Meet a Grant Thornton alum who is using her experience to make a difference.
Several years ago, as an 18-year-old sophomore at the University of Maryland, Raaheela Ahmed campaigned for a board of education position in her Maryland county. She knocked on more than 7,000 doors, called more than 300 citizens and visited a dozen or so community events. She won the primary election as the top vote-getter but narrowly missed victory in the general election, with 47% of the vote. She continued with her own education and upon graduation, began working in Grant Thornton’s Alexandria, Va., office as an Advisory Services associate in the Global Public Sector practice.
The rigors of campaigning for office
Then at age 22, Raaheela struggled with whether to run again for school board membership. “My Grant Thornton colleagues were so supportive,” she said. “But I had faced racism, islamophobia, xenophobia and misogyny during that first race.”
In the end, she ran in the primary elections and won, beating out the 10-year incumbent. In the general election, she earned 57% of the vote (equating to over 32,000 votes), triumphing over the establishment pick, who was supported by nearly 30 elected officials at the local, state and federal levels.
Raaheela’s final year at the firm coincided with and complemented her transition to public office. “For six months while running for the board position, I worked at Grant Thornton by day and met with constituents by night,” she said. “My coworkers at the firm made a huge difference. They valued and understood me professionally and validated the work I was doing.”
Eight months after leaving the firm to wrap her hands around what serving 80,000 people and 19 schools in Prince George’s County School Board District 5 would entail, Raaheela began to understand the need for diversity in places of influence. She took a job at New American Leaders, a national nonpartisan nonprofit, to manage their leadership program for elected officials. The organization prepares first- and second-generation immigrant Americans to use their power and potential in elected office. She then moved into administrative leadership at Campus Vote Project, an organization committed to institutionalizing voting at college campuses across the United States.
The cost of public service
Hard as it was, running for and winning the position turned out to be the easy part, Raaheela said: “This type of work beats you down. Everyone works so hard in an environment where survival — not education — is the number one problem, with burdens including gun violence, mental health, dysfunctional home environments, social media and technology.