Biryani party: lessons in leadership one week at a time.

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52 consecutive weeks, nearly 15,000 meals and a lot of construction workers given a Biryani meal each Saturday. People gradually heard about The Saturday Biryani Party with workers and decided to get on board with Abbas Khan, Mahrukh Abbas and their two children, Bassam and Behesht. The Biryani ‘crew’ is really diverse in terms of age, backgrounds, nationalities;  we have never really spent a lot of time getting to know each other but we all share a desire to show appreciation and pay respect to the workers who are building Bahrain. People have joined in, contributed money, offered their time and the experience has changed me.

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This would not have happened without Abbas and his family deciding to do this, to take on something they hadn’t fully planned, not just for one week but committing to an intention to do ‘this’ for life. And doing ‘this’ has turned into a very significant commitment for their family.


On the surface ‘this’ is about raising money and distributing food. But ‘this’ is about a lot more for me now. Abbas has an effective leadership style, it is both highly directive and ‘laissez faire’. This combination is powerful and it is how The Saturday Biryani Party has grown over this year. He and Mahrukh create an atmosphere that means people can ‘find their place’, we contribute what we can and people come in and out as time allows.  Each week people bring along their kids, the idea is that they see lives different to theirs, to appreciate what they naturally take for granted.  The kids make a huge difference to our work and I admire how the kids have really got stuck in and how they engage with the guys.  The workers appreciate seeing the kids each week, I imagine it reminds them of their own families.


I think about this a lot.  Sometimes I have struggled with the way we work, I often think of ways that things could be warmer, friendlier and less about the distribution process. That is probably my need and I always come back to the fact that each week we improve, that this happens every week come dust storm or sunshine, food is afforded and distributed.  We are making a difference.  One work site has provided on site facilities so we don’t need to go there anymore.

Leadership vs meetings

One of the joys of working with this group is that we haven’t had any formal meetings. There have been no minutes, I have never been ‘tasked’ to do anything, no one has ‘reached out’ to me in anything other than a physical way.

Over time (and Whatsapp) some kind of dynamic management structure has emerged. The culture is clear, there are some jobs that have been taken on and these get passed around within the group depending on who is around. The ethos that you ‘give what you can, come along when you can and never feel like you have to do either’ has worked for me. Mahrukh and Abbas make a great team, leading the work and enrolling us a week at a time.



“You should thank your lucky stars” (Patricia Boggiss, pretty much every week of my childhood)

She was right (again). Meeting construction workers every week makes it impossible to feel sorry for yourself. I think about things too much. Each week I am brought back down to earth and on the drive home I thank my lucky stars for the parents I had, the education I was given, the work I have done and the rewards I have received for my labour. Every week I am faced with the fact that I am lucky. Lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, lucky I don’t have to work in the heat, lucky I have security. I respect what these guys do and I am glad I don’t have to work so hard.

Being in contact each week has changed me; I am kinder, more grateful, more generous and a happier person. This is a really effective way for me to ‘get over myself’. I am more thoughtful, I still analyse things too much, I am learning to less ‘thin skinned’ and I want to make the most of being one of the lucky ones in life. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given.

“Give what you can, come when you can”

Abbas really means this. This attitude creates trust. Whatever you give is special in this context. We’re able to come and go without judgement.

Tangible or intangible contribution, giving what you can does make a difference every week. I have some ideas and want to see them through, I need to focus, trust and make a move on them. Accept that I won’t change the whole world but that I can change the world I live in by doing something.


Eye contact

IMG_0100Thank you to all of the workers for teaching me so much. I have been taking photos of these guys for quite some time now and have started to print them and give them to the guys. The process has truly opened my heart. I was wondering what the point of the pictures was, there is a bit of a ‘subject/object’ feel to taking pictures that you can’t share with the people who are in them. Producing the photos and the additional time I spend looking at these men’s faces, and through the lens, into their eyes is moving. I have to consider their potential, potential that may get wasted.  To think about my own and the opportunities I am given.

I have learned from the Biryani party that you can make a meaningful impact if you have vision and a big plan.  Step, by step, by step.

Don’t let the big picture rob you of the daily picture. I need to have fewer ideas and take more consistent action.

So here’s to another year, “Mabruk” to us all.




One thought on “Biryani party: lessons in leadership one week at a time.

  1. Great observation, Jill! The fact that we can be in and out and still be a part of this lovely initiative is what makes it so well organised.

    And it is true – each experience makes us feel blessed.

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