In addition to practicing community management as a profession, many of the listeners, guests, and even members of the team behind Community Signal, manage communities part-time. These might be communities that align with our personal passions or hobbies or communities that exist specifically to help ourselves and others grow. That is exactly the mission of Muslamic Makers. Co-founded by Arfah Farooq, who joins us for this episode, Muslamic Makers is a community of Muslim changemakers who work in the tech industry.
This April marks the fifth birthday of Muslamic Makers and Arfah discusses how the community has grown during that time and how she sees it growing into the future. Muslamic Makers takes pride in offering thoughtful programming that is largely free to its community, and Arfah shares how she and her team are thoughtfully working to keep it that way. Tech companies want access to diverse communities when it comes to hiring and in exchange for sponsorship opportunities, the Muslamic Makers community offers them just that. Arfah also discusses the importance of documenting the processes that keep the community running, so that the community can continue running, whether she’s managing the day-to-day or not. It’s always refreshing to hear that the practices that keep our “professional” communities healthy and well-managed are the same practices that we should try applying to our own personal communities, too.
Arfah and Patrick also discuss:
- Keeping a community independent, self-sustaining, and affordable to its members
- Adapting and enforcing your community’s Code of Conduct as you grow
- How the pandemic has helped the Muslamic Makers community grow beyond its roots in London
This episode is the first that we’ve released since the devastating shooting that left eight people in Atlanta dead, including six Asian women. Their names were Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, and Xiaojie Tan. The other two people who were killed were Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. One man, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, was seriously injured. As a team, we’ve reflected on how our work in communities matters when it comes to stopping hate. As Patrick says in this episode, “when we educate ourselves about what anti-Asian hatred looks like and we take action against it, we are part of the solution.”
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community.
Growing Muslamic Makers into a self-sustaining community: “Where I think self-sustainability [for Muslamic Makers] comes from is sponsorships with tech companies because tech companies want access to diverse talent. They want to advertise to a diverse pool.” –@Arf_22
Our communities are bigger than our individual selves: “[When asking for money to sustain a community], speak from the heart, and let people know your intentions are right and you are just thinking about this community existing beyond yourself. [Muslamic Makers] is part of my legacy, but at the same time, especially in Islam as well, it’s the whole thing of, if I die tomorrow, this thing is going to carry on. It’s going to keep bringing goodness in the world.” –@Arf_22
How the pandemic helped the Muslamic Makers community grow beyond London: “Because we the founders were in London … [Muslamic Makers was] very London-centric. … The beauty of actually being forced online [because of the pandemic], in a sense, has meant that all our events are online, which has meant that we’ve had people dialing in from the other side of the world. That global community has definitely grown a lot.” –@Arf_22
About Arfah Farooq
Arfah Farooq is a lifelong community builder, from shaping the regeneration of East London after the 2012 Olympics to building resilience in young people as a youth trustee for a charity.
She accidentally co-founded a startup called Discoverables after an initial Design Council grant in 2012. This catapulted her into technology, which led her to co-found Muslamic Makers, a community for Muslims who upscale and pioneer tech in 2016. Arfah is a 2017 fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and has been awarded a prestigious fellowship exploring Muslim women in technology in the USA, UAE, and Pakistan, where she vlogged her travels and brought back her expertise to help businesses.
For her day job, Arfah works in government where she managed an internal community of 1,500-plus product and delivery managers across the UK government and now leads the No.10 Innovation Fellowship program. She is also an Angel investor in startups as part of the Aida Ventures Angels program to invest in underrepresented talent.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- Arfah Farooq’s website
- Arfah on Twitter
- Muslamic Makers
- No.10 Innovation Fellowship program
- Aida Ventures Angels program
- Celebrating five years of Muslamic Makers
- Creative Mornings
- Muslamic Makers 2016-2021 Impact Report
- Faisa Mohamed, co-founder of Somalis in Tech, joined us on Community Signal
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. Arfah Farooq is our guest. Arfah co-founded Muslamic Makers, a community for Muslims in tech. We’re talking about taking a part-time project and working to make it self-sustaining and how they have shifted their in-person event-focused strategy during and after COVID.
