We had the good fortune of connecting with Cara Yar Khan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cara, how does your business help the community?
There is no diversity without disability. Everything the business touches contributes to promoting equity, inclusion and justice for people with disabilities. Whether it’s delivering a keynote address for a Fortune 50 company, writing a memoir, social media advocacy, producing a documentary film or advising a United Nations humanitarian agency, the work includes courageous conversations that evoke disability pride and dismantle the stereotypes and biases perpetuated by ableism. Creating an undeniably powerful force that is the combined awareness and action of advocates, activists and allies we aim to see equal representation and participation of the largest minority in the world.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’ve been so fortunate as to have different roles from United Nations (UN) specialist to founder & CEO to film producer & author, in several industries, making for a robust and rich international career that, to date, has spanned 10 countries across 5 continents. I’m especially proud of my work in post-conflict zones and emergency operations with the UN humanitarian agencies World Food Programme and UNICEF. From Ecuador to Angola to China I’ve witnessed the power of girls and women, the conviction of families trying to survive from one day to the next and children of all backgrounds share a universal desire to play and learn in safe and healthy spaces. I knew in grade school that this was the work I wanted to do. Setting that goal at such a young age kept me focused and determined. Thanks to a lot of grit, tenacity and discipline I joined the UN at age 24. In my late 20s I started to have a series of inexplicable falls. At age 30 I was diagnosed with Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy (HIBM) a rare recessive genetic muscle wasting disease that leads to severe incapacity within 10-15 years of it’s onset. With only 200 known patients in the USA and 2,000 worldwide there is no approved treatment or cure. Such a massive life experience has molded me into an even stronger, smarter and more sincere advocate. In living with this chronic illness and the physical disabilities that come with the on-going loss of function of my muscle from head to toe, I discovered a new depth of self-worth and appreciation for life. Today 20 years later as a founder & CEO of my own consulting firm, I advise the work of regional directors of the same UN agencies. There have been many full-circle moments that I humbly celebrate and remembering with gratitude the sacrifices, resilience and perseverance it took to succeed. Many a time I was underestimated because of the way I looked, my young age and then my physical disabilities, doubted by people who could not imagine how I could manage so much responsibility and balance such a big career with my personal journey. Luckily my Indian father instilled in me a healthy level of confidence and ambition, that would take me farther than either of us imagined. But it always felt natural to succeed, because it was backed by hard work. And pursuing the making a documentary film, while never being something I dreamed of, has taught me how desperately the world needs more diverse storytellers and dynamic stories, in front of and behind the camera. This sentiments extends to my public speaking career and authorship where I don’t see enough women like myself who are immigrants, religious minorities, bi-racial and living with disabilities. As many barriers that exist, there are opportunities to pursue. And where the opportunities are yet to present themselves I hope to be someone who is creating them, not just for myself but for others too. The spotlight is plenty for us all to shine.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A tour of the National Center of Civil and Human Rights – the most important contribution to humanity in the city of Atlanta! The Battery, and a margarita pizza at Antico with a glass of Italian cabernet. Best BBQ in town is at DAS – OMG brisket and spicy cream corn. Fascinated with marketing and brand culture, The World of Coke, will blow your mind. Who new a soda company could change the world! Dinner at Marcel – ah the cocktails, fried bread and steaks! For lovers of the sea and sea life, nothing compares to the Aquarium and seeing people get lost in wonder as they gaze into the big tank. A tour of Buford Highway. Check out non-profit WeLoveBuhi’s IG page for the coolest family businesses and local immigrant cuisines. Find the best variety of adult beverages at Krog Market’s HopCity brewery and store while indulging in Vietnamese buns, Chinese spicy beef, Italian cannolis and sour beer! Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shoutout is dedicated the brave, bold and brilliant, Mrs. Enid Draluck. Enid was the first friend I made when I came to the USA in November 2012 for a UNICEF speaking engagement with James Shepherd at the Shepherd Center. From day one we just clicked, sharing a passion for service, sisterhood and sass. Enid is a selfless trailblazer who has touched and changed the lives of countless people and non-profits in Atlanta, Enid has been involved on various levels with many not-for-profits in the Atlanta community. Enid serves as the Silent Auction Chair for the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence Champions for Change lunch and Chair of Movers, Shakers and Changemakers for youthSpark. Enid was the Co-Chair of the CHRIStal Ball for CHRIS180for four years, is Co-Chair of the Leadership Council of the LGBTQ Institute and amember of the Metro Atlanta Coalition to End Human Trafficking at IHTI, both at theNational Center for Civil and Human Rights and a Trustee of the Jewish Women’s Fundof Atlanta and their Education Chair. Enid has recently been appointed to the IGNITE Across America steering committee and the Executive Committee for the Women’s Philanthropy Network at Georgia State University. For the past 7 years Enid had served as a mentor at Georgia State University through the Honors Program and the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, is on the GSU Student Support Task Force, and was a catalyst behind the WomenLead program at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. In 2013, Enid was presented with the BOLD Award from Girls, Inc. and in 2014 received the U.S. Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her work with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In 2017 Enid proudly accepted the Community Service Award from CHRIS180 and was named an Honorary Alumna of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. I would not be where I am or the woman I am today – in fact I would not have stayed in the USA – had it not been for Enid’s unwavering kindness, generosity, sponsorship, mentoring and loyalty.