Selected Think Tank and Foundation Resources
The Foundation Directory
The Foundation Center, 2,259 pages, 2013 (foundationcenter
The first of this two-volume set gives current data on each foundation that holds assets of at least $2 million or distributes more than $100,000 in grants annually. It also provides information about recent, sizeable grants awarded by each foundation, offering insights into the priorities of particular foundations. The second volume features midsized foundations with programs that award grants ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 annually. Subscriptions to a searchable online database of this publication's information are available on the Foundation Center's website, foundationcenter.org. Print and Web.
Foundation Grants to Individuals
The Foundation Center, 1,600 pages, 2012 (foundationcenter.org)
This publication lists organizations that award grants to individuals in fields ranging from education and the arts to medicine. Listings include detailed information on contact names, eligibility requirements, and the specifics of the application process for certain grants. Subscription access to this list of more than 8,500 foundations and public charities is also available online at foundationcenter.org. Print and Web.
Guide to Funding for International and Foreign Programs
The Foundation Center, 916 pages, 2012 (foundationcenter.org)
Similar to The Foundation Directory, this publication is one in a series of smaller, subject-specific guides produced by the Foundation Center. These guides are updated annually with new contact and grant information. Print.
This world news website contains an extensive, alphabetically arranged list (complete with hyperlinks) of international think tanks and research organizations. Web.
Lobna "Luby" Ismail
Founder, President, and Senior Trainer, Connecting Cultures, LLC, Silver Spring, MD, 1990-present
American University, Washington, DC, 1988-90
Intercultural Program Specialist, 1988-90
Program Director, Fulbright Grant Program, 1988
Bunker Hill Community College, International Student Advisor, Boston, MA 1986-88
Lesley College, MA (Intercultural Relations; Intercultural Training and International Student Exchange), 1988
American University, BA (International Service; Minor Arabic and Cross-Cultural Communication), 1984
How do you define your cause?
Growing up as the only Muslim and Arab American in a small, southern, Christian community, I lived connecting across cultures and faiths. At age fifteen, I lived in Cairo, Egypt, with my grandparents and large extended family to learn about my Egyptian heritage. This intercultural experience transformed and shaped me and created my cause: connecting across cultures to build bridges of understanding and respect for one another and break the barriers of fear and bias.
Experiencing a culture outside of one's own during a person's formative years should be a requirement for life. This experience expands, broadens, and deeply influences people's perspectives of themselves and their engagement with the world. This experience also sheds the stereotypes and biases that lead to detrimental assumptions about others. It allows us to no longer label Muslim or American, Arab or Jew, but to see the full person and their humanity. I have trained young people participating in a range of intercultural exchange programs, particularly for the Arab and Muslim teenagers who come to the United States on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program (sponsored by the US Department of State). When they first arrive, there is an enthusiasm about studying in America, yet apprehension about making friends with Americans. During their year here, however, the students are profoundly changed by their experiences.
What drew you to this cause and your field?
It starts with my roots. My parents came to the United States as international students to pursue their PhDs, settling in a small town, Lake Alfred, Florida, where they still reside today. My parents were invited to the Lions Club, schools, and churches to speak about their culture and faith. As the first-born child, I was their guide to American culture, introducing them to the PTA, pep rallies, football games, and prom.
For my friends, I had to explain my parents' cultural norms. They asked, "Why can't you eat the pepperoni on the pizza?" or "Why aren't you eating right now?' (during the month of Ramadan) or "Why won't your parents let you date?" As the wife of a man whose father was Jewish and mother was Christian, and who became a Muslim, I live with the complexities of identity. From childhood until today, I have strived to serve as a bridge builder between people and across cultures and faiths.
One challenge I face since 9/11 is America's uncertainty and fears regarding the "Muslim world" and "Islamophobia." I have trained hundreds of law enforcement officers, first responders, and community leaders at federal, state, and local agencies on the long history of Muslims in America and on the beliefs and practices of Muslims.
The other challenge I face is my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition that damages the nerves and impacts my mobility. I renamed my disability "diverse-ability" as I've learned to live, work, and travel through various methods and technologies. I describe my "diverse-ability" as another dimension of diversity and culture. I want to be an example of how to work actively as an individual change agent. I want to examine how to respond to societal intercultural complexities to overcome prejudice.
How would you describe your field?
Intercultural communication, interfaith understanding, and dialogue—those definitely have been my passions. A new area that I'm really excited about, as I mentioned, is finding ways to reduce our unconscious bias against those with disabilities. My multiple sclerosis has become more prominent, so that's actually become, in a sense, a new culture. I am learning to live and deal with its complexities and nuances.
Where did you start, and how did it help you get to where you are today?
My work has also been about the pursuit of my two passions: mind-hood—which is intercultural understanding, intercultural confidence, and intercultural relations—and mom-hood. Finding the balance between mind-hood and mom-hood has been a challenge. I had my first son, Sharif, and I wanted to be home with him. I wanted to be able to be a mother and to be engaged in his life. Connecting Cultures was meant to be a two-year career pursuit to get my son out of diapers and into preschool. Sharif was followed by Zakaria, and my little Laila, and now Connecting Cultures is a twenty-two-year-old business. I love it.
When I started my business I met with my American University professor Gary Weaver. He encouraged me, saying, "Just get out there." I left that meeting with him feeling uncertain, thinking, "What does he mean 'just go out there'? Where do I begin?"
I made simple brochures, printed business cards, and went to schools and volunteered to speak about Egyptian culture. I appeared at Rotary Clubs, women's groups, business luncheons, etc. I volunteered for any opportunity to speak about culture.