Before we get into that, I wanted to talk about the recent violent attacks targeting Asian-Americans and Asians in America. The fact is, it’s not even a recent thing. There have been increasing waves of violence aimed at Asian people globally since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the last couple of weeks have been especially difficult in America, where I live with the devastating shootings in the Atlanta area being top of mind. Those shootings left eight dead including six Asian women. Their names were Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, and Xiaojie Tan. The other two people who were killed were Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. One man, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, was seriously injured. This is just terrible.
Within our scope of influence as online community builders and people who work in moderation, trust, and safety, we have a responsibility to take action against racist behavior and content. Sometimes we might devalue our own work. It’s just one post. It’s just one word. Does it really matter? Yes, it does.
Letting people get away with things, even things that may not be the most heinous, obvious examples of racism can lead to real harm. People generally don’t start out on their journey to racism by joining the KKK and wearing a white hood. It is smaller things that lead down the rabbit hole of indoctrination, a blog post, a tweet, a YouTube video. It could even be a piece of content hosted on your community.
There’s a line that you can draw from, for example, the bigoted language used by former President Donald Trump, terms like China virus or kung flu to actual violence. When we educate ourselves about what anti-Asian hatred looks like and we take action against it, we are part of the solution. Thank you.
I’d like to dedicate this episode to the memory of my grandmother, who passed away on March 16th.
One last thing, as always, thank you to our Patreon supporters, including Rachel Medanic, Serena Snoad, and Marjorie Anderson for supporting the show. If you’d like to join them, you can find out more at communitysignal.com/innercircle.
With that, let’s get into the show. Arfah Farooq is a lifelong community builder from shaping the regeneration of East London after the 2012 Olympics to building resilience in young people as a youth trustee for a charity. She accidentally co-founded a startup called Discoverables after an initial Design Council grant in 2012. This catapulted her into technology, which led her to co-found Muslamic Makers, a community for Muslims who upscale and pioneer tech in 2016. Arfah is a 2017 fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and has been awarded a prestigious fellowship exploring Muslim women in technology in the USA, UAE, and Pakistan, where she vlogged her travels and brought back her expertise to help businesses.
For her day job, Arfah works in government where she has managed an internal community of 1,500-plus product and delivery managers across the UK government and now leads the No.10 Innovation Fellowship program. She is also an Angel investor in startups as part of the Aida Ventures Angels program to invest in underrepresented talent. Arfah, welcome to the show.
[00:03:44] Arfah Farooq: Hi, thanks for having me.
[00:03:45] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. April 8th marks five years of Muslamic Makers. Congratulations.
[00:03:50] Arfah Farooq: Thank you. Yes, it’s five years. It’s been a long time in the world of community. I was reflecting on it recently myself, and I was like, “Wow.” I was like 24 going on 25, now nearly turning 30 and my life is just so distant from when I first started it and I’m just like, “Wow…A lot has happened in those five years.”
[00:04:12] Patrick O’Keefe: I love to hear about people who are with the same community for five years, two years, three years, five years, or longer. I can tell you just to make you feel younger then, I have a community on May 21st that I’ve managed that’s going to turn 20 and I’ve been there all 20 years. Hopefully, that makes you feel a little younger.
[00:04:31] Arfah Farooq: I actually had on the podcast with Faisa, when you mentioned it, I was just like, “What, 20 years, that’s incredible.
[00:04:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Five is rare. It’s so rare these days to see people stick with a project, corporate-wise. It’s harder because of job changing and the things, but even personally, you don’t see it a lot. What I love about that, just as someone who myself who builds communities professionally like you have, but then has a project like this like you have, that you can take ownership of and I can decide, “Yes, I’m listening to the community, yes, I’m responsive to the community but I have some authority here. I don’t have anyone above me telling me what I have to do. Well, when you’re with a community for so long, when you’re with a community for five years you have this sort of, it’s like a gift. There’s nothing that a member can tell you with the community that you don’t know. You were here before every member that registered not just that you’ll be here after them but you’re part of like the furniture.
