We need the whole community to play their part in protecting women and children

From the bustling urban markets of Baidoa to the surrounding arid plains, Milgo Keinan’s job with Islamic Relief is to keep women, children, and other vulnerable people in Somalia safe from harm. Part of that job, she says, is working to get the whole community behind her mission – men as well as women.

The job title for my role with Islamic Relief is ‘Protection and Inclusion Officer’, but for me it is about more than protection and inclusion, and it is more than just a job. I see it as a calling that resonates with the very core of my being.

I work with and for the most vulnerable people in our society; women and children, especially those who have been driven from their homes by drought or conflict. I am determined to work tirelessly not just to protect them but also to empower them to reach their full potential.

Rebuilding shattered lives in Baidoa’s camps

The camps in Baidoa are home to thousands of displaced people and have many tales to tell, heartbreaking and heartwarming stories of loss and recovery. Above all, after suffering so much, the families who live here just want a return to normality. Amid makeshift shelters and with limited resources, they are striving to piece together their shattered lives, lives torn apart by relentless conflict and years of severe drought.

Witnessing the breadth of human emotion and the indomitable human spirit is part of the daily reality in these camps. It was here that I first met Mariam, a beacon of resilience and courage in the face of adversity. Her experience of devastating drought and frightening conflict is all too common in Somalia, but she has a quiet tenacity about her that I see in so many women in my country.

Mariam’s story: a testimony to strength

Before the failure of successive rainy seasons in a searing drought, Mariam was 1 of the farmers growing the crops that sustained her community. Those crops failed when the rains failed, and she was compelled to leave her land in a desperate search for food and water.

Displaced women on the move are particularly vulnerable to attack and abuse. Even a seemingly mundane task like collecting firewood can leave them dangerously exposed. Mariam’s journey to Baidoa was perilous, and it is only in the relative sanctuary of the camps that her path to survival can begin to take shape.

The first time I met Mariam, her eyes told a story of deep sorrow. There was a glimmer of hope there, too, but the ordeal she described was heartbreaking.

It is women and children who suffer most when conflict and climate change force families to leave their homes and land. “Hunger does not allow you to weigh dangers,” Mariam told me.

Islamic Relief’s mission: Empowerment through action

My experiences with Islamic Relief have shown me the multifaceted nature of our mission. We respond to immediate crises, but while doing so we are also doing the important groundwork that is needed to deliver lasting safety and self-reliance in the communities we serve.

Creating a secure environment for women and children, providing psychological support, and encouraging economic independence and justice are the cornerstones of our approach. Mariam’s testimony of finding direction and community through our interventions is a strong affirmation of our positive impact.

Community engagement as a catalyst for change

We recognise that you need to involve the entire community to achieve lasting change – including both women and men and marginalised groups. We organise men-only awareness sessions, for example, to challenge and change cultural norms, inspiring men to share in leading the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Islamic Relief runs men-only awareness raising sessions in Somalia to challenge and change attitudes on issues such as GBV and FGM

Education is our most potent tool, empowering both women and men. Knowledge imparts power – power to change the future for the whole community. Every woman who learns her rights and resolves to shield her daughters from FGM/C, every older man who preaches against such practices, they all add to the profound shifts that can occur within communities.

Each change of opinion may be small in itself, but they can all add up to a powerful wave of transformation. The awakening of a community to its own potential for protection, respect, and rebuilding is a significant stride toward progress.

Our collective duty to free women from fear

Despite the advances we have achieved, the situation for many Somali women and children remains critical.

The path ahead is going to be a long one when so many women are still subjected to sexual violence. Our vision is to build a Somalia where women like Mariam can perform simple tasks without fear of sexual assault, and where children are spared from the traumas of war.

A call to action during the 16 Days of Activism campaign

The annual United Nations-led 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign is a time for us all to turn resolve into action. The organisers are challenging us to unite in investing significantly to prevent violence against women and girls. We need to unite in raising awareness, in community education, and in providing practical support to survivors.

We invite you to join Islamic Relief’s mission to protect and empower women at risk of violence in Somalia. Please donate now and help us transform lives and heal communities.

new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 24 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.