Spotlight on (drum roll please)…. Muna M Hassan!
I had a chat with this awesome individual about all things career and, in this climate, COVID-19 had to get a mention (of course). Muna was a part of a joint EAWF and SomaliPN- Australia, Employment Pathways Event supported by the Scanlon Foundation and the Australia Light Foundation in 2018, more on that coming soon. Below is our conversation. Thank you, Muna for being such a willing interviewee, especially during this pandemic where as a health worker and researcher you are on the front line and like so many others in your field – permanently exhausted.
Muna is President of SomaliPN- Australia, a Somali founded knowledge exchange career and networking platform that has amassed 30,000 + members, globally. The group's purpose is to share individual experiences of different career paths amongst its group members. It is a microcosm full of advice, stories and olive branches extended, namely through the posting of job offers. The ethos behind the group is simple: ‘Don’t forget to give before you ask’, a catch cry that embodies the altruistic nature of SomaliPN.
Muna understands the all encompassing nature of being a ‘volunteer’. Yes, that old chestnut—I’m speaking directly to other volunteers in any realm--it is equal parts rewarding and time consuming. However we are all drawn to it for the same purpose: helping others!
EAWF: What is your current occupation?
Muna: Senior Clinical Research Associate II/Lead CRA.
How long did it take for you to get to where you are today?
Muna: I have worked in Clinical Trials, Drug Research and Development for the past 12 years now. I started in pre-clinical work and then, during my final university days, moved into a study coordinator role for about 2.5 yrs. During this time, I was also involved in a car accident. I took a year off to recover and got back to work, Alhamdullilah (thank God). I then continued to move up in my career, to where I am today.
What is one piece of advice that you would tell your younger self before you began your current career path?
Muna: I will not give just one piece but a few. I would tell my younger self to give myself more, “pep talks” that state:
1. Hold yourself accountable for your actions; do not let others do it for you. Do not allow the fear of failure to hold you back!
2. If you think that your contribution, talents and commitments deserve recognition, ask for it; clearly and honestly. Do not wait to be recognised for how good you are.
3. Finally, realise that you are not alone in your experience as a young woman dealing with education and the workforce. Try to connect with someone in a similar situation so that you can share your defeats as well as achievements.
What makes you smile at work?
Muna: The last couple of years my work has been focused on Oncology (Cancer) trials, so working with a strong team of professionals to determine whether potential new treatments are safe, effective and can improve quality of life for cancer patients, is the reason I smile. I feel good waking up in the morning, knowing I can contribute to that cause.
How has COVID-19 pandemic impacted/ affected your occupation?
Muna: I am focused on Oncology & Haematology trials, so COVID-19 has significantly affected patient enrolment. It has also delayed and cancelled patient visits. Enrolling new patients to the study is a much lower priority than tackling the pandemic at the moment.. The greatest operational challenge has been to reevaluate milestones including delays to activation of sites, enrolment, data collection and cleaning.
As a CRA, one of my main tasks is to visit trial sites regularly and monitor the conduct of clinical trials and compliance with established timelines. Because of travel restrictions and lack of on-site monitoring, we have had to adjust. Now we monitor remotely and source document verification, to ensure that participating patients can continue to benefit and maintain the quality of the work/ data.
Another added challenge has been the change in my routine. Routine is a big part of my role and I have had to learn to adjust. It has been a constant process of adapting and learning through trial and error. Pharma/CRO and sites/hospitals are embracing change and modifying existing trials to the new environment, ultimately keeping staff and patients safe.
The industry will be different after the crisis passes, and this is something we are all preparing for. The sooner we can adapt, accelerate change, and plan for tomorrow’s challenges, the stronger our positions in drug research and development will be.
COVID-19 crisis has made people increasingly interested and invested in what the pharmaceutical industry does and how it does it. We will need to ask ourselves if we have been sufficiently resourceful in responding to COVID-19. What new technologies have we embraced? How have we changed the ways we do business, develop drugs, and treat patients? The pandemic has taught us that we must become more efficient and pragmatic from the time of drug discovery to patient access and treatment.
Najma Sambul is a writer and content creator for EAWF.
EAWF, like most non-profit organisations, had big plans in 2020! Plans that excited the volunteers and community members alike. One of those plans was to expand on activities for the elderly Somali women in the community. Initiatives planned for 2020 included training sessions, outreach programs and advocacy work.
We have run programs intermittently over the past decade. In late 2018, some of our elderly Somali women and young Somali girls joined together for a camping experience, as part of a story telling project focused on first generation Somali-Australian girls connecting with the elder Somali women, through stories. The stories shared, were fascinating and largely unheard of, because, in Somali culture, stories are shared verbally and seldom written down.
In February 2020, a fortnightly workshop commenced under the supervision of EAWF longstanding member and volunteer, Nadifo Mohamed. Inspired by the camp of 2018, Nadifo planned to capture some of these stories of a vastly different Somali generation and bygone era. The first meet ups took place at Carlton Hall and consisted of ten to fifteen elderly Somali women from Carlton and surrounding areas. During their time with EAWF volunteers, the women were encouraged to share their unique stories for the sole purpose of fostering a welcoming space that validated their rich knowledge. Religious Islamic studies were included to provide spiritual relief for the women. And, true to Somali culture, it was enjoyed with a lots and lots of… chai tea!
One of our core aims at EAWF is to encourage social inclusion for the most vulnerable members in our community—our elderly. We are passionate about countering isolation and building support networks within the East African communities in Melbourne. So, naturally when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted and put a halt to this and most things, we had to come up with a solution to counteract the looming impact of isolation on the elderly Somali women.
Armed with pots of steaming biryani rice, stewed meat and curried vegetables, Nadifo and Chair of EAWF, Fartun Farah, set upon delivering food to the women on the day of the fortnightly meeting. “It was hard to improvise because of the ‘no physical contact’. Most of these women live in high rise buildings”, says Nadifo, but luckily with the help of middle men, it was a smooth transition. Each woman was also provided with the Australian Government fact sheet on COVID-19, translated in Somali. It was important to highlight to the women that there were legal implications surrounding the new paradigm. And so with stern warnings of social distancing and hand washing conveyed through fly screen doors and middle men, the word – and the food – safely reached the women.
Although the restrictions are temporary, we are deeply saddened that our fortnightly workshops cannot continue. Not just because we are idealistic dreamers at a non-profit organisation but because we saw the joy it sparked in the women. Currently, we are doing weekly ‘check in’ phone calls, just to say hello and have a chat. More than anything we want them to know that, in uncertain times, there are still some certainties to find solace in, and one of those is EAWF’s support for the women. And, yes, we reassure them many times that the group will be back!
Until then, we encourage the elderly Somali women to remain calm, take on the challenge of technology (perhaps, this is wishful thinking) and like the rest of the world; just keep scrolling, because it may still be a while yet before we are face-to-face.
Najma is the daughter of EAWF Founder and Chairperson, Fartun Farah. She is a self-anointed lifetime member of the organisation. This blog is her charitable contribution to the organisation. When she isn’t volunteering for EAWF, she can be found nurturing her first love — fiction writing.