The path to Salima Ebrahim’s current position as Interim Chief of Staff (home position-Head of External and Intergovernmental Relations) for the City of Edmonton has been far from linear. With a strong passion for public policy, diversity, human rights, and innovation, Ebrahim got to where she is today through a combination of public, private, and not for profit experience.
A passion for diversity and human rights
After working for the Federal Government, Ebrahim completed her Masters of Science degree in Public Policy and Administration at the London School of Economics. She then began a fellowship at the United Nations with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Supreme Court Justice of Canada, Louise Arbour. During the fellowship, Ebrahim conducted a study on the social and economic impacts on minority women in the years following 9/11.
“One of the outcomes was that some of the recommendations that I came up with fed into the Cross Cultural Round Table on Security which, at the time, was really focused on how national security impacts Canada’s diverse and pluralistic society.”
Ebrahim is the only Canadian to have held this fellowship. The experience provided her with invaluable learning opportunities and gave her an extraordinary sense of perspective.
“It was one of the most impactful and enlightening moments of my life and even today, I think it grounds me,” says Ebrahim.
“To get a glimpse of the human rights issues that other people in the world are facing, you just realize how unbelievably lucky we are to be Canadian.”
Power and innovation in diversity
Ebrahim frequently uses the power of diversity as a means to boost relevance and improve public policy. During her time as the executive director of the Banff forum, a national public policy institute, she strove to make sure young leaders had input into public policy and that the members were a reflection of the diversity in Canada.
“If you get really smart young people from different political backgrounds and different parts of the country it leads to better public policy,” Ebrahim explains.
This concept of prioritizing diversity and innovation within public policy has carried forward into her current role.
“Having an external relations branch in a municipality is actually quite novel in the way that we’ve developed it. It has been one of the most innovative moments in my career because with the help of other women, this branch was created from the ground up,” says Ebrahim.
Ebrahim and her team did extensive research and combined the best practices from both private and public sectors and how other governments handle stakeholder relations to create a truly unique form of external relations. There is a strong focus on accountability and mutually beneficial relationships.
“It’s about being really purposeful, intentional, and deliberate in how we form relationships and ensuring that they are two-way,” she says.
Edmonton’s population is consistently growing and seeing significant changes in its demographics. Ebrahim believes that in order to best serve the city and its citizens, there needs to be a strong external focus on staying relevant and embracing change.
“If we’re not relevant to what a citizen needs, why are we even in the business of being the City of Edmonton?” Ebrahim says.
Diversity plays a large role in Ebrahim’s strategies to solving complex problems.
“Gone are the days where an issue only lies within one department,” says Ebrahim.
“I think public policy has become a lot more horizontal, which leads to better services that help governments be more relevant, efficient, and effective. Through this we actually become leaders of innovation.”
Mentee and mentor
Ebrahim attributes much of her success, from when she was a new university graduate and even to this day, to the support of her official and unofficial mentors.
“I have had some really, really amazing women, some who were formal mentors, some who just kept an eye out for me, who make up a common thread in my career of amazing women pulling me forward,” says Ebrahim.
Ebrahim loves to take the time to help young women seeking advice and direction, and encourages young women to reach out to people they admire or whose careers they are interested in. This can be an excellent networking/relationship building opportunity and provide insight into how they can achieve their goals.
“I feel like I’ve finally hit a point in my career where I can pay it forward. Whenever I have a young woman in university ask me, ‘hey do you want to go for coffee I need some advice,’ I always say yes, because I had people do that for me,” Ebrahim says.
Ebrahim has always seen the incredible value of mentorship, but it became especially helpful to her when she became a mother. With three kids under the age of ten, Ebrahim has often sought the advice of other professional mothers.
“As I’ve gotten more comfortable being a mom of three young kids while also having a senior leadership career, I’ve really leaned on women who have done this already and asked, ‘how do you do this?!’”
While Ebrahim and her husband have lived in many different places, Alberta has always felt like home.
“I’m a very passionate Canadian but I’ve realized that being an Albertan is actually in my DNA,” Ebrahim says.
Ebrahim finds that Albertans are very helpful and have a real sense of looking out for one another; she believes there is a decidedly Albertan no-nonsense attitude of rolling up your sleeves and getting the job done.
“Albertans are humble. We want to do the work, do it well, and get on with it.”