Community, Burnout and Funding: I nearly quit Muslamic Makers after 5 years but then it all changed…

As I reflect on the past year, It really has been relentless, I mean the pandemic was one thing but my way of coping was just to work. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved with Muslamic Makers but it was pretty non stop. From March 2020, I was re-building a whole new team of volunteers while at the same time pivoting our very in-person community to be online first. From September 2020 to January 2021 we ran our first pilot kickstarter programme and then from January 2021 to March 2021 we finally worked on our 5 year impact report and this was all on top of the day job. So it’s no surprise to say I burnt out. I had enough. After 5 years of running a community that for most days kept me personally fulfilled but on other days really started to get tiring, it just all started to get too much. Infact, community burnout is an actual thing. As a community builder you always feel like you have to be on, and answer to community members straight away and often there are questions of doubt around if what you’re doing is actually providing value. This was something I commented on in this article about community burnout.

When you start something as a passion project and ultimately to serve the community, it comes from a very selfless place and what I always really struggled with is the next phase and iteration. I was 24 years old when I first started it and naturally had more time to give to it. As life has gotten in the way, I’ve been really thinking about what next? Does it still align with me? Can I give it what it needs? Am I the right person to lead it? I’m 30 now and I have way more personal commitments, although I’ve put the community first, it was also important I started putting my family first too and with all these overwhelming thoughts in my head and just being so tired, I really thought it was time to walk away.

At our Impact Report Launch event, I had a whole leaving speech that I was ready to give but the night before I just broke down. I wasn’t ready to step away from Muslamic Makers just yet. I spoke to the team and some friends and decided not to say anything and just take the time I needed to rest in Ramadan and see how I feel.

Then in the month of Ramadan I got the sign I needed from God. The work we do with Muslamic Makers is important and God found a way to make it easier for me — we received the WCMT Activate grant, a network I’m part of thanks to doing my fellowship with them. For the first time in Muslamic Makers history, we had a cash injection that meant I could start hiring people part-time to help take us to the next level, take the pressure off me slightly and so all of a sudden that energy came flooding back.

From Community to Social Enterprise

When we started Muslamic Makers we never anticipated it would become what it did, it was just a meetup, bringing like minded people together but through that I discovered community as a career. We always felt we never wanted to charge the community, we wanted to be as accessible as possible but with that I developed a bit of a complex about making money. However, making Muslamic Makers self-sustaining was the biggest thing that kept me up at night but it just always felt at conflict. I talk a lot about building self-sustaining communities in this podcast.

Having built the community over 5 years and spoken to many mentors who helped me unpick my thinking, one thing I realised was our community was diverse and there was a good proportion who wanted to financially contribute and help MM going. Costs add up, things like subscriptions even if something is voluntarily led. I still wanted to keep events free especially if we get sponsorship to cover costs but what about other costs? That’s when as a team we started to think about a revenue plan but before that I had to do what I hadn’t done for 5 years and that was finally register Muslamic Makers. It’s now set up as a limited by guarantee which technically makes it a not-for-profit, we have no shareholders and we are eligible for receiving grants. In the future I might look to set it up as a community interest company but for now it worked and gave us a way to consciously start money hunting. What I realised was that communities are bigger than our individual selves, I was too worried about what people would think about me being more commercial and not trusting the fact that if I just speak from my heart, be open and let people know my intentions they would understand that this is bigger than me. This is about the community existing beyond myself but also leaving a legacy that if I die tomorrow it can still do good in this world. The only way to do that is to put the right structures in place to enable it to live without me.

Although the grant has been great, the challenge, however, for me now is that due to personal reasons I can’t just yet quit my day job but let’s just say God has aligned a lot of things for me that maybe next year I’ll have the brainspace to really figure it out. For now I can hire great people to help deliver the projects we got funding for. I’m keen to not rely on money and keep the volunteer side of the community also running with our community events and slack but I’m also working on ways to self-sustaining, for example through our annual sponsorship of £500. If your company would be interested in sponsorship then do sign them up!

Timing and Impact

When I look back on my Muslamic Makers journey so far, I have real moments of frustration, why didn’t I think about money? Why did I not charge for things earlier? Why did we not create good robust content? It’s all because that was never the aim, we were an in-person community and as a friend put it to me recently “you were too busy trailblazing and providing a needed service” and to be honest as a Muslim you got to trust in Allah SWTs timing and when I focus on that, I realise I needed to go on the journey I did. This journey has been the making of me, it’s been a real honour and blessing to have co-founded this community and it has given me many opportunities from starting my career as a community builder in Government, to a fellowship which took me to America, Pakistan and UAE to research Muslim Women in Tech, to becoming an Angel Investor with Ada Ventures. All of that combined means now is the time for us to take it to that next level.

Before we plan for the next level, reflecting on the last 5 years is key but also celebrating what we’ve achieved. I’m so glad we took the time and created our 5 year impact report, which you can read here. It was a document we really needed to show the world that we were more than a networking group and ultimately it is a key sales document. We changed lives through all the things that may have seemed small at the time but they all added up and contributed to change.

Some snapshots from our impact report below.

What’s next?

Post pandemic we’ll be operating a hybrid model. Our in-person events will expand beyond London, to around the UK and the rest of the world. Our digital programs and events shall continue and grow too. We are working on a very exciting tech product around connections and knowledge sharing and we’re looking to re-run an industry specific version of our popular digital careers kickstarter programme. Most of all though, we are transitioning and becoming an organisation which means amongst all the exciting stuff there is a lot of boring, business admin that I need to step up work in too. I’m figuring it out and it’s definitely a challenge but one I hope to write about.

So here I am, now officially CEO of Muslamic Makers, I’m glad that I didn’t walk away and I’m excited this journey isn’t over. There are a lot more interesting things to come.

If you’re keen to follow my journey then be sure to sign up for my newsletter where I also send links on Tech, Inclusion and Community Building.

@muslamicmakers co-founder | @adaventures Angel | Fellowship Programme Manager at @GDSteam | @WCMTUK fellow. Full of random rambles.