Alumni Spotlight: Maggie Siddiqi, Center for American Progress

Posted in News Story Spotlight

The Center for American Progress’s Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative works to engage faith communities and values in the development and advancement of progressive policy solutions. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with alumna Maggie Siddiqi, Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, about her experiences working in the nonprofit sector and her time in CPNL’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.

Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership (CPNL): With so many great causes to champion within the nonprofit sector, what drew you to work at the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative?

Maggie: It is a tremendously exciting place to be. I try to devote myself to the places where my particular skill set aligns with the most urgent needs out there. So there are a lot of causes I may be passionate about, but my particular background is in faith organizing, advocacy, and coalition building. When I saw the job opening for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, it felt like the perfect position because it was an opportunity to bring together two parts of my work that I have been developing in parallel, both in terms of my faith work and work in public policy. I am trained as a chaplain and have worked in a number of faith community organizations, including on advocacy. At the start of my career, I interned on Capitol Hill and worked on the Obama campaign. My hope is that this role allows me to have a positive impact by allowing me to utilize this cross-section of my experiences.

CPNL: Much of your work focuses on raising the voices of those who are most marginalized by regressive policies. Please tell us more about this work.

Maggie: One of the things I really enjoy about my work with the Center for American Progress is that we are invested, not just in public policy issues themselves, but in the needs of communities of people across the country. Anytime we look at a public policy issue, we try to look at it in two ways. One way is how communities experience a particular issue and the other is the technical merit of a policy and its impacts. You simply can’t do a good job working on public policy if you are not taking into account who it is going to affect. To me, that is the core pursuit of public policy — determining how people can effectively and consciously govern a society. Oftentimes, those in positions of power tend to dictate policies that work well for themselves, so when we offer recommendations for policy solutions, we need to ensure that those who do not have the same access to that power are equally heard.

CPNL: How is diversity important in the work that you’re doing at the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative?

Maggie: Diversity is tremendously important. Within the Faith Initiative, we work to ensure that the values and perspectives of people of all faiths and none are included in public policy conversations. As a progressive organization, we also want to make sure that we are not representing just one voice of the multitude of faith communities that exist. Progressive faith movements are not only diverse in terms of religion, but also gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. We want to make sure our work represents the full spectrum of faith voices in our country. One of the things we work on is advancing a progressive vision of religious freedom that is authentic to what that principle is supposed to represent, and that requires taking into account what it really means for all of us to truly live and worship freely.

CPNL: Since leaving the certificate program, what work have you done that you’re most proud of?

Maggie: Last year, my team convened the Faith for Equality Coalition to help shape the narrative of LGBTQ support from faith communities. We often hear from conservative faith voices who think the LGBTQ community should not have basic civil rights, so we wanted to really showcase the many progressive faith leaders who do support LGBTQ equality. My team pulled together the coalition and helped organize the press vigil and press calls. I think what made me most proud of that was the fact that I wasn’t physically there. I was on maternity leave during the height of that work, but I felt that I had equipped my team, brought on the right consultants and set everyone up for success during that time. As we learn from the Nonprofit Management Certificate Program, leadership is not just about being there, but equipping people to operate and thrive in your absence, which also ensures people are prepared to potentially succeed you in your position one day.

CPNL: What is one significant challenge you faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?

Maggie: Just one? Well, the scarcity of resources would be at the top of my list. One thing I have seen since moving into this new position is that progressive funders tend to be really interested in responding to the particular needs of any given moment. While that can be a very positive thing, it means fewer of them will invest in an institution by sticking with it for a long period of time. On the conservative side, funders tend to do more of the latter. They tend to offer ongoing general support, allowing the institution itself to internally manage its spending and evolve its strategies as needed, all while knowing they will always have a source of financial backing. I am so grateful to the funders we have to support our projects, and I also struggle to find multi-year general support that will allow our work to be more nimble and able to immediately take on new challenges as they come.

CPNL: How has the certificate program helped you in your career?

Maggie: I am really happy that I went through the Certificate Program and I recommended it to several other people as well. At a basic level, it built my confidence, especially when it came to assuming leadership positions, because it grounded me in a comprehensive set of nonprofit management skills. The program also showed me what I knew well and what I still had a lot to learn about. There were also very specific classes like HR, that I will sometimes go back and refer to in order to help me navigate new situations. It also gave me unique access to important nonprofit leaders, and I even met with one of my professors recently to get advice.

CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the certificate program?

Maggie: Go for it! One of the most helpful things is to be in a classroom of peers who are going through many of the same experiences you are. That’s particularly helpful when you work at a small nonprofit, where you might not have that same kind of network or might not know if something is problematic at your organization or just a challenge in the nonprofit sector in general. If you participate in the program, be prepared to not only receive important tools to help you address these challenges, but also to have a network of people ready for you to tap into.