Kadra Abdi ’08 is a change agent and a strategic consultant who spends her days helping minority businesses and nonprofits craft strategies and counter the often negative assumptions that arise between immigrant and mainstream communities.
Abdi knows a bit about change and the power of challenging assumptions. This spring, she cofounded Ubuntu: The Collective to spark critical conversations on issues impacting the global black diaspora, and for the past few years, she was part of a core group of people challenging a surveillance program targeting Somalis in Minnesota. In every aspect of her work, she is focused on amplifying community voices in spaces that are not inclusive of immigrants, Muslims, and black people.
A Somali native, Abdi and her family moved from a Kenyan refugee camp to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1996, when Abdi was 10. Today, the 32-year-old is an active force in civil society, with a graduate degree and two businesses—Iskaashi and Synergy Consulting Group—to her name. Yet she admits that she still faces microaggressions from time to time, like comments on her lack of an accent. “People don’t realize they’re operating on assumptions, many of which are negative. I’d rather field questions, as they offer me a chance to educate. I’m constantly working to counter stereotypes and cultivate understanding between cultures.”
Abdi credits much of her success in this endeavor to Luther, an institution she discovered by chance. “I was registered to attend the University of Iowa and took a trip to Decorah on a whim. When I saw Luther, I fell in love with the place—its small size and the friendliness of students, faculty, and staff really appealed to me.”
This change in colleges was the first of many experiences in a Norwegian-Lutheran theme that have impacted Abdi’s life profoundly. After graduating from Luther with majors in anthropology and women and gender studies, she earned a master of public policy degree from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. During graduate school, Abdi worked with the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, a human rights organization that promotes democracy-building in Somalia. In 2012, she visited the group’s headquarters in Norway and, through a twist of fate, connected with Paul Nurheim, a Norwegian aid worker who had labored alongside her father delivering aid in rural Somalia some 25 years prior.
After returning to the States, Abdi began working on her own strategic initiatives, launching Iskaashi and Synergy to facilitate cross-cultural conversations and foster opportunities for sustainable change. Abdi says she realized her aptitude for this work while at Luther. “I worked on the Sesquicentennial Strategic Planning Committee and loved it.” She was also active in the Black Student Union, the Muslim Student Association, Hunger Concerns Group, and the Student Senate, ultimately serving as student body president her senior year.
“In my four years at Luther, I met people from many different cultures and religious backgrounds, but everyone was united in their commitment to making the college a better place.” Among the projects Abdi worked on: advocating for co-ed housing, recommending policies to make the college healthy and environmentally sustainable, and organizing a forum to inspire participants to think proactively about the role of the African diaspora. “In the 10 years since I graduated, I have yet to meet any group of people who are as dedicated, motivated, and hungry for change as my classmates at Luther,” she observes.
“My four years at Luther were rich,” Abdi concludes. “I realized how important it is to be open to learning about other people and new ways of doing things.” Those lessons were transformative, she continues, and have impacted the way she approaches life today. “I don’t dispense ideas—I work to co-create content with my clients. I’m always working to see different perspectives and imagine new ways of being that will allow us to create a world where everyone can thrive.”