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Meet Zulaikha Rahim

Faces of Deloitte Advisory is a series of true stories that explore the personal history of our practitioners, highlighting key experiences that defined their values and explaining why they do what they do. In this story, Zulaikha shares the life lessons she learned from her hardworking parents and how Deloitte’s principle of “making an impact that matters” is aligned with her efforts to help Afghan refugees.


“Giving back to society and making a difference even in one person’s life gives me immense joy.”


Imagine you’re a refugee. You’ve been torn from your home, your family—you can’t even go back and bury them. Your children don’t have shoes that fit. You don’t even own a pillow. You have found yourself in a strange place, with a strange language, and unfamiliar customs.

And then someone shows up where you are huddled with your people, standing in a parking lot. She smiles. She speaks your language. She has toys for your children. She has found you a place to stay.

When Afghan refugees started coming to the US after the withdrawal, a first-generation Afghan American knew she had to do something. Not because the refugees were her friends or relatives, but because she grew up hearing similar stories of displacement from her family members.

Little resources, but lots of love
Zulaikha Rahim’s mother was pregnant with her when she left her home in Afghanistan along with her husband and three-year-old son. Forty years ago, it was a different conflict, but so much the same; the horror of the Soviet-Afghan war resulted in the Rahim family finding its new and gradually permanent home in the United States, first in New York and then in San Diego.

While the family had little resources, there was no shortage of love. Zulaikha’s cherished childhood memories are spending Fridays at her grandparents’ house enjoying a sumptuous meal with her extended family.

“My dad’s parents had a small condo,” remembers Zulaikha, or Z. as her friends call her. “And all the kids would sit on the stairs because there wasn’t enough room for us. My grandma would always cook something special. I just remember life being so simple back then. We didn’t have a lot, but we had each other. Everything we are today stems from that affection we received growing up. Even our friends could feel that warmth whenever they visited our home. And now, I am passing that same love and affection to my nieces and nephews,” shares Z.


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Lessons of selflessness
As time went by, Z. closely observed how her parents embraced American values while not letting go of their Afghan culture. She saw two parents in love, both working hard to raise two courteous children.

Life looked good as Z. completed her graduation in media studies and began working as a marketing specialist. But then came a phase that broke her emotionally—her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“My mom was a preschool teacher who lived a basic life, but she was full of life. She taught me how to be a better daughter, sister, aunt, and woman. I strive to carry forward her traditions. I acquired the qualities of selflessness, compassion, and empathy from her. She told us that our lives are a blank canvas, and even the smallest mistake leaves the residue even after being erased, and therefore, we must always strive to be a good person,” Z. shares.

After losing her mother, Z. diverted her energy toward taking care of her father, a former US Embassy employee in Afghanistan. “When he tells his life story, he always mentions how my mother and he were lovebirds. He is a simple and sweet man. He never expects anything from anyone. He has worked hard all his life,” says Z.

Extending a helping hand
As years went on and she was coping with the loss of her mother and being comforted by her extended family, refugees began arriving from Afghanistan. And all those stories of the war-torn land she heard from her family members for years came flooding back. History was repeating itself. And Z. couldn’t just stand by.

“I pictured how my parents must have been in the same situation 40 years ago,” Z. shares. “I immediately saw my nephews and nieces in the faces of those children.”

The determination to help others took shape in Z. She and several others founded the San Diego Afghan Refugees Aid Group (SDARAG), a nonprofit that has already assisted nearly 400 newly arrived Afghan refugee families.

“These families managed to escape with just the clothes on their backs. You find your struggles to be so small. You ask yourself how you got so lucky because this could have been your fate, too. I just had to help these families settle down,” says Z., who has been working tirelessly with other volunteers to provide the refugees with all necessities to help them start their lives all over again and find them places to live.

“They hardly have anything, they can’t speak English, they don’t know how to operate basic electric appliances, and—still—the situation doesn’t diminish their hospitality as they invite you in for tea.”

But listening to their stories of loss and devastation and consoling them have taken a toll on Z.’s emotional health, too. “Going to make deliveries and spending time with these families after working full-time can be a lot. There were nights I couldn’t sleep. On some days, I’d go for a walk on the beach just to clear my mind because you can’t stop thinking about these heartbreaking stories.”


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Winning everyone with confidence and kindness
For someone like Z., who works so much for the community, finding her professional home at Deloitte was a natural fit; it’s a place known for putting its people first. Also, Deloitte’s principle of “making an impact that matters” syncs well with Z.’s efforts for a larger cause.

Z. brings her life lessons to her workspace as well. She never starts talking about business without first checking in on the person.

“Even with those who report to me, I like to be their friend and colleague first, before being their manager. I share my knowledge with those who are new because when I was starting, I wanted to have those insightful conversations. I wish I knew then what I know now.”

At Deloitte, Z. has played a significant role in making The Best Problem I Ever Had podcast series the success it is today and considers it as one of her most rewarding moments because it celebrates people who transformed adversity into advantage.

Z. recalls that her first supervisor at Deloitte gave her the advice to make sure she builds a brand for herself. And now, almost six years later, she did and is well appreciated for her work ethic, and her humanitarian work has been lauded by leaders within Deloitte. Her stakeholders quickly turn into admirers when they see how she approaches a problem, no matter how daunting.

“You have to make people understand your perspective and help them connect the dots. The reason I can build great relationships with my stakeholders is that I focus on solutions. With time, I gained a lot of confidence to precisely convey my points. That helps you win the other person’s trust. And that’s really important when you have to prove your merit in a new organization or a different role,” shares Z., who once dreaded public speaking but now courageously shares her nonprofit’s mission in front of news channels.

How will you measure your life?
Z. is an avid sports fan, much like her father and brother, and she has gotten to meet sports personalities like Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter. She is also a great host who loves cooking for others. However, she continues to ignore the suggestions that she should become a full-time chef. And when not working or helping the Afghan refugees, Z. likes to unwind the stress by going for a bike ride or working out.

But even when she is relaxing, she ponders over a question: “‘What are you going to do with your —?’ The dash, of course, being the time between the year you’re born and when you die. What will I be remembered for?”

She finds the answer every day in the smiles she puts on the faces of those who have lost their home and hope. “Even at work, complimenting a colleague can leave an everlasting impression. I know that you must focus on yourself, but I like everyone around me to be happy. And giving back to society and making a difference even in one person’s life gives me immense joy.”

While it may be early to predict what she will be remembered for, right now Z. is known for living out the meaning of her name Zulaikha, which means beautiful, and Rahim—merciful.

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Get in touch

 


Zulaikha Rahim

Ecosystem and Alliances Marketing Manager Lead | Deloitte Services LP

With more than 17 years of marketing managerial experience, Z. has helped organizations scope out their integrated marketing strategy, internal and external communications, B2B marketing, brand campaigns, and execution of targeted programs. In her current role, Z. oversees alliance marketing relationships and how they can be effective collaborators within the Risk & Financial Advisory offering portfolio.

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