When you manage a community for five years, ten years, twenty years more than a few years or you’ve been there since the start like you have, there is a certain bypass a few of the roadblocks that community professionals have when they come into a community where they are newer or they’re not as established and they want to make decisions or make changes they lack the credibility and that’s the word I’m searching for. You have a credibility when you’ve been with the community for so long that not every member is going to respect that. That credibility lens, it’s just a benefit to your decision-making process when you’re trying to do new things. It’s like people trust that your intention is in the right place because you’ve invested your time here so far.
[00:06:01] Arfah Farooq: Yes, I have so much to mention on that because I guess five years is such a big milestone. I would say Muslamic Makers started off as a community but now it’s an organization. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that actually means in principle because when you start to think about scale and growth, what does that mean for me as a co-founder? What am I getting dragged into now? I’m thinking about commercializing certain aspects not necessarily trying to take money from the community. We’re still looking at sponsorships and that kind of angles where people want access to our community but I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability.
Thinking a lot about actually the last five years we’ve given a lot collectively but what’s next? How do you keep that energy going? I am on that cusp where I’m thinking, actually, I want to be more advisory, and actually I want to be more in the ground with the community because I’ve realized I don’t actually have energy as much to engage with the community because I’m actually looking after a lot of the other parts of running a organization which is taking me away from the stuff, the joy of actually when I first started it. These are things that I’ve just really started to think and I think there is definitely a privilege of it being your thing because you definitely can run riot on it. Well not quite in that sense but you do have that ability to experiment you know?
[00:07:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s talk about that self-sustainability because after five years, as you mentioned, you’re looking to make this organization financially self-sustaining. You have experience working in government, you’ve worked in tech start-ups, you’ve spent time in venture capital. There are many organizations that are in a similar place. They started to bring people together around a profession usually or something else but let’s just focus on professional communities. They saw a need for something to bring people together to enrich them professionally and that took off and it created a lot of value for people individually but it’s not financially self-sustaining and they would love for it to be. What do you think is the path to make that happen for you?
[00:08:00] Arfah Farooq: Oh gosh, there’s so many layers. When I think about the journey of MM and why it started. It goes back to the why and the why ultimately was it came from my own needs. Me and my co-founder Murtazah were two Muslim people working in the tech industry, would go to tech events not see ourselves reflected back. Events would be a bit our core focus. We wanted to just create a safe space and ultimately that’s where it came from. Then it emerged into more of a community, up-skilling, workshops all those kinds of things. Also, we recognize that our community is not privileged and if they’re not privileged, taking money from them never sat well with us hence we would get sponsoring kind in terms of venue and free food that kind of thing. Keep most of our events free. I think maybe in the last five years we’ve only done two or three events where we charged a fee because wanted to cover the food. This has been a real battling ground for me in terms of charging the community or not. When I speak to community members they’re just like, “Well look, you do a lot. There’s is a lot of value.”
Last year, we ran this skills digital careers program and it was a lot of work. Four months, 38 people, where they got exposed to different kinds of digital career paths. Somebody actually said to me, “In a normal world, that would have cost money but you did it completely for free because you recognize people were graduating in the middle of a pandemic. People were made redundant.” I’ve been thinking a lot and I’m like, I think there are places where you can and when we had applications, we had 130 applications. As I read some of those applications I recognized some of those community members would go and pay for a course at General Assembly, so actually there is a part of our community that will pay for things. It’s like, “How do you divide that up?” I was having a conversation with another member yesterday and he said, “Look, you could just do a simple tier system. Students and unemployed it’s free. You’re not going to ask anyone for proof, just trust the community in that and everyone else is a fiver and tenner fiber antenna here and there.”
With online, it feels less like you can’t charge. I guess in the real world you can because it feels more work. That could be a potential avenue, but that’s not going to make us self-sustaining. That’s just a bit of pocket money to pay for technology and, subscriptions and those kinds of things. Where I think self-sustainability comes from actually is sponsorships with tech companies because tech companies want access to diverse talent. They want to advertise to a diverse pool.
