What do you do as Associate at Albany International Associates?
Albany is an Africa-focused and African-driven communications company that provides comprehensive communications campaigns and services, community outreach, media development, and communications training to intergovernmental, and other civilian and military authorities in conflict and post-conflict environments, countries in transition, and emerging democracies – in places such as DRC, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and most prominently Somalia.
I was initially employed to work on Albany's projects in Somalia and have since expanded to cover the East Africa region. My role varies significantly from day-to-day, drafting concept notes, coordinating and drafting applications for new potential projects, keeping track on financial budgets on our current projects and maintaining relationships with consultants, stakeholders as well as establishing new relationships. I particularly enjoy doing cultural outreach; an important part of my work is to maintain good relations with the Somali diasporas. I frequently meet with ambitious, bright and aware youth and inform about the progress in-country, as it is crucial to bridge the gap between the diaspora and developments.
Before joining, you completed a EU-UN Fellowship Programme. What did it entail and how did you get on it?
During my fellowship, I was located in New York and worked at the Human Rights and Social Affairs Division. Working and living in New York was a great opportunity and certainly a long-time goal. Assisting in the preparation and actual session of the 58th session of the Commission on the Statues of Women (CSW58) required many long hours working even to the early hours. But I enjoyed it because it was exciting to be a part of the negotiations and also how many people can say they did an 'all-nighter' at the United Nations. My time at the UN was definitely a fruitful experience and I gained a valuable understanding of the complex procedures of the European Union and the methods of work at the UN in general, particularly focusing on human rights, gender related issues and multilateral negotiations. My responsibilities varied from assisting in the preparations for the EU intervention in the UN Security Council session on Women, Peace and Security to drafting the EU internal position paper.
Tell us about working as a programme assistant for the Somali Economic Forum (SEF).
Somali Economic Forum (SEF) is very unique in what they do. Firstly, they are a Somali led- and- owned independent organisation, committed to improving the state of Somalia by engaging all leaders of society (from business, political and academic leaders) to form regional and industry programmes. Their focus is to create a platform to discuss national economic and financial developments; the forum has in fact been evolving dynamically to reflect the changing economic landscape in the country and the region. Organising and coordinating the annual Somalia Investment Summit in Dubai was a great opportunity to engage with stakeholders especially the private and commercial sector to encourage investment into the country. Unfortunately, the country has been in a political turmoil for the past years - and even recently with two Prime Ministers ousted - but I am optimistic for its future. What initially attracted me to work with SEF was that it focused on creating a positive narrative from Somalia with an emphasis on economic development and the resilient civil society.
You’ve also done a lot of volunteering, for instance at Womankind Worldwide and WorldUnite in Tanzania. What were those opportunities like and what did you learn from them?
For me, volunteering was always a great opportunity to explore new places, experience different cultures and meet new people. My first volunteering experience was when I was 15, at a local charity store. My sisters always used to comment that I spend most of my free time volunteering but it is such a great opportunity to identify your strengths and discover what you enjoy doing. At school you have to choose GCSEs and A-levels so early on, when many students don’t know what they want to do in the future. But volunteering is a great way to explore different sectors - my volunteer experience has ranged from prison advice centres, to hotel and tourism and women’s rights. Each opportunity teaches you something new about yourself and develops your skill set.
If you have an interest in Criminology and Security Studies, I would certainly recommend the course as BCU are among the few universities that offer the dual degree on the subject. Understanding terrorism theory, contemporary global politics, criminological research and intelligence and security were fascinating and the theories and knowledge gained has definitely become practical in understanding today’s context and challenges.
Tell us about your Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation in Venice.
The E.MA programme (European Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation) is a one-year advanced master’s course aimed at preparing professionals to respond to the operational requirements of daily work in international organisations, field operations, governmental and non-governmental bodies, and academia. The first semester was in Venice, Italy and brought together activist from across the globe. I really enjoyed interacting and studying in an international setting as it brought together ideas and stories from across the world, combined with a fruitful action and policy orientated approach to learning. The first semester included a study trip to Kosovo, which aimed to familiarise with human rights fieldwork; this experience taught me that I really want to work in that sector. I truly believe that you cannot fully grasp an understanding of a country unless you spend some time there; only then can you really implement change. During my second semester in Hamburg, Germany, I wrote my thesis on Somali Piracy at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy. I would highly recommend the EMA programme for any interested human rights students/foreign policy students, it’s truly an interdisciplinary course that explores several thematic subjects and also offers the possibility for internships and fellowships in the sector.
