Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Lessons in Leadership with Najah Bazzy

Lessons in Leadership with Najah Bazzy

June 15, 2021


Najah Bazzy, founder and chief executive officer of Zaman International, joined the Chamber to discuss her unique leadership journey from leaving a six-figure salary as a nurse to creating a global nonprofit committed to empowering women to overcome extreme poverty. During the conversation, she explored the importance of prioritizing who and what matters most to fulfilling your mission, as told through her experience building an organization around the transformative power of hope.

How the Zaman International Team Realized Leadership

Understanding the Who
Bazzy began by explaining her approach to lead with the end in mind and determine how to back into that. At Zaman, the “end in mind” is the women it serves.

“Q Zero”
Before you can answer anything, said Bazzy, you must be able to answer: “What exactly do you do?” The answer to this Q Zero keeps organizations focused on their core and helps shape their missions and visions. “At the core is where there’s impact,” said Bazzy. For Zaman, the Q Zero is breaking the poverty cycle.

Bazzy’s leadership style and core mission have been influenced by her background in critical care and end-of-life care nursing roles and the lessons she’s gleaned from her patients.

“We are all term-limited,” said Bazzy. “Every breath counts and every breath we take is leading us in a direction that is forward.”

Why Do We Do What We Do?
For Bazzy, her work is about the need to fix injustice. For the organization overall, it’s because they hope to not only break the cycle of poverty for a family, but also to prevent intergenerational poverty moving forward. To that end, the Zaman team strives to help women go from stable to sustainable and create a repeatable model that can be used to fight the injustices underprivileged women and families face every day.

Zaman’s work started humbly and resourcefully using a van to operate its services. As the organization expanded, its team members became “zig-zag” leaders that learn and see the waters ahead – and the barriers along the way – and zig and zag to navigate them. This approach helped them discover the current operational model to keep all resources in one central location. Zaman’s Client Corridor is one location where clients can come in and find a host of supports to meet their needs from food items, clothing, and household essentials to career training opportunities and more.

To achieve Zaman’s goal to break the poverty cycle, though, entails both the tactile, operational components, as well as a mission-based culture.

“What Zaman is doing is building a culture that provides hope to humanity,” said Bazzy. “We’re learning that the culture we build in our organizations is long-lasting. That’s where the legacy is for any organization. Culture of the organization is more important than the structure of the organization.”

The Role of Hope in Breaking the Cycle of Extreme Poverty

“When people are leaving this world, the one thing you see in their eyes is hope,” said Bazzy.

Every human being has different hope that is constant and innate. When you take away someone’s hope, you lead them to darkness. As a leader, Bazzy sees it as a responsibility to bring people light however she can. At Zaman, the team does not define people’s hope, but rather, nurtures it – whether that’s a winter coat or a career.

“Hope is a strategy,” said Bazzy.

The Importance of Supporting Female-Led Households

The pandemic shed light on a host of inequities, and those that impact women became especially prominent. According to Bazzy, the woman in a female-led household is the beating heart of the family. Elements of poverty act as “clogged arteries” or barriers to their ability to function. Intervening with organizations like Zaman acts like bypass surgery to get the blood back flowing to the rest of the household.

The Importance of Leading from the Back

The decision to lead from the front or back comes down to competence, said Bazzy.

“If Zaman is about me, I will always lead from the front,” she said. “If Zaman is about the mission, I should definitely step back lead from the back and let the team – each of them – to be able to step up to the plate and lead.”

Leaders need to make sure that the competency is there for their teams and that they leave room for them to grow and become leaders in their own right.

“We get confused because we think management is leadership,” said Bazzy. “Leadership isn’t a person. Leadership is a process.”

Leadership is about learning how to build a system that can be recreated for the greater good. Leading from the back helps push teams forward and allows them to explore and navigate toward solutions and desired outcomes.

Leadership Inspiration

Bazzy finds inspiration in all kinds of people, places, and observations.

“I’m inspired by a lot of things. Like the mother who can build her nest and create a home for her babies – that blows my mind,” said Bazzy.

A specific leader that comes to mind is a saint in Bazzy’s religious tradition – the son-in-law and nephew of the prophet Muhammed. The story of this saint informs Bazzy’s approach of ethical leadership at Zaman – to put the people they serve above themselves.

“When it’s about you, we’re all in trouble. When it’s about we, we all are lifted,” said Bazzy.

Development of Leadership Style

Bazzy credits her leadership style to growing up in the kitchen.

“There’s something very powerful about raising kids in the kitchen,” she said.

Working in the kitchen entails problem-solving, strategizing, prioritizing, and more – skills that have been instrumental to Bazzy’s leadership style. She learned how to mold things and how to create something out of multiple ingredients.

In closing, Bazzy shared, “We need to start from zero arrogance and understand that there’s always something to learn. There could be power structures at play, but it’s our job to just bring our best self.”

Learn more about Bazzy and Zaman International’s work at