1. What inspired you to choose a career in development, especially your focus on education policy?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact age or date when I had the notion inside me that I wanted to work in the social sector. I usually say I have been ‘working’ in development since I was 16 years old – when I first got started volunteering at local schools in low-income communities in Karachi through The Citizen’s Foundation. It has been a continuous journey since then, that never really stopped. I was most inspired or motivated by the students in those schools, and the people I came across who lived in such dire conditions. After working in various fields of development – law, human rights, and microfinance – I stumbled upon a job in education with Teach for Pakistan and just knew that education was the most powerful tool we should be focusing on in all of development. As a result, I chose that as my career!
2. What is the best part about your current role? Is there a particular aspect of your career that excites you when you wake up every morning?
The best part about my role is being able to work with people from all over the world. I think there are a few places where there is such rich diversity in nationality and opinion, but the most beautiful part is that even coming from such different circumstances, we all believe the same thing about education and how it changes the world. I think that wakes me up every day!
3. What are some of the challenges you have faced while pursuing your career goals? How have you dealt with these challenges?
I think there are two main challenges. The first one is relevant to any career – the demand is much less than the supply. It was hard to deal with it internally when I knew that I had the passion, skills and experiences for a job but was rejected. Secondly, I think there is societal pressure to pursue a certain path or work for a certain company, essentially doing ‘what you are supposed to do’. To deal with them both, I think it was important to tune out the rest of the world from time to time, and roll with punches. Perseverance and believing that there is something better out there for you, and trusting the system is how I got through.
4. You’ve worked in the development sector both in Pakistan and in the United States. What are some of the main differences between the two environments?
I think there is much to be gained within the working culture of Pakistan when it comes to work ethic. It’s not just development, but I think it doesn’t foster innovation or growth by creativity. Granted, many places in the US do not do that either.
5. Are there any courses that you took during college or in graduate school that have been particularly helpful for your career growth?
It sounds strange, but I think I least valued what I call ‘content’ courses, and most valued courses that taught me hard and soft skills. Courses I took that taught me statistical software, and courses I took that taught me management and leadership styles were actually the most beneficial to me, and I still use them today.
6. What are the top three skills that have been critical for your success in your professional and personal endeavours?
These might sound very strange: logical reasoning, effective persuasion and communication skills. I think these are transferrable, and you can apply these to anything that you do
7. Are there any resources (online or offline) that you use to keep track of the latest developments in education policy/development?
There are many – I follow all of the social media accounts of various international organizations, foundations and NGOs working in education, education policy and research. Those are key to knowing what the latest developments are.
8. Have you used any networks to help you achieve your goals? If so, what networks have you used and which have been the most helpful?
I am a huge believer of developing any and as many networks as possible. My latest job was very unexpected and I found out about it through a network at graduate school. I think it’s important to develop a good network of friends and classmates through your university – you honestly have no idea where you could end up and who will end up helping you the most!
9. What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received? Do you have any advice for our readers who are interested in pursuing a career in education policy/development?
‘Just do it’ although I’m sure that was stolen from Nike. I think the idea behind it was that we always end up making excuses for ourselves, but the idea is to not overthink about everything that could go wrong and just persevere – apply for the job, send the email, etc. I would say the same for any career!
For education, I would say first read up on what the latest research I, what new developments are taking place and who is working on what projects. The second step is contact people, even if just to appreciate their idea and work. The people working on these projects and publications are very passionate about their work and are always appreciative of feedback.
And just a few short answers for our readers:
Israa Nasir, Co-founder of Ammi Service and a Therapist
Video: Nazish Hussain, Founder of Secret Stash
Farrah Hamid, Founder, Prettly.com
Madiha Waris Qureshi, Consultant, World Bank
Arsla Jawaid, Foreign Policy and Counter-terrorism Guru
Sana Khan Niazi, Founder, Paimona
Sobia Sheikh, Finance Manager, Sodexo
Ruqayya Diwan Adamjee, Creative & Social Impact