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Meet Safeena Dhalla, The Narwhal’s new director of operations and impact

Safeena is ready to fight for systemic change and bring The Narwhal to the next level. We couldn’t be more excited

Growing up as one of the few Muslims in a predominantly white town during the time of 9/11, Safeena Dhalla experienced firsthand the type of structural inequity that she is now dedicating her life to fighting against.

“It was really through understanding my own experiences that I developed a framework to understand and empathize with so many struggles that so many marginalized groups are going through,” she said.

“I feel that with the privilege and the voice that I have, that it’s my responsibility to fight for change.”

Now, Safeena is ready to bring that drive to The Narwhal.

As our new director of operations and impact, Safeena will be taking charge of nurturing our exponential growth. She’s no stranger to leadership positions — from being head of growth at a social impact startup tackling the U.S. immigration crisis to managing global brands as a business director in London, U.K., Safeena has a proven track record of managing complex projects and leading diverse teams to success. She’s also very much service-oriented, having been chosen as the valedictorian of her graduating class at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

We’re so excited to welcome Safeena to our pod and recently got the chance to chat with her about her international experience and stint as a Guinness World Record-holder.

safeena dhalla posing outdoors
Safeena is serious about implementing systemic changes to create a more equitable world. “I feel that with the privilege and the voice that I have, that it’s my responsibility to fight for change.” Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

What drew you to the journalism industry?

I was really drawn to journalism speaking truth to power and the ability of journalism to stand up against injustices. Particularly, I love The Narwhal’s non-profit ad-free model — we can report on important issues with the highest integrity.

What are you most excited to do in this position? 

I’m really excited to champion The Narwhal’s diversity, equity and inclusion work. I think there’s a huge need to focus on making newsrooms more representative and I think The Narwhal has an opportunity to lead the industry on creating this change. 

I’m also thrilled to be joining The Narwhal during such a period of growth and being able to take what makes The Narwhal so magical and impressive and take it all over Canada.

How does your interest in the environment play into your everyday life?

It’s become increasingly important to me to really understand my relationship with the Earth. I believe it’s our collective responsibility to honour it and fight for it. For me, that has to be done through a lens of decolonization and understanding the severity of Indigenous injustices that continue to this day — they are inextricably linked. My interest in the environment plays out in continuing to educate myself and being committed to the push for truth and reconciliation, because I think this is such a key cornerstone of environmental advocacy.

What does good journalism look like to you?

I think good journalism is accurate, it sheds light on under-explored issues, it engages people and it holds power  accountable. I think it’s persistent, it is committed to the truth and it’s ultimately about empowering people and systems.

Safeena Dhalla posing outdoors
For Safeena, tackling environmental issues must be done through a lens of decolonization. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

How does your background in other sectors influence your work at The Narwhal?

Through my background in communications and strategy, I’ve witnessed the impact that storytelling has on changing behavior. So I really understand the power of journalism to affect change. 

I also have a lot of experience working in fast and nimble startup environments, where you need to be able to adapt quickly and innovate frequently to create a growing, thriving organization. I think that’s something I can really bring to The Narwhal’s exciting period of growth that we’re on the cusp of.

You’ve worked all over the world and Canada — what have you learned from your wide-ranging experience?

The importance of curiosity. I have learned that no two places are the same, so a high degree of curiosity is needed to understand what makes a place tick. I needed to be adaptable to different styles, approaches, and cultural and industry norms. Experiencing the ‘new’ can be really challenging, but when you approach it with curiosity, it can be quite fun, rather than just overwhelming. 

I’m pretty passionate. And opinionated! But I’ve learned you can always pick new perspectives up from other people. Maybe that lies at the heart of why I crave travel and new experiences so much.

safeena dhalla posing outdoors
Safeena is a woman of many talents outside of journalism, from being a world-record-holding musician to a passionate sports fan. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

Tell us a few random things about yourself

When I was 12 I was in the Guinness Book of World Records for World’s Largest Orchestra. I think it has since been beaten, but at the time in 2000 it was a world record. I played the clarinet and we did 10 minutes of Beethoven’s 9th at B.C. Place.

I can understand a dialect called Kutchi. It’s what my family members who lived in East Africa speak and it’s common in the Ismaili Muslim community. I can’t speak it so I try to practice with my grandma, but just end up knowing the swear words really well.

I used to be a huge Grizzlies fan. I actually wrote to David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA at the time, and asked him to keep the Grizzlies in Vancouver instead of transferring them to Memphis. He did not write back.

I really want to get jury duty. I love the idea of being able to advocate for someone and potentially 12 Angry Men-ing a situation. I actually got called once — before I realized I was going to be out of the country, I Googled tips for getting selected. Most articles I came across were about how to avoid jury duty, but I was using them for opposite advice on how to get in.

We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?
We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

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