I’ve been toying with the idea of a yearly sponsorship package. Even if it’s as simple as 500 quid two job adverts, you pay in advance. I calculate, I only need 20 of those companies. That will give me £10,000. That will allow me to pay somebody one day a week to do admin social media, keep it going. Then everything else we can use for thank you gifts to speakers, and those kinds of stuff. I’ve worked out, that’s the bare minimum I need to actually take a lot of burden off myself and also the parts that the volunteers don’t want to get involved in. Our volunteers love getting involved in events, doing the social media for the events, but we don’t have a constant social media because we started as an impassive community.
We don’t actually have good engagement on our social media channels and we’ve just never had the time or energy for it. I recognize that’s a massive community that we haven’t really tapped into. There’s a lot of thoughts around that. I think ultimately sponsorships and then there’s obviously slightly bigger pots of money, grant funding to run actual skills program, that kind of stuff. Then that’s where I’ve been reflecting a lot. I’m like, we’ve done really good stuff, pilot programs, and stuff. There’s things we can take and scale but actually, maybe I’m not the person to do that. Maybe that’s bringing in someone with that more commercial acumen to go chase the partnerships, do more of the leadership stuff. I could go back to the fun stuff, working with the community, unlocking things, connecting people, because that’s the stuff I absolutely love doing. I found over I would say pretty much the last two years because my co-founder stepped back about two years ago, then it was me and another volunteer keeping it afloat. In the middle of the pandemic, I literally rebuilt a whole new volunteer team. I’m just exhausted.
I recognized that recently, that actually the things that I used to get joy from, I can’t do that as much. I want to get back to being engaged with the community. Lots and lots of reflections have been coming up recently, in terms of the future. Getting those pillars in place, getting those notion documents in place, in terms of this is how we do things. All those things are the things basically downloading my brain so that things can be abided by. Then that way, people do abide by what is the Muslamic Makers way. People would be about other events or Muslamic Makers, events, they have such a vibe about them. There’s just the crowd and it’s like, how do you bottle that up, in a notion document and be like, this is how you have the vibe.
Those things that are really hard to articulate, because it just comes natural to me. In terms of scaling growth, like I’m thinking about chapters, we were going to launch in Manchester, which is another city in the UK, before COVID, that was obviously put on pause. One of our volunteer team members moved back to the States. We have members everywhere that are saying, “Hey, we want to start an MM chapter here.”
Getting all that documentation and all that, like the Creative Mornings, great example of a community that just flourished all around the world, thinking along the same kinds of lines. I think that’s the bit I’ll be really good at. This other stuff around self-sustainability and stuff, I’m just tired now. Actually, I think bringing in somebody who has that passion and drive to bring in the money and if they want to pay themselves in the process of it, I’m more than happy for them to do so as well. That’s where my head’s been at recently.
[00:13:52] Patrick O’Keefe: I hear a lot of different pieces of the puzzle coming together to providing different levels of income, corporate sponsors. If you find the right org or the right company that wants the exposure, the line item to them of, as you know what seems like a lot of money to me is nothing to them, in some cases, if they’re getting value out of it. Then funding like you mentioned, university funding, grant funding, government funding.
One thing that I was thinking about recently, in a similar vein to what you were discussing, like you said, it’s not a privileged group that you serve, but there are obviously shades to privilege. If you help someone get a job where they get paid X amount of dollars, it makes sense that they would want to support the organization’s future. You’ve given them a direct ROI in their life and helped them take a step up. If they’re getting a job, like I won’t try to do the pound conversion, but if I had an org and I helped them get a job where they made $100,000 US a year, that’s a change in their life. To ask them to pay $100 a year for membership or $200 a year for membership or $50 a year or whatever it is or more, it’s like they got value out of that because it helped them in their career.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently with the show because we have a Patreon for the show. We have really great long-term Patreon supporters who find value in the show you’re bringing into their work. I feel bad most of the time because I don’t feel like I do enough with it, and I have to, one, remind myself that they’re, in many cases, supporting the show because they enjoy the show as it is, the thing that I put out every two weeks, they believe that’s worth supporting. Yes, there may be some extras I’m tacking on, bottom line, yes, sometimes maybe I fall short on those, maybe I don’t deliver everything, because it’s just me doing it, but they really just support the core of Community Signal.
