A Journey of Self, Purpose, and Making a Difference: Sheila Ruiz

(1) Tell me about you. Who is Sheila Ruiz?

Sheila Ruiz is a mother, a sister, a friend, a woman who aims to do her best every day. Identity-wise, I consider myself an Afropean, a spiritual humanist, a feminist of difference, an LGBTQ ally and an advocate of social justice. Professionally, I’m currently on a break but my focus continues to be making the world a more equitable and inclusive place. I love dance, music and art and I try to find pleasure and joy in the small, everyday things in life. I love to laugh at myself and often strike up conversation with kind strangers on the street. Regardless of life’s setbacks and blows, I strive to keep my heart open and supple, so I may continue to let joy and love in. As Rumi’s famous quote says, “the wound is the place where the light enters you”… and so it is. 

(2) What inspired you to pursue a career in the non-profit sector?

I’ve always been driven by wanting to make the world a better place, as cliché as that might sound, and I knew from as long as I can remember that I wanted to do “good”, so when I finished my university studies, I started working in community arts projects and from there I moved into the African Diaspora cultural space as that was my main area of interest and expertise, having completed an African Studies MA at SOAS. More recently, I transitioned into the tech sector to work on a social impact programme, and moving forward I’d love to continue doing impact-focused work. 

(3) Why did you move into the world of technology? How have you found that shift?

So my move into the tech sector came about as I seized a great opportunity that arose for a role that I felt I could do very well by applying all the learnings I’d gained from running a small charitable organisation. The role was to support a cohort of community leaders taking part in the Community Accelerator programme that would help them develop their business skills and become sustainable in the long-term. Starting as Facebook groups, some of these communities were to turn into non-profits or mission-driven commercial entities throughout the course of the programme. My scope was both the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa, which had been my regional focus up to that point, so I felt the role had my name written all over it! Once I finished that first contract as a Partner Manager working directly with the community leaders, I had the opportunity to continue working on the Community Accelerator as a Programme Manager and I took that on enthusiastically as it meant I could work on the programme globally, which was really exciting for me. Moving into the Community Partnerships team at Facebook / Meta was a great career progression for me. I got to work in a company that is at the forefront of digital innovation, but in an org that has people and communities at the heart of it; I met some amazing people and I also learnt lots about running programmes on a global scale. 

Any advice for others who might be considering a kind of professional transition like that? What have you learned in the process?

My advice for anyone who would like to transition from the non-profit space to the private sector is to remain mission-driven and to keep whatever impact you want to have top of mind. Don’t lose sight of your “why” and the heart that you bring to your work because that is what will fulfill you at the end of the working day. My biggest learning has been that it’s certainly compatible to work doing something you care passionately about whilst earning a decent salary and that should really be the goal, so that’s going to be my criteria for any future roles I go for. 

(4) What is your proudest achievement, and why?

I’d say I feel most proud of my parenting, though I don’t consider that an achievement yet, but rather a work in progress! I feel that parenting has challenged me and expanded my being in ways I never imagined, and I’m proud of the mother that I am and the young man my son is becoming. I am also humbled by my professional achievements and the positive impact I’ve had on the lives of people I’ve worked with and the communities I’ve served. I feel most of my achievements have been made possible through working in partnership, so I’m proud of my ability and efforts to work collaboratively and strategically with a wide range of individuals and entities to make some really cool stuff happen. 

(5) What, and who, inspires you? And how?

I’m inspired by courageous people, their good deeds and/or beautiful creations. I admire brave humans who stand up to injustice and fight the good fight, as well as those individuals who break through the limits of what we thought was possible, whether in art, science, sport or any other field. The spirit of Ubuntu also really inspires me, as well as people who are unapologetically themselves, maybe even at the risk of being outcast, so the power of the collective and the individual are two seemingly opposing forces that I’m fascinated by. Lastly, the people who inspire me on a daily basis are my close friends, who are my chosen family. My dear brother is also a massive influence and inspiration. 

(6) What are your hopes for the next generation of African diaspora and descendant communities? What do you hope will change in their world?

My main hope for the next generation of Africans, both at home and abroad, is for them to have access to opportunities so that they may realise their full potential. This is my dream for all future generations, regardless of where they’re based in the world, but I’m aware that there’s a much longer way to go in the African continent and other regions of the Global South for their future youths to be able to enjoy the same opportunities as their counterparts in the Global North. 

(7) Could you please complete these sentences:

A piece of wisdom I would share with my 16-year old self is… You will be ok, you will find your way and you will learn to love yourself along the way. Loving yourself starts with talking to yourself as if you were your own best friend, it starts with mothering your inner child, allowing her to cry whilst you hold yourself tight. Even in your 30s and 40s, you will not have it all figured out, and yet you will be ok! You will have clarity of where you want to go and you will continue learning on your path…

My life mantra is… “Know what your heart desires, but respect that timing is none of your business”. I.e. Trust the process and enjoy the ride as much as you can!

If I had to share one last message with the world, it would be… Whenever in doubt, try to be guided by love.

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