Speaking at conferences was a great way to get exposure. Delegates came from all over the United States and around the world. This opened up many doors. Volunteering at organizations that are aligned with your cause or passion can lead you to great opportunities.
What are the major day-to-day activities of your current position?
When I started my business, seeking organizations to work with and networking were critical. Over the years, I learned that every opportunity I received was through people who had known me or from a referral by someone who knows my company and me. Not one dollar was earned by marketing. Today, most of my time is spent staying current on what is happening in the world, reading about cultural conversations and initiatives, and developing trainings that are informative, impactful, and engaging.
What is your best advice for developing networking skills?
To someone starting in the field: it is essential to talk to everyone and anyone. People often ask me how I expanded my business. As I said, I have no marketing strategy. I'm not pounding the pavement. It has all been word of mouth. At the beginning, working out of my home was a detriment. I would only be "out there" when I was conducting a training or speaking. Then I came back to my home office, and there was no networking or socializing. I then was selected for a protégé program with Women of Washington. It connected me to powerful businesswomen and leaders. It inspired me and enabled me to make new contacts.
Another valuable way to network is at conferences. If you don't have the finances to attend, volunteer! Submit proposals to speak at conferences. I could always shape a session to the theme of the conference. Those were great networking occasions. You get this one-hour window to entice them with what you have to say and who you are.
Do you have a mentor? How has he or she affected your life and career?
Professor Weaver has certainly been a mentor. He is the reason I really came to know about the field of cross-cultural training. Taking his class when I was just nineteen years old, learning this science of culture that I never knew, fascinated me. Gary encouraged me to join SIETAR (see chapter 6). Also, since Sherry Mueller was my professor at American University when I was an undergraduate, she has supported me through the years with advice, guidance, invitations to events, and much more.
I particularly appreciate female mentors, especially those who have their own businesses. I'm always inspired by women's stories. We always get "his-story" but we rarely get "her-story." There are so many talented women in a wide range of fields.
My biggest supporter, though, has been my husband, Alex Kronemer. He is my business partner, financial supporter, cofacilitator, and friend. My business wouldn't have begun or lasted without him. He believed in me and my vision, supported my decision to resign from my job, and shared the courage and confidence needed to take the risk. It is important to have someone you can trust and is willing to tell you, when needed, "You know what? I don't think this is the best idea."
Do you consider yourself a mentor to others?
I've always tried to let younger people know my experiences in the field: what's great about it, what's tough about it, and where you can get training and experience in intercultural communication, such as the Intercultural Communication Institute.
Particularly after 9/11, I think we need more Muslim Americans who are equipped to provide cross-cultural training. Through the US Department of Justice, we have not only delivered training to law enforcement personnel, but we have also conducted training of trainers. We identified Muslim Americans in the communities in which we were presenting and said, "Let's train you now so you will be able to deliver the same training." These are baby steps but so essential. So many young Muslim Americans don't know it can be a career. But I love it. What's the number one requirement? Passion. If you have the passion for it, then you will find a way to make it possible.
How have you maintained a healthy balance between your work and personal life?
I'm trying to "pause first." I strive to pray and meditate each day. I remind myself of the daily blessings I have in my life to remain grateful. One tip I use is the "OHIO rule"—Only Handle It Once—when reading e-mails or texts, or responding to calls.
Connecting Cultures allows me to be flexible and maintain a lifestyle that accommodates my family and health needs. Social media, texting, and e-mail allow me to "work" wherever I am and whenever I need to do so. Being virtual is important, but it cannot replace face-to-face interactions. I still must make the effort to "get out" and attend various social and business-related events.
What lessons have you learned as your career has evolved?
Passion, passion, passion for what you do is critical. Once you know what field matches your passion, do your best to stay in it.
I know it can be so hard to begin in a field, and it can be even harder to stay in. In the early years, I would look at international job vacancies because I was never quite sure of the status of my business. It was either feast or famine; it was either lots of work or no work. If it wasn't for my husband and his faith in me—and honestly having someone who had a secure income to carry us through—I don't know how things would have worked out.
But there came a time when I stopped looking at the Sunday classified ads. That was a big moment. I had come to trust my business, my skills, and myself. Still, it's not easy sometimes. Part of this is my choice due to my family obligations, but part of it is just how the consulting and training business works. It's important for people to know this, to know that it is never simple, no matter how experienced you become.
Informational interviews were such a key thing to do when I was younger. When I would set these up, people would immediately say, "Oh, we don't have any work here." Then I would say, "Well, I would really just love to know more about you and the work that you do as I explore the field." People usually respond positively to this approach.
When you go down one career path and you find it's not working out, that's okay. That's how you're evolving. I started off doing international development work, and I hated it. It wasn't me. Sometimes you figure out what you want to do by learning about the things you don't want to do.
What awards and honors have meant the most to you?
Being named Mother of the Year by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and receiving the Arab American Woman Leadership Award by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee both mean a great deal to me. As a woman, being acknowledged by my community along with some reputable women whom I admire is an honor.
Any final advice?
Touching someone's heart is how you can shift someone's attitudes and actions. This field is based on our passion and belief in the power of intercultural relations. Share your story and the stories of others. Remain authentic, persistent, and patient in pursuit of your dreams and desire in this field. Once when we were on a walk and I was moving by riding my scooter, my daughter Laila said, "Mommy, you can't walk with your legs, but you walk with your heart." That's you, and that's me. We're driven by our hearts.