I was thinking, how can I extend that, and one way I’ve been thinking about, and I do know if I want to do this, if you’re listening and you think this is a good idea, feel free to let me know. I don’t know if this is something that you could do with the Muslamic Makers, but when people work in certain companies, they sometimes get an educational budget. The podcast is educational budget, to some extent, it’s not a big deal to maybe put down $10 a month, $20 a month to support the show out of that educational budget, if you’re listening to it every two weeks, and you’re finding ideas that you are incorporating into your day job to save, generate revenue, make your community better at a corporate level.
I’m sure the same thing is true for your organization where you have people who are learning things in this group and maybe you don’t call it education or certification or training, but by the very nature of putting people together in these virtual and in-person rooms, they’re taking things back to their companies, and they’re making money. As for me, that’s one thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how an educational budget can lead to contributions to a podcast that helps you or an organization that helps you professionally, that’s maybe not the certification organization or professional association in a traditional sense.
[00:16:29] Arfah Farooq: I think that’s true. I think a lot is often the psychology of money and asking for money is always a bit of a weird one. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about, yes, we have this Patreon, but sometimes I feel bad that I’m not doing enough. I have been thinking similar in terms of not a membership fee, because I’ve always been dead against putting that gate in place, but actually, what I’m calling it is a supporters club, which is basically like a Patreon, just the fact that I do this because I care, maybe on the odd occasion, I might get access to some events, but that’s not actually why I’m giving you the £5 a month, £10 a month. Whatever it is, it’s because actually, I deeply care about MM or actually MM has helped me on my trajectory, that I just want to support. I think, the more I’ve tried to just get over that and the more I’ve started to just look outwards and look at other Muslim organizations that are actually for-profit running, but community-driven and they have that. They’re for profit, so why am I feeling guilty as a not for profit to do that? It’s been this internal battle, and it’s taught me a lot, that I’m actually going to be talking from my heart to the community at our event that’s coming up when we’re going to be releasing that impact report, because actually, again, I guess, because the community has known me for the last five years as the face of it, although I’m trying not to be the face of it anymore.
In a sense, I think speaking from the heart, and let people know your intentions are right and actually you are just thinking about this community existing beyond yourself. This is part of my legacy, but at the same time, especially in Islam as well, it’s the whole thing of, if I die tomorrow, this thing is going to carry on, it’s going to keep bringing goodness in the world, so for me, it’s so important. I think that’s why I find it so hard to step back until I get these operational pillars in place, because I’m just like, I don’t ever want to be the reason that this thing just slowly, slowly over time, nothing happens, et cetera.
I’m not saying – I think the volunteer team will probably carry on but eventually their life might get busy, so how do we create that cycle where, if their lives get busy, there’s another pool coming in? How do you create that constant cycle of people going in, in the community and self-sustainability is a really interesting one, because often people say, communities go through stages and the last stage is it becomes self-sustaining, it just runs itself. To be honest, I call that out a lot. There always has to be a leader it might not be the founder, but there always is that person who might not have the title, but have that energy to still keep herding the cats.
It might look like this is magical, self-sustaining thing, but there’s always somebody on the background, and it’s just trying to create that process when the baton keeps getting passed.
[00:19:10] Patrick O’Keefe: The last stage is death. The last stage is, it gets to be too much and we burn out. I agree with you, and especially moderation is such a great example, just common example is so many people think you could just eventually hand that off. Maybe in some cases you can lessen the responsibility and make it more community-centric and allow people to have a hand in it and a say in it, but it’s tough if there’s no one at the top managing those processes.
