Mariam Khan

Communications Manager | The Population Council

CV in brief:     Education:   Georgetown University  |  School of Oriental and African Studies, U. of London    Career so far:   United Nations Foundation  | Georgetown University |  USAID  |  M+R Strategic Services  |  AGHS Legal Aid Cell    Find Mariam online:   LinkedIn  |  Twitter    Exclusive interview by Lucie Goulet, December 2016

CV in brief:

Education: Georgetown UniversitySchool of Oriental and African Studies, U. of London

Career so far: United Nations Foundation | Georgetown University | USAID | M+R Strategic Services | AGHS Legal Aid Cell

Find Mariam online: LinkedIn | Twitter

Exclusive interview by Lucie Goulet, December 2016

What do you do at the Population Council?

I am a Communications Manager in our Office of Strategic Communications. I'm working on communications for issue including HIV/AIDS, poverty, gender, youth, and reproductive health.

I previously worked at the United Nations Foundation in communications on global health campaigns. I moved to New York recently and I was looking for new opportunities in a research-type organization. That's what I found here at the Population Council.

What does the United Nations Foundation do?

It advocates on behalf of the United Nations goals. It is a separate entity founded by Ted Turner. The Foundation is split into different issue areas and campaigns. They advocate on behalf of those issue areas.

For example, I worked on the malaria program, which worked closely with UNHCR in distributing bed nets. We did fundraising, advocacy and communication around those issue on behalf of the UN.

How did you get your job there?

I had been working in Washington, D.C. at Georgetown University, where I graduated from, and was looking for a more permanent position. Applying for the UN Foundation took a while. I found the job online and reached out to people who worked at the UN Foundation. Talking to them and learning more about the Foundation helped my process into the organization.

Why did you want to work in international development?

I knew going from high school to college that I wanted to do something in international affairs. My mom is Iranian and my dad is Pakistani. They came to the U.S. a while ago, but I've always had footing in three cultures. I wanted to do something in global affairs, work abroad and learn about these countries that I had been studying in college. I didn't know specifically that I wanted to do communications, but it was a good fit for me because I enjoy writing and storytelling. In meshing those two worlds, I ended up at the UN Foundation. It was a great opportunity and solidified my passion in international development.

How has being a Muslim woman of color influenced your experience of working in foreign affairs?

Being a Muslim woman of color is unique. It's made my experience unique in this field. It is really important for me to use my place to be a voice for the people that we're working for.

Oftentimes, working in international development in places like New York and London, we don't see first-hand the impact of our work. Having family in both of Iran and Pakistan has made me want to work more closely with the people that we're serving. I don’t just want to think in terms of policy, program and intervention. I also want to look at what the people need, what they are saying, what helps them, and not be siloed in our approaches to thinking of the best program and the best communication from our standpoint in the United States.

Why would your advice be to young women like you coming from a multicultural background, who wants to go into foreign policy?

Learn about where your family comes from and understand the path that brought them where they are now and why that is. Being multicultural makes the job easier in understanding other cultures, but it can be tricky.

Growing up in New York, I felt connected to my roots, but I also feel strongly American. Use your awareness of other cultures to make other people aware. Often people don’t realize the nuances of certain cultures, countries or backgrounds. We have a responsibility to show others what it is really like outside the lens of the news that we get in the U.S.

How do you feel about the next four years?

It's definitely been surprising. Working in international development, there are a lot of unanswered questions. We want to ensure that the issues that we care about are still at the top of the agenda for the United States. International development organizations are waiting on answers and hoping that we can use these four years to advocate for the issues that really matter to the United States and the world. We want to continue the progress that we’ve made, particularly in global health and development.

As an individual, I want to ensure that I'm more active. Being a Muslim American of color and a woman gives me a unique opportunity to speak for a community that might be targeted. I want to be an active participant in everyday life, more so than I have been.

What's the most useful thing you've learned?

Ask people for help and advice, which people starting out in their career are hesitant to do. They don't feel comfortable reaching out to people they don't know. I encourage you to reach out to people who work at organizations that you want to be a part of. Sit down with them and get their advice.

What was studying at Georgetown like?

I loved it. I grew up in New York and at first I wanted to stay there. After some convincing, particularly from my parents, to explore a different city, I ended up in the School of Foreign Service. It was perfect for me because I wanted to get into international development and there was a huge focus on culture, language, foreign affairs and political science. Those were the things I wanted to learn more about. Georgetown gave me an opportunity to really focus my studies on that aspect of a liberal arts education. Having the specialization at the School of Foreign Service helped me hone in and understand the nuances of all of these issues that we're working on.

Did you consider doing a Master's degree?

It's definitely something that I've been thinking about and I’m hoping to pursue in the next couple of years. I graduated in 2010 and I wanted to get some work experience first, and then come back and be able to use that in the next step of my education. I've been struggling with how I can best use education to benefit my career in communications as I want to continue to do communications for global health and development.

I would like to pursue a general international relations, global health and development degree, rather than a communications degree, to have a better understanding of the issues.

Having a Master’s degree is very valuable, especially in foreign affairs and global health. I'm in a unique situation in communications where it's less needed. Communications is a lot of doing, practice and writing exercises. Communication skills is something I learned as an undergraduate. The best route for me would be to be both working and pursuing a Master's degree at the same time.