Al-Nasir Hamir (ISP 00-02) has a Master’s degree in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University and is currently Assistant Manager of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Geneva, reporting to the Foundation’s General Manager.
Click to enlarge photographMy primary responsibility at the Aga Khan Foundation is to provide support to the General Manager on his work related to AKF. I also have a broad set of responsibilities with other agencies within the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). My work ranges from coordinating AKF’s annual budget process to assisting AKF’s CEOs and thematic unit directors with their communications to the Board of Directors, and assisting the General Manager to ensure smooth functioning of the Foundation on a day-to-day basis.
I am a generalist, having pursued formal academic studies in fields ranging from Biology and Geography, as an undergraduate, to International Relations, Economics and Finance, which I studied in graduate school. I was sponsored under the AKF International Scholarship Programme to undertake a Master’s in International Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. At SAIS, I completed a two-year programme in International Economics and Western Hemisphere Studies (a combined regional study of Latin America and Canada) in May 2002.
I initially developed an interest in the work of AKDN, and international development generally, by being exposed to the Network’s activities as a member of the Ismaili Muslim community in Toronto.
However, it was not until half way through my undergraduate studies - at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario - that I began to develop a real passion for this type of work.
After my second year at Queen’s, I had the good fortune of doing a non-formal educational exchange programme through a Canadian non-governmental organisation called Canada World Youth (CWY). The CWY programme involved two phases: one in Canada, where I worked on a multi-purpose farm in Barrhead, a small town in rural Alberta; the other involved working in two vocational education schools (Universidades del Trabajo) located in the small city of Carmelo, Uruguay. The programme, in addition to exposing me to issues related to agriculture and economic development, and internal relations, put me in contact with a wide array of people - socio-economically and culturally - including my fellow participants, our project leaders and the people whom we lived and worked with. This was a formative experience for me both personally and professionally.
After returning to Canada and completing my undergraduate degree, I worked for a summer on two microfinance projects as Bolivia Site Leader of the Queen’s Project on International Development. Shortly thereafter, I found myself - fortuitously - working as an intern with AKF USA. It was these two experiences, in Sucre, Bolivia and Washington, DC, that really solidified my desire to pursue a career in development. These experiences, more than any other factor gave me the career direction I needed to apply to the MA programme at SAIS.
My graduate school experience - particularly when combined with my earlier education and subsequent energy and infrastructure consulting experience - gave me a good general education and a solid foundation to work as a management generalist within AKDN. The SAIS program provided the training I needed to be able to analyse issues of economic development, as well as economic and political systems. Furthermore, the SAIS education helped me to develop an ability to identify and communicate the key drivers of a complex problem - and to identify possible changes needed to achieve a solution. I believe that this ability to distill varied sets of information into the core questions that need answering will serve me well as a manager within AKDN.
Over the medium-term, I would like to build on my work in Geneva and eventually take on a substantial leadership role within the AKDN. Through my current work, and my travels to countries where AKF is active, I have come to believe that the Network has a great and growing need for highly-competent generalist managers; and my sense is that there will be an array of interesting professional opportunities available to me once I complete my tenure as Assistant Manager.
The best advice that I could give to someone starting out in the development profession - or embarking on any career path for that matter - is to follow one’s heart and to build on one’s passions. Pursue what you love and do what you believe in. The main reason that I feel comfortable giving this advice is that my experience has taught me that most people are immeasurably more productive and content doing work that they are passionate about than work that does not meet this basic criteria.
While I stand by this advice, I am well aware that many young people (including myself as I went through the path described above) are not always sure from the start where their talents lie and what their passions are. In these cases, I would advise people interested in a career in development to seek out a varied set of experiences to help inform their career choices - particularly early on in their career. This can, of course, be difficult to do. It can sometimes be difficult to get support from one’s family and friends to pursue this approach; and it often involves financial and other sacrifices. I feel that this approach worked out well for me. At the same time, if I have learned anything along the way it is that there are many ways to achieve success - professional or otherwise - and that a resourceful individual - with a goal and the requisite drive - can find various paths to a satisfying career in their chosen field.
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