111 years ago, my grandfather Husseni Gunja was born in Bombay, India, supposedly as he told us with his characteristic flair, on 10/10/10 (although record-keeping really was not a thing back then so who knows?). With little economic means, he raised seven children on the fifth floor of one of the high-rise flats on Mohammed Ali Road – where the causeway would come to dominate the landscape decades later. In this congested, Muslim-dominated neighborhood, one of the oldest and most famous in south Mumbai just steps from Bhendi Bazaar, my father Zahir Gunja grew up in an extended clan of siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Though dirt poor in terms of money, his life was rich in family, faith, food, and friends.
Eventually, my father would go on with my mother Sakina Gunja to take courageous steps to migrate to America and work hard every day to break out of generational poverty. He would die young at only 46 years of age, but his faith and work ethic left a lasting imprint on me and my three sisters. This year, on 10/10/21, I wanted to honor my grandfather’s legacy, my father’s memory, and that of my ancestors by publishing my first book, The Development Diplomat: Working Across Borders, Boardrooms, and Bureaucracies to End Poverty.
From a young age, I felt strongly connected to the stories and lives of people all around the world. Maybe it was because my extended family was spread across so many countries. Perhaps I grew up watching and internalizing my parents’ struggle in leaving behind their families and countries of origin to escape generational poverty and try their luck in America. I did not know how, but even as a child, I wanted to create impact at scale and, true to the cliché, make the world a better place. As a first-generation Muslim immigrant of South Asian descent, I never expected to one day represent the United States of America as a diplomat and development official. I never planned on being a development diplomat.
Traveling more than three-quarters of a million miles, from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Jordan and Mongolia, I share stories in my book of what it takes to create economic opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable. From the front lines of Capitol Hill to capitols around the world, I describe what success and failure in our foreign aid efforts look like and what these types of jobs look like from the ground up. And I talk openly about the challenges of juggling a career on the road with raising three children and as a South Asian woman. Ultimately, The Development Diplomat creates a roadmap for current practitioners and the next generation of development diplomats to change the world. Please join me on this journey.
The Development Diplomat is now available for purchase on Amazon.
Leveraging her expertise in international development, foreign policy, diplomacy, and advocacy, Fatema Z. Sumar leads efforts to fight poverty by transforming global systems in reaching vulnerable populations. President Biden appointed Ms. Sumar to be the Vice President of Compact Operations at the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in 2021. In this role, she oversees all compacts which are MCC’s signature grant investment vehicle to reduce poverty through economic growth. She previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia at the US Department of State and on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.