Let’s stop here to talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
Vanilla provides a one-stop-shop solution that gives community leaders all the tools they need to create a thriving community. Engagement tools like ideation and gamification promote vibrant discussion and powerful moderation tools allow admins to stay on top of conversations and keep things on track. All of these features are available out of the box, and come with best-in-class technical and community support from Vanilla’s Success Team. Vanilla is trusted by King, Acer, Qualtrics, and many more leading brands. Visit vanillaforums.com.
I noticed that as part of applying to join Muslamic Makers, you are asked to agree to a policy that prevents you from talking externally about anything that has been discussed in your Slack. Have you had to enforce that yet?
[00:20:14] Arfah Farooq: That’s an interesting one. Not really. That’s probably something I need to actually adapt actually, because it was something that I took from another community as we do with these things, when we’re putting together forms and stuff. I never had to enforce it. There’s definitely been one or two kinds of situations that have arose which have led me to ban people, which then made me think, “Oh, my God, we need a bit of a code of conduct.” Even the code of conduct we have, as you saw, it’s very basic.
Actually, I need to expand on that. These are those things that I haven’t got round to doing.
So far, the community is okay. We had one or two bad apples. That one was a really interesting one. There was just a situation around I think the member was posting to raise money for something, but then we tried to verify who they were raising money for. We also had heard some bad complaints from another member who tried to do business with this person because it got flagged to us twice from different points, it made us feel a bit uncomfortable having this person in our community.
We were like, “Oh, how do we ban this person because we don’t have proper rules.” Then you just have to be like, “Well, it’s my community. It’s my space.” Actually, I’m just going to say, “I’m sorry, this has happened twice. We’ve had two complaints about you, you don’t need to necessarily go into detail. I’m really sorry it’s come to this.” We had to remove it. Then this person basically literally started tweeting me like crazy, emailing me like crazy. That was that moment where you’re just like, “Well, this is what happened when you ban somebody and they’re not happy with it.” Obviously, there’s probably as a moderator of many online forums, how then people come off to you in a way sometimes as well. That can be a bit unsettling sometimes as well.
[00:21:55] Patrick O’Keefe: I started moderating when I was a teenager, and I was very careful. I became good at dealing with abuse. Of course, as I’ve talked about, on the show, I got a lot of abuse, and it shouldn’t be minimized. It’s also different from abuse other people might get like a Muslim woman might receive. None of the abuse I received was gendered. For example, very little of the abuse was about like, who I loved or anything like that. It was always like, how terrible I am, how big my ego is, how I live in my mom’s basement. I heard that one a lot of times and they were right at that point.
I was always cognizant of like, “I still live at home with my parents. I don’t want them to get nasty stuff,” just because I was always very cognizant of my address. I had a P.O Box that I used for my domain names. Then I separated those parts of my life. I think my parents, I don’t know if they read my book or not but I feel like the moment that they learned about me receiving abuse was when they looked at my book, which I wrote when I was in my 20s. I didn’t want to stress them out about the things that I was dealing with online. You mentioned about not having as fleshed out rules as you’d like, something you want to take a look at. I think that relates to the fact that before the show, you mentioned that before COVID, you were primarily hosting offline events in-person with a Slack that was somewhat inactive.
Since then your Slack has understandably grown and flourished since. With the pandemic, what shifts have you made to create an experience that’s more asynchronous? You have to be in an event. You have to be in person. You’re there but the internet tends to lend itself to being able to check in today, check in Wednesday, and come back. Has the pandemic made you shift a little bit to more asynchronous activities?
[00:23:24] Arfah Farooq: Yes. I would definitely say we still run on a bit of an event schedule. In the sense where we started virtual check-ins, that’s completely owned by the community. I’ve just said, “Oh, this would be an interesting thing to try out.” Two of our community members said, “Oh, we’ll run it,” and they’ve been running it for the last year, literally every week. I think it’s so great. They literally just open up a hangout, and then anyone can jump in at specific hour, once a week.
Then obviously, there are obviously specific things in terms of people are definitely posting more. One of our volunteers, I heard he started to do a bit of a tech digest, posting things to have more conversations about things. When we analyzed our Slack data recently, actually, we definitely saw that there was just so much more activity in 2020. Also, probably because people are working from home so there’s less of that, “Oh, no, my boss is looking over my screen type situation.”
