to learn from and interact with thought leaders and practitioners who are working to advance the creation of good jobs. She is excited to put her newfound knowledge into action in South Africa.
In addition to her doctorate, Zeenith started Jamii Life, a social venture in Cape Town inspired by her grandmother, who was bedridden for 16 years.
Jamii Life provides resources and training to underprivileged professional and family caregivers in order to transform them into valued members of the workforce and their communities. In addition, they provide direct caregiving services. She will continue to work at Jamii Life after finishing her degree.
Zeenith strives to help shape public policies that promote job growth and productive, healthy livelihoods, resulting in a more just and equitable economic system for all.
Fatima Essop is originally from Athlone but currently lives in Pinelands with her family. She is a South African High Court Advocate and graduated with her PhD from the University of Cape Town in December 2022.
Her PhD thesis focused on the intersection between the Islamic laws of inheritance and the South African laws of inheritance.
She is currently a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School where she is conducting research on Islamic marriage, divorce and inheritance. One of her projects is a Best Practice Manual for Islamic Divorce, which she hopes will be adopted by ulama bodies in South Africa to ensure just and equitable processes in faskh (court annulment) applications as well as facilitate fair talaq (divorce) proceedings.
Some of the highlights of her time at Harvard were working with colleagues from all over the globe and learning from their experiences in different fields of law. She especially learnt an enormous amount from other scholars and activists working in Muslim family law, in both Muslim majority and Muslim minority settings.
She enjoyed attending various seminars with prominent professors, judges, and activists. She was privileged to audit a course on ‘Organising: People, Power, Change’ offered by HKS, which was lectured by the leading professor in the field, Marshall Ganz. This course was one of the highlights of her time at Harvard as she learnt about the importance of people using the power of their diverse resources to effect social change.
Her advice to young people is never to believe that Ivy League institutions are beyond your reach. If you can dream it, you can achieve it but it will require hard work, discipline and perseverance.