By Rory Hibbler
Aisha Yaqoob is a recent graduate of SPIA’s Masters in Public Administration (MPA) program. During the second year of her MPA degree she began a non-profit: The Georgia Muslim Voter’s Project (GMVP). Aisha was featured on MTV’s Total Registration Live, a National Voter Registration Day Special, on September 27, 2016. The nation got to see the efforts Aisha and her organization have been doing to get Muslim voters active in Georgia.
Recently SPIA got the chance to interview Aisha and learn more about her work in this election cycle. Aisha was inspired to begin GMVP because in 2014 she realized much of her Muslim community was apathetic about voting. Realizing the importance of the 2016 election, Aisha said, “I decided that something needed to be done and that I had to take steps to make sure that the Muslim community was actively involved in this election, but also future elections.”
Aisha’s biggest challenge was to get GMVP up and running, mainly because she was still getting her MPA degree during its first stages. Funding was also a barrier, but fortunately they “received some grant funding and small donations that were able to cover most of [the] expenses.” Her degree was helpful in developing GMVP as well: “Before starting my MPA if I would have wanted to start a nonprofit, I wouldn’t have known where to start. My [public administration] classes helped me develop hands-on skills that have helped me during this process.” Aisha was especially grateful to her nonprofit financial administration class with Dr. Deborah Carroll and her public personnel management class with Dr. Edward J. Kellough. “More than anything, [my degree] gave me the confidence, drive, and encouragement to put my efforts towards work worth doing.”
Speaking on the MTV coverage in September, Aisha said it really helped just to spread the word: “A lot of my community members saw it and got excited to see their friends also in the video. Some organizations in the area reached out afterwards to see if we can partner on some events.”
GMVP has already reached their internal goal of registering 800 new voters. However, Aisha’s overall personal goal is “to educate and encourage the thousands of community members that are already registered to show up to the polls and become life-long voters.”
A success story she didn’t realize would happen was GMVP’s partnership with other organizations: “Partnering and working with other communities of color has made it a lot more fun, but effective for our volunteers. It helps for intersectionality but also encourages camaraderie amongst our groups.”
Aisha’s plans for post- 2016 election is to continue on with GMVP, popping up before every election and “encourage voter registration and voter turnout.” Aisha is currently searching for a more permanent job in local or state government, while still planning on keeping a volunteer role with GMVP.