The first ISB Leadership Institute class graduated in 2019. Photo: ISB

When Soumaya Khalifa in 2015 joined Leadership Atlanta in 2015, she quickly realized something was missing from the prestigious development program: fellow members of her faith.

“What I found was that the representation of the American Muslim community was not there,” Ms. Khalifa, head of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta and president of Khalifa Consulting, told Global Atlanta in an interview.

The indefatigable intercultural advocate saw this as a glaring omission couldn’t stand — especially in a city that purported to care about diversity.

Soumaya Khalifa

“A lot of minority communities have their own leadership programs, such as Hispanics, Chinese, the Jewish community and many, many others. The Muslim community did not have one.”

So she embarked on a more than year-long push to remedy the problem, modeling it in part on a program run by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO. The result of the partnerships she pulled together is the ISB Leadership Institute, which launched last year with 18 participants and is recruiting its second class to begin in late August.

The program is broken down into nine modules taught monthly on Saturdays by trainers with experience at Fortune 100 companies. Topics are broad but lean toward civic engagement, from nonprofit management to transformational leadership. Practical insight will also be offered on issues like conflict resolution and business communication.

“It’s how to be a better leader all around, and this year we are going to be partnering with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights on advocacy — how to identify a cause and advocate for it,” Ms. Khalifa said.

For Ms. Khalifa, the ISBLI’s goal is not to create an Islamic program that separates Muslims but rather to encourage them to better connect with each other and engage with the world around them.

“We’re preparing people to be ready to go into more mainstream leadership programs,” she said. Already, alumni have been admitted to Leadership Augusta and LEAD Atlanta.

Developed in partnership with CIFAL Atlanta, a United Nations training agency housed at Kennesaw State University, the the content of the program itself is even ecumenical. The sole religious segment focuses on connecting leadership to Islam, and even that will include an interfaith roundtable meant to show its similarities with other traditions.

Ms. Khalifa believes non-Muslims seeking to boost their own understanding of a diverse world would benefit from joining in the institute. She especially prizes the group projects where they work on teams to solve real organizational challenges and produce tangible work. Past results include a mental health plan for mosque leaders and forthcoming video commercials highlighting the achievements of Georgia-based Muslims.

“It’s a very well thought out curriculum, and the projects themselves get people to go out of their comfort zones and work with people who are different from them,” she said. “This is a great way for them get exposed to diversity that they might not have been exposed to.”

ISB Leadership Institute’s early-bird rate is $1,000 for the entirety of the program, including meals, graduation expenses and a DISC personality assessment conducted at the Aug. 24 orientation by an intercultural specialist.

Student rates and scholarships are available; the cost of standard rate will go up in the coming weeks.

Learn more at

See a blog post by Ms. Khalifa recapping the first year here.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...