About the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship
In a time of political and cultural division, our nation needs interfaith leaders who can break barriers and build bridges across difference. IFYC Alumni do this work throughout many sectors of society. Thus, we are proud to support the ongoing leadership development and impact of our Alumni with the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship. This fellowship is an opportunity for leaders to learn from each other and experts in the field of innovation.
The idea for this fellowship started in 2014 as way to give IFYC Alumni the opportunity to cultivate ideas and projects that creatively address social issues through an interfaith lens. More than forty IFYC Alumni have received support through our fellowship, empowering them to grow as leaders and launch new initiatives ranging from topics of public education to healing and resilience to preventing sexual violence.
The Interfaith Innovation Fellows receive:
- A $5,000 grant to use toward getting their innovative interfaith project off the ground.
- A trip to Chicago, IL for an exclusive retreat with all expenses paid.
- 10 months of support to grow their leadership experience and professional networks through one-on-one support from IFYC staff, and five virtual meetings with their cohort on topics such as storytelling and human centered design.
- Opportunities to learn from IFYC founder and president, Eboo Patel, along with IFYC staff, former Fellows, and others.
2020 Cohort of the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship
Alexis Grant (Jewish)
Project: Alexis Grant will host a learning series for future mental health professionals on Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis. Alexis noticed that religious identity in Indianapolis, more than any other place she has lived, is considered a piece of one’s public identity. Her project aims to equip future mental health professionals with the skills and knowledge to treat their clients, many of who express that their religious background is central to their identity. Her team will raise awareness around considering faith background when considering cultural diversity, teach skills in religious cultural competency, and encourage open collaboration among students from various backgrounds working for equity in mental health care access and practice.
Bio: Alexis Grant is a second-year doctoral student in clinical psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis studying health disparities and chronic pain. She completed her bachelor’s degree in biology and neuroscience at Davidson College where she first developed a passion for interfaith work with Better Together. Alexis is a clinical trials ambassador for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation as well as a program facilitator for Indianapolis’ first Moishe House, a residential program for Jewish young professionals. In her free time, Alexis enjoys walking her dog along Indy’s Monon trail, baking vegan desserts, and watching Seinfeld reruns.
Casey Jones (Christian)
Santa Barbara, CA
Project: Casey Jones will be transforming an unused and unwelcoming section of land at a local Christian church and dedicating it to interfaith environmental justice and food security organizing in his neighborhood. His project is to build an outdoor interfaith chapel, classroom, and community garden with neighbors and partners from the University of California at Santa Barbara and the surrounding Isla Vista community. Once completed, interested partners will be invited to join an interfaith collaborative that will continue to meet in the new space and explore the relationship between food, faith, and how we engage our environment for the common good.
Bio: Casey Jones is a graduate student in religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. As a devout Christian in the Episcopal (Anglican) tradition, Casey’s interfaith hero is the Reverend Pauli Murray, a fellow Episcopalian whose vision of democratic freedom in the United States during the fifties and sixties was often ahead of its time. Casey strives to be as thoughtful and visionary in his leadership. He serves his faith community as the Campus Missioner at Saint Michael’s University Church. In this role, he manages St. Mike’s community garden and helps develop campus and community partnerships with the church.
Irshad Osman (Muslim)
Project: Research and data show religiously-active individuals are the largest group of donors in North America. Yet there is a lack of knowledge in recognizing the role of these altruistic donors in spreading good in the communities around them. Irshad will collaborate with an interfaith team to educate non-profit fundraisers on the motivations, beliefs and sensitivities of religious donors so that inclusive donor cultivation and stewardship practices can be promoted in the sector. This will be done through workshops and the development of a toolkit that explores the charitable underpinnings of Abrahamic religions.
Bio: Irshad Osman is an Imam by training and a fundraiser by profession. He is a Khateeb (lecturer) at Danforth Islamic Centre, Toronto Islamic Centre and other mosques in the Greater Toronto Area. Irshad has worked at the Women’s College Hospital Foundation, IDRF, Humber College, Silent Voice Canada and United Way Toronto overseeing fundraising portfolios worth millions of dollars to support local and International causes. He is the Director of Interfaith Relations at Cordoba Centre for Civic Engagement and Leadership, and a Steering Committee Member of ISARC and TAIC, Toronto-based coalitions to take prevent poverty in Ontario and promote inter-faith harmony.
Olivia Elder (Christian)
Project: Olivia Elder started Project 117 based on principles laid out in Isaiah 1:17 to seek justice and correct oppression. Through Project 117, Olivia works in partnership with DC-based advocacy and faith-based organizations to connect political advocacy and interfaith communities, creating progressive, inclusive environments on both sides. In 2020, Project 117's work will focus on the upcoming census, a key source of information in determining political representation and allocation of public services. The Census Bureau classifies religious minorities and low-income people as "hard to count" populations. Olivia will recruit local interfaith leaders and work with DC-based groups to host a series of discussions and trainings around the interfaith community's role in ensuring a complete count in the upcoming census.
Bio: Olivia Elder is a nonprofit professional, organizer, and dancer based in Washington, DC. Raised in Houston and New Orleans, Olivia moved to DC to attend The George Washington University, where she studied International Affairs with a concentration in Contemporary Societies and Cultures. During her undergraduate studies, she focused mainly on faith-based and minority communities, particularly on the role that faith has on social movements. Currently, she leads the Families and Incarceration program at FWD.us, is a guest lecturer at Church of The Epiphany, and sits on the board of a DC-based service organization.
