Samia Kemal

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Samia Kemal

Digital and Fundraising Strategist at Columbia University’s SIPA, New York

Samia lives in Harlem, New York, she is from Farmington, Connecticut. Her family is originally from Pakistan.
Instagram: @samiakemal
Twitter: @samiakemal
Facebook: SIPA

  • How did you get started in Digital strategy / Communications and how did you find yourself where you are now?

I have always been a creative person, drawing and writing to occupy my time. As a child, I could sit for hours with nothing more than a pencil and a stack of paper. My 2nd grade teacher once confided to my Mother that while my classmates painstakingly made it through a paragraph of a writing prompt, I would already be whipping through my third page.

That love of storytelling and reflecting on culturally significant issues followed me through college, where I majored in Middle Eastern Studies/Interdisciplinary Arts/Pre-Med. The summer before I graduated, I was awarded a Human Rights Fellowship which funded an internship in NYC with Amnesty International USA’s Executive office, where I worked alongside the Chief Digital Officer. It was there that learned how well-crafted campaigns could spark dialogue and inspire action. It’s also where I learned to engage with human rights—eventually leading to a Master’s in Public
Health at Columbia University (with a focus on Health and Human Rights Policy).

I found myself at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) through connections I had built while I was a grad student. In my current role, I am able to work across my experience in digital strategy, global communications, and human rights policy and develop campaigns that are meaningful: coordinating support for student fellowships and a range of policy initiatives.

  • What is your role within the company?

I’m a Digital and Fundraising Strategist and work within SIPA’s Development department. Many of my colleagues work as frontline fundraisers and liaise directly with donors. My job is to create a high-level profile for our work across SIPA’s platforms: email, social, web. The idea is to start cultivating the newest generation of donors and begin creating a culture of online giving that—at this point—is not characteristic of higher-ed institutions. It’s a unique challenge.

On a day-to- day basis, I may be live-tweeting a panel moderated by leading global economists, covering a donor event for our News Magazine, crafting quote-graphics that highlight the impact of a fellowship on a student’s life, or editing a video where students describe their favorite SIPA memories. My day usually involves coordinating with many internal partners and spending time on the intricate details of content production.

  • What are you currently working on? 

I’m currently building a campaign to raise awareness about our Global Leadership Awards 18th Annual Gala. This year’s honorees are distinguished economist, Janet L. Yellen and the International Finance Corporation with Chief Executive Officer, Philippe Le Houérou. Building a campaign involves thinking through segmenting our audience of over 16,000+ alumni. What messages will resonate with those of different graduation years? Of different academic
concentrations? How can we measure the efficacy of those messages?

Additionally, any good campaign involves multiple touchpoints. Using digital assets to establish more views for our content allows a message to resonate deeper with an audience, prompting them to fulfill an action: whether that be attending an event, or donating to a cause.

  • What is a recent success you're particularly proud of?

I have only been working full-time since 2016, when I graduated from my Masters, so I’m still at the stage where I’m soaking up as much as I can. However, my team recently realized that though we are producing a wide range of content, we haven’t established protocols for tracking, measuring and optimizing our campaigns. I am building our first social media and web report and have learned a ton about Google Analytics in the process. Biostatistics was one of my weakest areas in public health school, so I consider my newfound analytics proficiency a win!

I’m also proud of how I have balanced my creative endeavors outside of work! That aspect of my life is very important to me. I’ve had the opportunity to act in 3 memes for Elite Daily/Bustle, and am working on an Art show about First Generation Muslim Americans and Mental Health.

  • What is most important in your work?

Being free from the constraints of toxic office politics. Working alongside respectful and supportive colleagues.

  • How would you say the media landscape in your field has changed since you started in Digital Strategy?

Digital is changing every day, every second. Anyone who says they have full grasp of the landscape is lying.
What I will say is that the emergence of Digital Strategy as a field of work and as an extension of traditional communications is a revolutionary space to occupy right now. In the last few years, we have seen how online communities can coalesce around a cause, issue, or stance and take action.

The “Me Too” movement that was started by Tarana Burke gained traction through both traditional media coverage and digital support through hashtags: turning into a pivotal and necessary cultural moment. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took over social media and raised millions to support funding a cure for a disease that the majority of the general public had previously never even heard of. These are just two examples of the vast ability for digital media to
impact public knowledge and generate action.

  • Where are your favorite places for meetings?

I love Community: Michelle and Malia Obama actually had lunch there during Malia’s college tour. I am also a big fan of Hex & Co, a board game café right by my office!

  • Digital Strategy and Communications can be fast-paced, what is your favorite way of relaxing?

Art! Namely pen and ink and watercolor. I will also cave in to the urge to make an extremely complicated and fancy homemade meal at midnight.

  • What are you reading these days?

“You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero because I am working through adjusting into adulthood (typical millennial). I also love the new Ms. Marvel comics—I could have used a protagonist like Kamala Khan when I was growing up as a young Muslim girl in my homogenous/white elementary and high school!

  • What are you listening to these days? 

Endless Podcasts! I have been riveted by “Ear Hustle” and “Atlanta Monster.” I also have an established routine of beginning my day with NPR. A friend recommended “Code Switch” and I am really enjoying the discussions on that podcast.

My music taste is admittedly not very good and I usually listen to what apple music recommends but I have been loving “Francis and the Lights” right now.

Simone Salvo

Brittni L. Brown