People can definitely feel like they can contribute much more. One of my, I guess, hopes and I was talking to Faisa about this, because you’re saying to me how she’s running her Slack community, which gave me a lot of inspiration actually, was just about having community members actually take ownership of channels and that kind of stuff.
That’s actually a really great idea because I’d never thought about it from that angle. I think we’re going through that transition from literally an in-person community to now– Last year has pretty much been online and now we’re going to go into hybrid. This is where I mean about I really want to free myself up from all this leadership stuff. I can get involved in the details and be like, “Oh, which community member actually would be good at this. Let me go message them and be like, “Hey, do you want to do this? Hey, do you want to do that?” Because that’s the stuff I absolutely love doing. I think we’re still in that transition phase, to be honest, but slowly and surely.
[00:25:11] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve referenced Faisa a couple of times on the show, and that’s Faisa Mohamed of Somalis in Tech. We had her on the podcast last episode and we’ll link to that in the show notes. I think it’ll be interesting to see how organizations like yours changed post-pandemic. There was a fair number of organizations, obviously, around the world who were very focused on regular meetings in-person, monthly, quarterly, et cetera, that essentially had to stop doing that completely.
Some of those organizations have died, gone away. Some have shifted to being online all the time. Some had a channel that they neglected that maybe or it wasn’t as active with certain members, and now they’re using it again. I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any orgs that actually lean all the way hardback into being just an in-person events thing. That feels a little short-sighted, I feel like.
[00:25:57] Arfah Farooq: I think you have to be both.
[00:25:59] Patrick O’Keefe: It’ll be interesting to see how these sorts of organizations shift to provide experiences that aren’t just in-person, but that are online and can be participated in over a longer period of time.
[00:26:08] Arfah Farooq: I think our global community grew a lot as well. Actually, not even global but we were very London-centric, like forget global in the world, because we the founders were in London, and tech industries, mainly in London. We were very London-centric. We had members across the UK and if on the odd occasion, they were in London, they got to come to our event. They got benefit from the Slack channel and stuff. The beauty of actually being forced online, in a sense has meant that all our events are online, which has meant that we’ve had people dialing in from the other side of the world.
That global community has definitely grown a lot. If anything, that’s now a massive potential for us because actually, that’s where all my chapters now are, I already mentioned, I was talking about Manchester and stuff, but there’s other countries, we’ve had quite a lot of East coasters, Canadians, all those people are literally people I can message and be like, “When things are back to normal, do you want to host a little meet-up with here are all the Canadian members that I know, that happen to be in Toronto. Why don’t you all get together under the MM banner, and then they can ultimately start doing their own thing.
Then that Slack community becomes almost the hub, where people are running localized chapters and events. Then they pull people into this hub, where ultimately is where the activity really sits. That’s my vision and thinking in terms of scale and growth. I really do miss in-person, stuff. I’m quite sad that we’re not doing our fifth birthday in-person. We had to cancel our fourth one. Now two birthdays now canceled.
I’m really looking forward to a belated reunion with the community in-person, but definitely need to figure out actually how we do that in terms of, okay, we’ve got an in-person event, how do we make sure that those people tuning into the in-person event, it’s not a bad experience, where it’s just, a phone recording or something like that? How do we actually maybe invest in the right streaming technology to make sure that people tuning in to our in-person events are getting just a good experience.
[00:28:12] Patrick O’Keefe: Then just going back again to before COVID, one of the questions I get asked fairly regularly actually is about hosting in-person events, and specifically about how to keep people from losing interest in what you’re doing, what your organization is doing between your events. I know that’s not something that you really super. I’m sure there’s a virtual drop-off that occurs with virtual events. In-person events, a lot of people host these conferences or meetups or events, yearly, quarterly, twice a year and so there’s this drop-off. It’s surprising, even though I don’t hang out at event circles, how often I get asked, what do I do between events to keep people with me online. Back when you were hosting in-person events regularly what worked best for you?
