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How Empathy and Care Make for Effective HR Leadership

March 16, 2022

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Author

Sonia Surani

Program Officer
Pathfinder International

In results-driven systems, care and empathy are often put on the back burner in the pursuit of success and measurable impact. That said, in our case, COVID-19 underscored how important it is to center care and empathy as a true form of adaptation and resilience, particularly amidst a pandemic. This year, we nominated our colleague, Muslima Sayyeda, for a 2022 Operational Excellence Award. Today, we share why.

Muslima has been with Pathfinder since 2018, serving as the Human Resource Manager for the country office in Pakistan. Reflecting on the impact Muslima has had since joining the organization, Mansoor Riaz, National Program Manager, said, “When Muslima joined us in 2018, we were hardly a team of five-six people. Muslima singlehandedly recruited, deployed, and managed the team that we see here today. As a representative of Pathfinder for recruits, her warm spirit has made people feel welcomed in our community.”

Muslima has operated independently since joining Pathfinder while also proving herself an efficient team member. However, that alone is not what makes Muslima stand out. Beyond striving for excellence and making us feel welcomed, Muslima has always gone out of her way to look out for the team. While HR is important during the good times, it is truly the hard times that test HR’s ability to respond and support staff. During the COVID-19 lockdowns in Pakistan, Muslima initiated mental-health support sessions for the Pakistan team. She recruited the best professional service providers to equip us with critical skills and tools to manage stress and anxiety as we transitioned to a different working environment.

When Muslima joined us in 2018, we were hardly a team of five-six people. Muslima singlehandedly recruited, deployed, and managed the team that we see here today. As a representative of Pathfinder for recruits, her warm spirit has made people feel welcomed in our community. – Mansoor Riaz, National Program Manager, Pathfinder

Muslima ensured regular check-ins were put in place, provided suitable guidance and support, and created a caring environment within the team for community support. While data may not be available to measure the exact impact, it is worth noting that staff retention, especially during the pandemic, was prioritized and ensured at the country office. We recognize the critical role HR plays in achieving this.

Muslima regularly seeks ways to improve employee experiences at Pathfinder, with employee satisfaction always at the fore. She makes space for regular team-bonding interactions, such as organizing dedicated team lunches, celebrating accomplishments and personal developments, and building safe spaces for sharing experiences: “Muslima is not just a colleague, but a friend. A person I trust, cherish and feel safe sharing with. Her advice never comes from a place of judgment, but from a place of kindness and care,” said Madiha Latif, Senior Programs Manager. Muslima has been everyone’s go-to person, from supporting colleagues in furthering their performance goals to always being a call away to sort out timesheet entries, and more.

Muslima is not just a colleague but a friend. A person I trust, cherish and feel safe sharing with. Her advice never comes from a place of judgment but from a place of kindness and care. – Madiha Latif, Senior Programs Manager, Pathfinder

Muslima truly embodies what it means to be kind, caring, and empathetic. Despite being a one-person show at the country office, she has demonstrated clearly what excellence means for HR management. She has proven that while policies, processes, and paperwork are essential, the most important aspect is building a community environment in the organization. Muslima has shown us that if teams can come together, they can achieve anything irrespective of the circumstances.

About the author: Sonia Surani joined the Pathfinder Pakistan office in September 2019, and currently serves as the Program Officer. She played an instrumental role as the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Officer for the Beyond Bias Project, leading multiple innovative components, which contributed greatly to the project’s success. Sonia is passionate about adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive rights.

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