For Surrey, B.C.’s Azra Hussain and Hebah Hussaina, philanthropy runs in the family.
It was made clear this past October, when Ms. Hussain, COO of the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, and Ms. Hussaina, co-ordinator of the Science World Future Science Leaders program, won the KPMG C-Suite Executives and the RBC Future Launch Future Leaders awards, respectively.
They were both honoured by the 2021 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award, presented by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), which recognizes women across the country who advocate for work force diversity and inspire the future leaders. Together, they made history as the first mother-daughter duo to be recognized in the same year.
”I see my mom in her role today and, to me, what she does is the epitome of kindness,” Ms. Hussaina says. “To give back is what it means to be a powerful woman.”
Ms. Hussain, who brings over 20 years of experience to her role as COO at the Surrey Hospitals Foundation, the largest non-governmental funder of health care in Surrey and the surrounding Fraser Valley communities, is involved in everything from financial oversight to fundraising to operations. She also sits on the board of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), volunteers with the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Task Force at the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy and more.
One might say she was born with an instinct to help. Originally from Madras, India (now Chennai), Ms. Hussain grew up with a particularly charitable father who instilled the spirit of giving in her.
“I saw my dad caring and giving a lot of himself to volunteering every single day,” she says.
But when she turned 17, Ms. Hussain’s father – the breadwinner – died suddenly due to cardiac arrest, and the family went into financial crisis. Going from living a comfortable life to one where you have to find ways to survive was eye-opening, and Ms. Hussain says the experience changed her perspective on life and privilege.
After marrying, she migrated to Canada and brought that new outlook with her, balancing her education and career with raising two children – Hebah and her brother Fawzan. But after spending years taking a background role in the corporate world, Ms. Hussain realized she wanted to “take a step forward” and invest more of her energy in the non-profit world. She joined the Surrey Hospitals Foundation as financial controller in 2009.
”That’s where my heart and my history is,” she says of working in the non-profit space. “I saw how meaningful the work we were doing was, the difference it was making. Being able to have the influence I have and using it to help others has been beyond rewarding.”
A passion for science
It’s an attitude that also rubbed off on Ms. Hussain’s children. Just this summer, at 18, Fawzan became the youngest of 14 recipients of B.C.’s 2020 Medal of Good Citizenship for his work using 3D Printing to create assistive devices for people with physical disabilities. And as for Ms. Hussaina, at just 22, her résumé runs long. In 2015, she started the Youth for Care initiative, anon-profit that connects youth with fundraisers and awareness initiatives for Surrey Memorial Hospital, encouraging them to start giving back early on. It was something Ms. Hussaina wanted to do herself from the age of 12, but she couldn’t find the outlet; so, naturally, she created her own.
Today, Ms. Hussaina leads initiatives at Science World, a non-profit science centre in Vancouver, that encourage her generation to pursue education and careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). She sees this as a full-circle journey, having discovered her love of science at a young age when the family would hop on the nearby SkyTrain to Science World.
”It’s special working with students who are passionate about science, introducing them to scientific concepts and bringing in speakers who can inspire them,” says Ms. Hussaina, who is a TEDx and B.C. Tech Summit speaker herself. “Pushing for greater accessibility in STEAM in Surrey, which has such a diverse population, and building a safe space where we can recognize and mobilize youth’s strengths is important.”
She adds, “Science has done so much for me, and I want to bring that love to my city.”
Both mother and daughter would like to see greater inclusion and diversity among the leaders of the next generation. Ms. Hussaina never met her grandfather, but says her parents instilled that same sense of altruism in her – a value with deep cultural roots. “In Indian families, community is paramount,” Ms. Hussaina says.
Inspiring tomorrow’s trailblazers
To ensure they understood the importance of supporting the community in which you live, Ms. Hussain exposed her children to her work at the foundation from a young age.
“My husband and I always made it a point to remind our children that there are many underprivileged families in this world,” she says. “They learned how privileged we are and why it’s important to be grateful and to give. It’s always been about, ‘How can we help others?’”
Now, as community leaders and advocates, Ms. Hussain and Ms. Hussaina are investing in and inspiring the trailblazers of tomorrow, showing how we can all be philanthropists in our own communities.
“What I discovered recently through all of my work is that people need to be confident in their competence and who they are in order to get involved,” Ms. Hussain says.
“It’s not just about education and certifications; we all have a unique footprint and it’s about finding the courage to use it, step forward and inspire in our way. Because while we’ve made a lot of progress, we have a long way to go.”
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