Samra Ghermay is the Director of Development and Communications for the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, a nonprofit at the intersection of love and rigor that empowers young women and gender-expansive youth of color as agents for change in their lives and in the world.
Growing up in Eritrea, East Africa, Samra watched her mother and grandmother participate in an indigenous form of fundraising called ukub where women pooled their money together for different community members.
“Centering community is so important to me. Coming from a culture that emphasizes collaboration, support systems and wholeness – I can’t help but feel like this is my life’s work. Because being whole means you’re being seen and heard, being whole means there’s reciprocation, and being whole means that you are being centered so that the issues that you identify as issues are driving the action behind needs and solutions.”
She states that she’s always wanted to be a part of a sustainable culture of giving, but one that is inclusive, one that’s community-centric, and one that’s transformational. Samra began her career consulting for local nonprofits and international NGOs in Tanzania on their development and communications strategies.
“There was a reliance on talking to community members and collaborating together and that really spoke to me,” she explains.
After a few years, Samra took her work back to the US where she approached development with a different mindset.
“It wasn’t just about fundraising. It was also advocacy. It’s also relationship building, it’s communication. It’s doing all those things that compel people to act for social change,” she says.
At the start of her career, Samra felt tied to best practices that served an exclusive set of donors. Now she works hard to make philanthropy more inclusive.
“Philanthropy should widen its barriers to include and promote and recognize more members of our society,” she explains. While there is an uneasy coexistence of capitalism and philanthropy, since so much of philanthropic wealth has been built on the backs of poor, marginalized and enslaved people, philanthropy, “…needs to acknowledge the history and legacy of giving in Black and Brown communities and Indigenous communities.”
Samra believes philanthropy includes community engagement and collaborations with grassroots donors. With this in mind, the Sadie Nash development team has started looking at the traditional donor pyramid differently.
“We’re exploring what happens if we flip the pyramid into a funnel so that grassroots donors are included and we can cultivate them to become sustainable donors,” she explains. “We don’t want people to feel like they need to climb the pyramid.”
Finding Support and Strength
Samra feels very passionate about her work but also draws from the women in her life when she needs motivation.
I come from a long line of strong African women and it’s through their guidance and support that my life has shaped up to be the way that it is.”
She also acknowledges that the Black women in her life need to be recognized for more than just their strength and resilience
“We often serve on the frontline of movements to change the course of history and that happens while we’re also trying to navigate deep-seeded systems of oppression and discrimination,” she says. “Black women need rest and restoration as well.”
Listening to Young People
Working with Sadie Nash gives Samra the opportunity to learn from young people on a daily basis.
“They are brilliant and bold and more willing to embrace change,” she says.
Sadie Nash Leadership Project doesn’t focus on training leaders because they believe young people are already leaders in their own right.
“We’re just providing the tools, the resources and the space to give young people the agency to make things happen,” Samra explains. Sadie Nash’s vision centers the experiences and leadership of young women and gender-expansive youth of color — building on their perspective, commitment, and brilliance to be a healthier, safer, and more just society for us all.
Samra feels inspired by the young people she encounters and wants all adults to listen to young people and follow their lead in pushing for social change.
“There are so many transformative ideas that are sparked and seeded through our programming and it’s really incredible to witness that,” Samra shares. “I feel honored to be a part of it.”