Mukhtar M. Ibrahim at a meeting at Sahan Journal's St. Paul headquarters in 2022. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Almost five years ago, I founded Sahan Journal to become the first nonprofit newsroom dedicated to immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota. Today, I’m writing to share some important news: I’m planning to step down as CEO and publisher, and help start a thoughtful and inclusive leadership transition.

Here’s what I want to say first: Since 2020, Sahan has enjoyed a period of amazing growth, and I believe it’s poised to achieve even greater success in the future.

In this brief note, I want to share the story behind this decision: How Sahan is doing (great), why I’m leaving (family needs), what comes next for Sahan’s leadership (a thorough transition plan, led by Sahan’s board of directors and some of our strongest supporters), what’s next for me (TBD).

Sahan Journal is a special newsroom that I founded at a pivotal time in Minnesota’s history. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the unprecedented challenges wrought by COVID, Sahan has stood at the forefront of national efforts to provide exceptional news coverage dedicated to communities of color.

We have quickly placed Sahan on a path to becoming a trusted and critical civic institution that can serve the next generation of Minnesotans: immigrants and communities of color who will become future leaders in education, health care, business, government, and more. 

This was my vision when I started Sahan Journal and it’s a mission I’m proud to pass along to Sahan’s next leader. I expect this executive will share the gratitude I’ve felt for all the people who’ve stepped up over the past five years to support that work. 

I am proud of the remarkable success story that our dedicated staff has built. We have grown from a four-person newsroom to an amazing and talented team of 20, covering a wide range of essential topics and producing innovative multimedia content. We have built an equitable, transparent, and responsive work culture that supports the professional development and well-being of every staff member.

Our advertising and membership departments have gained national recognition within the nonprofit news industry. Our budget grew from $608,000 in 2020 to $2.5 million in 2023. (Here, I should note that Minnesota Public Radio generously covered my salary for the first 18 months because I did not yet have funding to support our fledgling operation.) 

We have secured $7.4 million from funders since our launch in late 2019, and brought in nearly $2 million from advertising and individual donations. Thousands of readers and supporters like you have financially contributed to creating our diverse nonprofit newsroom. Dozens of local businesses have valued Sahan enough to invest their advertising dollars to advance our work.

Sahan has evolved from an idea, to a scrappy startup, to a trusted news organization that is now serving all Minnesotans. As Sahan has flourished, my personal life has evolved, too. I’m a father to three wonderful daughters, aged five to nine. We welcomed a baby boy into our family in late June. Balancing the needs of a growing family and a growing organization is no small task. 

My daughters’ childhood experience feels different from mine. In my late teens, I left Kenya with a single suitcase and moved to Minnesota. The past 18 years in America have been a whirlwind of learning, work, family, and risk-taking. I guess I inherited that risk-taking spirit from my parents. They moved across countries and continents in search of stability for their children.

While I was out on parental leave this summer, I found myself thinking about the story my girls would tell about their family. How would they remember the family experiences we’ve had together—and all the time apart?

This summer, at home, I realized the time was right to put my family first.

That’s why I’ve informed Sahan’s board that now is the right time for me to step down so I can prioritize the needs and care of my family. This is also an exciting time to make space for someone else to come in and lead one of the country’s most innovative nonprofit news organizations.

This work has benefitted profoundly from the contributions of the American Journalism Project, a venture philanthropy team dedicated to reinventing sustainable local journalism. Their partnership has helped me and Sahan to establish a resilient organization with diverse revenue streams, strong management, and robust systems and oversight. 

Finding a new leader

Looking ahead, Sahan is poised to have an even greater impact on Minnesota’s news ecosystem. We have plans to expand our community engagement events, a central part of our mission to forge deep connections with the communities we serve. We hope to extend our reach to readers beyond the Twin Cities metropolitan area. We’re investing in new and existing platforms to meet the diverse needs of younger news audiences.

Soon, Sahan will enter a new phase of leadership transition. During this period, we are committed to upholding the organization’s values and mission. 

The search process for a new CEO will start in a few weeks. A committee has been formed to conduct the search: It includes Laura Yuen (Sahan Journal board chair), Fred de Sam Lazaro (board member), Kevin Bennett (Senior Program Officer for GHR Foundation’s Twin Cities Racial Equity initiative), and Michelle Srbinovich (Vice President of Growth Investments at the American Journalism Project ), and Kate Moos (a career leader in public media and my original partner in establishing Sahan).

The American Journalism Project has offered invaluable assistance with this process.

Throughout the search, this committee will provide opportunities for staff and stakeholders to share their insights and feedback.

Looking forward

What, you may wonder, is next for you, Mukhtar? 

First, I’m not going anywhere until we hire a new CEO. I will remain fully engaged in making the important business and editorial decisions that arise daily at a fast-moving organization like Sahan.

Second, after I hand over the reins to the new CEO, I’ll be here to offer help and guidance. 

Next, my departure isn’t the first step toward taking a job elsewhere. Instead, I am planning to take a professional break while also completing an MBA at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a passion for strategy, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, and organizational behavior. I hope to use those skills in future consulting roles and continue to make a meaningful impact at mission-driven organizations. 

I’m also determined to continue championing local news initiatives across the country. I hope to partner with other innovative journalism leaders to ensure that all communities have access to responsive, reliable, and trusted news sources.

Sahan is a thriving organization with great momentum, fueled by a dynamic team, a healthy organizational culture, stable funding, and a compelling vision. Founding and leading this organization has been the experience of a lifetime. As a deep believer in the power of journalism, I’m excited to watch what comes next for Sahan.

I’m looking forward to a time, a few years from now, when my daughters become Sahan Journal readers and supporters. 

Mukhtar Ibrahim is the founding publisher and CEO of Sahan Journal. He previously worked as a staff writer for the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio News. He has also written for the St. Paul...