Sara Rahim (Muslim)
Project: Though global platforms and civil society groups have increasingly advocated for young people to have a seat at the table to dialogue and develop ideas, there is little support to continue these conversations or implement these projects afterwards. This project seeks to create opportunities for young interfaith and intercultural leaders to share best practices and skill-building resources for developing interfaith social action projects. They will then create a toolkit that will be informed by case studies from young changemakers who have tried and tested interfaith projects in diverse religious, cultural, and geographic contexts such as the United States, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Mexico.
Bio: Sara Rahim is an Integration Manager at Cara Chicago, a suite of bootcamps and businesses that get people affected by poverty back to work. With experience in over 40 countries, Sara has designed and implemented inclusion projects spanning global health, refugee issues, and interfaith action. Sara has been recognized by the World Economic Forum, a United Nations Youth Representative for Parliament of the World's Religions, and has presented at the White House and G20 Interfaith Forum. She is an ACWAY International Program Manager and VP of Open Society Foundations Executive Committee for Rights and Governance. Sara holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago.
Suraj Arshanapally (Agnostic & Culturally Hindu)
Project: Masculinity plays an important role in how young boys are socialized worldwide. Yet, there are certain traits within traditional masculinity that are unhealthy, such as suppressing emotion or not seeking help when needed. Suraj’s project aims to teach boys what healthy masculinity can look like from a young age. Because masculinity varies across cultures, he plans to interview a diverse group of men to learn how they overcame any attributes of traditional masculinity they found challenging. Using the interviews as inspiration, he will write a children’s book to teach young boys how to express themselves in healthier ways.
Bio: Suraj Arshanapally is a Health Communication Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where he optimizes digital marketing strategies for a mobile health app focused on children’s development. Passionate about building marketing campaigns that have positive global health and social impact, Suraj has collaborated on communication projects with the World Health Organization in Geneva and the United Nations Population Fund in New York City. He earned his B.S. in Public Health from Saint Louis University and his M.P.H. from Yale University School of Public Health. In his free time, Suraj can be found photographing his travels or blogging.
Examples of Past Fellows
Aamir Hussain (Muslim)
Project: Established a Spirituality and Medicine Interest Group for the Medical School at University of Chicago.
Bio: With the support of the fellowship, Aamir established himself as a leader on campus during his first semester of medical school. He organized collaborations between various university departments including hospital chaplains, nurses, undergraduates, and divinity school students. These partnerships have persisted, and in his second year of medical school, Aamir was awarded the “University of Chicago Bridge Builder Award” for fostering these diverse connections on campus. Aamir found that other grants from school programs had extensive strings attached; however, the “fellowship allows you to check in with IFYC as needed and bounce ideas around, but ultimately, the project is yours.
Jem Jebbia (Zen Buddhist)
Los Angeles & Bay Area, CA
Project: Curated a pop-up exhibit highlighting interfaith work between individuals and communities that have influenced the social and cultural landscape of LA.
Bio: Jem’s project, Golden State Sacred, launched in August 2018 at the oldest Synagogue in Los Angeles and the exhibit will move around the state to sacred sites, colleges and universities, and public places. Beyond the inaugural year, Jem is excited to make the exhibit a central piece of her doctoral dissertation, thinking about alternative pedagogies to teach religion and interfaith engagement. According to Jem, “You will not find a more knowledgeable and dedicated group on interfaith cooperation, and that shared passion will carry you through both pitfalls and successful moments.”
Ben Marcus (Unaffiliated)
Project: Created lessons about religion for public secondary school audiences, so that students will learn how the active exchange between different religious communities shapes our shared world.
Bio: Ben collaborated with two colleagues to organize a conference with teachers, administrators, and subject matter experts to explore ways to improve professional support for educators interested in teaching about religion. This led to the creation of the Religious Studies Companion Document, officially added to the National Council for the Social Studies’ C3 Framework. Through his fellowship, Ben received the resources and mentorship necessary to jumpstart his career as an advocate for inter-religious engagement. He also credits his project as something that helped him to land his current job at the Religious Freedom Center in Washington DC. Ben explains “IFYC's support will inspire you to act courageously instead of sitting on the sidelines.”
Nadiah Mohajir (Muslim)
Project: Hosted a training for educators, community and religious leaders to increase the number of competent trained professionals to serve survivors of sexual assault in the Muslim and other faith communities.
Bio: Founder and director of HEART Women and Girls, brought together numerous faith communities to talk about sexual violence for her fellowship project. Since completing her fellowship in 2016, Nadiah has expanded her team to replicate this work across the country. She has also received national recognition and secured sustainable, multi-year funding. Nadiah enthusiastically encourages others to apply because “it is not only a fun and engaging way to implement a project that you are passionate about with financial resources and leadership development, but it is also a way to be connected to other fellows across the country you normally would not meet.“
Aditi Singh (Christian)
Project: Planned a leadership retreat for South Asian youth to design a toolkit on how to facilitate conversations about racial justice through the lens of religion, philosophy and interfaith cooperation.
Bio: Aditi is public interest attorney and long-time volunteer with Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR). For her project, she worked with the youth members of CDYR through workshops and an annual retreat to develop a toolkit for facilitating conversations about racial justice with an interfaith lens. She appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how to include her interfaith skills in her day to day work both as a volunteer and in her career as an attorney. She explains “I am grateful to IFYC staff, fellow members of my cohort and alumni of the fellowship with helping me to see what’s possible and feeling I can try to see something through versus assuming it won’t work out and not trying to begin with.”