Hannah Iqbal


You are in the final year of a PhD focusing on the experience of young people who have fled conflict. What does it entail?

My PhD focuses on the lives of 40 young people who have fled conflict or persecution and are now seeking asylum or living as refugees in the UK. I interviewed young people from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia about their experiences of fleeing their home country, travelling to the UK and seeking asylum here.  

 Why did you decide to do a PhD and what do you want to do with it?

A PhD represents a unique opportunity to focus in depth on a topic that interests you and it is a real privilege to be funded to learn. I chose my research topic because I had worked with young refugees previously and wanted to learn more about their lives.

I would like to use my PhD as a foundation for further research and policy work within International Development and Foreign Policy.

You’re one of the NATO future leaders and were also a panellist at the UK NATO summit. How did you get involved and what does it entail?

I heard about the NATO Future Leaders summit online and decided to apply to the open competition. I was delighted to be chosen to represent the UK as part of the 2014 delegation, alongside a network of other young leaders from member and partner states. Since the summit, we have been involved in Twitter debates @FutureNATO and are currently writing some papers together.

At the NATO summit, you discussed your research regarding young women’s participation and security. How would foreign policy change if more women were involved?

It was a privilege to speak at NATO about women’s participation and leadership in the context of security. It is great to already see these issues on the agenda. However, I think there is still work to be done to develop a wider understanding of the unique role women can play in peacekeeping and security.

We know that war and conflict have disproportionate impact on women and children. However, what is often overlooked is the dynamic and creative leadership women can offer in these contexts. Involving more women in foreign policy means that those most affected by war and conflict will be better represented by those sitting around the table, making decisions. Beyond this, I think it will also mean that foreign policy is more dynamic and reactive to the needs of communities at the grassroots level.  

You are a mentee of both the Fabian Society Leadership Development and the Women in Public Life Leadership Development. Could you tell us a bit about those schemes?

Being part of both of these schemes is a great privilege, since being mentored has allowed me to spend time with remarkable women and learn from them. In both schemes, my mentors have offered advice, contacts and a passport into contexts that I may not previously have been involved with such as the Welsh Assembly, House of Commons, House of Lords and the European Parliament.

A major highlight of these schemes has been meeting and learning from the other women who are also being mentored. Whilst we are all from different backgrounds and are at different stages of our careers, there has been a real sense of growing in confidence together.

More information on these schemes can be found at @FabianWomen and @WomenofWales.

Why did you decide to be mentored?

As I got to the halfway point in my PhD, I began to think about my future steps. My fieldwork interviews with young refugees had made me more politically aware and I felt that I wanted to get more involved with international development and foreign policy.

I also wanted develop my understanding of politics and public life, alongside my confidence and sense of future direction. I am always keen to learn as much as I can about being in positions of leadership as a woman, so the opportunity to be mentored by both a UK politician and a key figure within public life was an exciting way to learn and be stretched. 

What have you learnt as part of the schemes?

These schemes have been a brilliant platform for opportunity to learn more about what it means to be a female leader within politics and public life and how to negotiate the different barriers that exist. Being part of these schemes has given me a greater confidence in myself and what I can offer, as well as providing me with amazing opportunities to learn from other women. The biggest lesson I have learnt is the importance of pushing doors and taking initiative, instead of discounting yourself and waiting to be asked to step forward.

Your CV is packed with multiple positions you hold at the same time, in addition to being a PhD candidate, which is something all the PhD candidates I know seem to do. Why is it necessary?

I gradually found that I was more productive with my PhD work when I combined it with teaching, charity and consultancy opportunities. A PhD is a very intense and extended piece of work, and with over three years to do it, can be quite isolating. Taking part in other projects or teaching has been a way for me to connect with other things beyond my own work and make sure I don’t become too narrow minded.

You studied psychology and social research. How do you use these in your career?

At the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy my degree in Psychology; however in hindsight I can see that having both a quantitative and qualitative expertise is useful. Having a research background generally is very helpful when working in any area of policy because it helps you to assess the evidence upon which conclusions are based.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?

I like to be involved in lots of different projects and activities at the time, so often my biggest challenge is learning to say no and focus on what is already in front of me.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I was proud to be part of the 2014 NATO Future Leaders delegation and was especially proud to present my research at the summit. I conducted my research in South Wales, near where the NATO summit took place. This meant that it felt quite profound for me to share some of the young refugees’ stories of fleeing conflict at NATO, only 15 minutes away from where I had first heard those stories.

I am also proud to have been on the @FabianWomen and @WomenofWales mentoring schemes, as they have been gateways to meeting amazing women and being in inspiring places.

Do you have a role model and if so who and why?

I look up to women who use their positions in public life to advocate for the rights and voices of others – examples include Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and Jude Kelly, Director of the Southbank Centre and founder of Women of the World festival (WOW).

It was also a great privilege to meet the young people in my research, who have all shown courage and determination to have a more secure and rights respecting life.

Hannah Iqbal - International Development Consultant and Doctoral Researcher

Six years' experience

CV in brief:

Education: PhD in Social Policy (Forced Migration); MSc in Social Research; BSc in Psychology, both at Cardiff University

Previous workplaces: the Welsh GovernmentWEA WalesVision for a NationWomen of the World Festival; Myanmar Refugee Project

Find her online

Twitter: @HannahRiqbal

The Fabian Women Mentoring Programme

The Women in Public Life Development Scheme