Muska Ulhaq on starting small and taking risks

Muska shares her story, what she’s learned along the way and advice to others

Growing up in and fleeing a war-torn country, Muska Ulhaq has seen the value of giving individuals adequate resources, tools and opportunities to succeed. Muska’s journey to her role as the lead for the Social Finance Forum, started much smaller and evolved into her job today. Learn about Muska’s career path and how she got into the field of impact investing without a finance degree.

Can you briefly describe your job in a nutshell?   

As the lead for the Social Finance Forum at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, my job includes convening the impact investing and social enterprise sector in Canada. The forum is one of the world’s longest running social finance conferences and Canada’s pre-eminent conference in this field. Now in its 11th year, the forum attracts investors, entrepreneurs, finance professionals, charity leaders and public-service visionaries who are reshaping markets and ensuring that every dollar makes a difference. My job involves managing all aspects of the project, including content management and curation, partnership and stakeholder engagement, sponsorships, outreach and speaker engagement. I also work with our communications team at MaRS to create and execute a year-long marketing and communications strategy. Additionally, I support our select capital advisory and thought leadership projects.

How did you get your current job and how has your previous work and life experience prepared you for a career in social impact?

I have a master of public policy with a concentration in social policy from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, which has helped me to understand the challenges that governments at all levels face in solving social and economic issues. My professional work experience in both the public and private sectors has further allowed me to: rethink and re-evaluate the status quo and how we deliver critical services to under-served communities; understand the important relationship between the public and private sectors and how they intersect; and value the need to examine and experiment with innovative models to solve the major issues governments face.

The opportunity to work at MaRS stood out to me. It ignited my interest in social finance, as it combined my passion and my goal to tackle major issues using innovative models to drive economic and social prosperity.

What advice do you have for people looking for social impact jobs?

Don’t be afraid to start small and venture into unfamiliar territory. An opportunity to work in a small impact-focused startup or initiative, or even on a temporary project that is new and unfamiliar, could open up opportunities to gain more hands-on experience and to learn about different facets of the field.

When I initially started at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, I had a very limited understanding of finance in general and impact investing in particular. The field of impact investing was also relatively new and was still in its infancy in Canada. My role was multi-faceted and involved working on multiple projects, including research, thought leadership, communications, operations, financial reporting management and event coordination. Being exposed to different aspects of the organization and working on wide-ranging projects and files allowed me to hone in on key skills and determine my niche. My role has evolved over the years, but the learning and exploration is ongoing.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“What you seek is seeking you.” —Rumi

What does meaningful work mean to you?

For me, meaningful work means working in an area where I can add the most value and where I can create opportunities for individuals and communities. Growing up in and fleeing a war-torn country, I’ve seen the value of giving individuals adequate resources, tools and opportunities to succeed. To create these opportunities takes a collective effort and involves participation from different levels, including institutional, systems, community and individual levels.

My work at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing allows me to work at the systems level to determine how our existing systems, including financial systems, could be used to drive better social and environmental outcomes. I am fortunate to be working directly with a very high-calibre team within Capital Advisory Services that advises clients from the private, public and non-profit sectors on how to conceptualize, structure and implement impact investing strategies throughout the country.

I also see great value in creating a platform that convenes individuals to advance positive change, foster meaningful connections, share knowledge and create a dialogue to inspire action and change. My work with the Social Finance Forum allows me to do just that. I hope to continue to use the forum as a platform to showcase organizations and individuals who are creating real impact in our society and meaningful dialogue at the systems level.


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