[00:28:50] Arfah Farooq: [laughs] This is where I would say we didn’t actually do too well. As I mentioned-
[00:28:54] Patrick O’Keefe: We can learn from that, too.
[00:28:55] Arfah Farooq: -our social media wasn’t properly invested in. I would say it was just a Slack group. It was a holding group. Those engaged members would join the Slack community and then there’ll be a bit of chitchat. Not the most energetic Slack community, but there will definitely be that chitchat. I would say in our early days, we were very consistent. Literally, we were doing events pretty much nearly every month. People always knew that it was coming. People always knew that, “Okay, the next event is in February, et cetera.” Because we had this regular rhythm, ultimately, that consistency at the start is basically what made us who we are today, because that’s what created our name on the London tech scene, et cetera. If obviously, I was do like rewind, definitely engaging more content, in between on social media, where your community hangs out with other people so hang out as well. More of that stuff definitely.
[00:29:48] Patrick O’Keefe: What do you think it is that stands out in the sea of things because there’s so many events, there’s so many meetups, there’s so many things. You mentioned you’re a part of other groups focused toward Muslims. There’s so many events so much people want our attention all the time, email newsletters, follow Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn groups. People want to suck you into all these groups, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups. Our email inboxes are full. They want you to tap into SMS, sometimes. So many different channels, so many different events, so little time that we personally have. What is it that you think is the thing that helps either events stand out to you, as someone who is interested in other events, or helps your events stand out to your members that helps you rise up above all the other things that they could spend their time on? What is it that keeps them interested?
[00:30:33] Arfah Farooq: I think it’s because we are Muslamic Makers to be blunt, because we are this specific niche in terms of Muslim changemakers in the tech that people know what you’re getting, if people are interested. The one thing I would actually say is a person doesn’t have to come to every single event or come to every other event, because each event is quite different. Now, again, talking about our early days, we had an event on Tech for Good, that had a very different crowd compared to an event that was on FinTech that attracted the Muslim bankers.
We’ve had very different types of Muslims, in a sense, engaged with that event depending on whatever the topic of discussion was. I think that’s okay. I think trying to get people’s attention– I think building that engaged mailing list, I would say, was obviously our big winner, because I would literally put out an event and it would be sold out. Obviously, our events were free, but all the free tickets will be pretty much taken literally within the day which is actually one of the reasons why we’d never had to do social media because we would send it to our mailing list, there’ll be taken, which then meant, “Okay, well I can’t be bothered to do the social media. Don’t need it,” because these people just wanted access to our events.
Obviously, if we started doing paid tickets, that requires more energy. On the odd occasion, when we did a paid event, we still managed to pack out room, but it definitely required much more pushing out on the newsletter, much more social media work to sell those tickets. Whereas when it was free, you literally send the mailer, and it’s all gone, and people still turn up. Again, I think it really comes down to like, is it a free event? Is it an event where you’re actually selling tickets, because if you’re selling something that obviously naturally is going to require much more energy. Then you have to think about those different ways of engaging with the community in terms of trying to sell that event to get them to come along.
[00:32:23] Patrick O’Keefe: One thing I’m hearing from you, I think, is that your specificity has been helpful in helping you to maintain a group of people that is actually looking forward to the next thing you’re doing because it is so focused. It’s not just another tech group. It’s not just another group of, generic tech, but also not even just people who make tech or who gets into makers, but it’s for Muslim makers in tech. Those three things really hone in on a very specific program, and a very specific thing that if that’s you, how many options are there that are in your area, or that are based around this subject? It’s something that you know the scarcity that is there. When it comes around to another event, that’s something you want to be a part of because it’s specifically who you are as an individual and that’s not always spoken for or offered or you’re not always represented in those more generic circles.
[00:33:08] Arfah Farooq: Yes, exactly.
[00:33:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Arfah, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. I’ve really enjoyed it.
[00:33:13] Arfah Farooq: Me too. It’s been a really great conversation to have absolutely loved talking about community. It’s been really enjoyable.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Thank you for listening.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.