What are the particular barriers and advantages to being a woman in your position?
To date, my work has predominately focused on human rights and women’s rights and there are many inspiring and influential women in this sector and have provided a great opportunity to learn from these remarkable women. While I was involved in the negotiations of CSW58 (which focuses on promoting women’s rights and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women), I had an opportunity to meet and chat with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and she was incredibly down-to-earth, energised and had an optimistic outlook - she made me realise that rather then focusing on the lack of progression on women’s rights in some countries we have to remain positive and stride towards making a change, however relatively small or big change that may be. So to answer the question, I think there are many advantages to being women in my position it just identifying and tapping into those advantages rather then focusing on the barriers.
What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?
I would recommend for them to be honest with themselves on what they envision for their future and the sacrifices they are willing to make to get there. Many young people I have spoken to not be prepared to volunteer and intern for free and prefer to get a paid graduate position straight away. There is nothing wrong with wanting to kick-start your career but I would highly recommend volunteering as well as interning as it can be very beneficial in understanding which sector you would like to work in and what types of roles. I would also recommend that they identify their strengths and skills and horn into those in order to self-develop further.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
The most rewarding is the constant knowledge you gain from working in different places and gaining insight from the people you meet. Working at Albany, I have really learnt how important strategic communication is and the impact that it can have on the delivery of a project but also how it can engage all levels of society. The least rewarding aspect I would say it the financial insecurity, I have learned that despite having a great concept securing funding is always the greatest obstacle. Also working within this sector, many cool internships that I have come across have been unpaid and I haven't been able to pursue those opportunities.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I am multi-lingual (Somali, Swedish, Swahili and English, off course!). Even though I may not speak all the languages fluently, knowing different languages has certainly helped in my career and also sparked interest from future employers when browsing through thousands of CVs. Also being flexible, open-minded and having a can-do attitude has always helped me in my career. When I first worked in Tanzania, it was challenging as it was a completely different work environment from what I was used to - but being flexible and open-minded made my experience there extremely enriching.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
That even with the best intentions things does not always go to plan.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
The main challenge for me has been to overcome being shy and gain more confidence in myself. Working in this sector, you come across so many bright and impressive people and if you’re not vocal enough you fear that you will be left in the dark and miss out on opportunities. I realised that in order to self-develop and grow, I had to have more confidence in myself, and shouldn’t worry too much about speaking up and getting things wrong because how else are you expected to learn? I started practicing this whilst studying my Masters, always trying to speak up and engage in debates; also it's far easier to look silly in front of your peers!
What achievements are you most proud of?
The achievement that I am most proud of to date is having my Master thesis 'Unravelling the Puzzle of Piracy: A Somali Perspective' published as a working paper at the Centre for European Peace and Security Studies (ZEUS) and also awarded outstanding theses by the E.MA Council on the basis of their academic quality, originality, and contribution to the promotion and implementation of human rights and democratic values.
Do you have a role model and, if so, who and why?
There are many roles models that inspire me and I have been fortunate enough to work with many colleagues and people in the field that have become great role models and even mentors. If I had to name one person that I am particularly impressed by it would be Malala Yousafzai so many young people like her have so much courage for standing up for what is rights and those are the inspiring role models of them all.
Fatma Ahmed | Associate | Albany Associates
Two years' experience
CV in brief
Education: BA in Criminology and Security Studies at Birmingham City University; Advanced Master's degree in Human Rights and Democratisation at the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation
Find her online
At the United Nations
Internships and jobs at Independent Diplomat
Volunteering at Zara Charity
With Ban Ki Moon
"Working in this sector, you come across so many bright and impressive people and if you’re not vocal enough you fear that you will be left in the dark and miss out on opportunities."
In Prizren, Kosovo
"The first semester included a study trip to Kosovo, which aimed to familiarise with human rights fieldwork; this experience taught me that I really want to work in the field."
In Prizren, Kosovo
"Volunteering is a great way to explore different sectors - my volunteer experience has ranged from prison advice centres, to hotel and tourism and women’s rights. Each opportunity teaches you something new about yourself and develops your skill set."
In Pristina, Kosovo
"I had an opportunity to meet and chat with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and she was incredibly down-to-earth, energised and had an optimistic outlook - she made me realise that rather then focusing on the lack of progression on women’s rights in some countries we have to remain positive and stride towards making a change, however relatively small or big change that may be."
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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