#CareerSpotlight: Jihane Bergaoui, consultant for the World Bank
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to move to a new city where you don’t know anyone? Or what it would be like to work as an international development specialist for the World Bank? Or, maybe you’re like me and just want to learn more about the skills necessary to work as an international development specialist in the Middle East.
We are always curious to hear the stories of women taking risks to follow their dreams and passions. With our “Career Spotlight” series, we take a glance into the lives of dynamic and pioneering women who are impacting the world positively, in many extraordinary ways.
How long have you been living in Beirut?
I have lived in Beirut for 3 months.
What's the best thing about your city?
The best thing about Beirut is its people. The Lebanese people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I have ever met. They are so warm and always willing to lend a helping hand. It has made transitioning to a new city that much easier.
What is your profession?
I am a consultant for the World Bank working as a regional project coordinator for a project to prepare social safety nets for energy subsidy reform in various countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The countries I cover are: Algeria, Djibouti, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
What does an average day look like?
As a consultant, there is no such thing as an average day. My workload varies based on the day-to-day needs of the projects I am working on, as well as the internal and external demands of the World Bank. My tasks also vary between technical and programmatic. Technical tasks may include anything from drafting country case studies of lessons learned from the implementation of energy subsidy reform or the expansion of social protection programs, to analyzing data and summarizing it into a format that can easily disseminated, to implementing knowledge exchange events and trainings on how to prepare social safety nets for subsidy reform for Government Counterparts from across the Middle East and North Africa region. On the programmatic side, my tasks include overseeing our project’s budget, drafting contracts, interviewing consultants, and creating project reports.
The variety in my day-to-day schedule is the best part about consulting because it has allowed me to gain a vast array of diverse skills. It also allows me to focus on other side projects on days that are less busy, such as improving my Arabic, volunteering for Amnesty International as the Country Specialist for Morocco and the Western Sahara, or consulting for other organizations.
The most exciting experience you’ve had in your career?
Getting to lead a task force of officials to draft a chapter of Jordan’s Response Plan for the Syria Crisis 2016-2018. I was only an intern at UNDP Jordan at the time, and to have been given so much responsibility to create a document a document that would be used to help the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees residing in Jordan was a really exciting opportunity.
What is the biggest career risk you have taken?
Leaving the traditional Washington, D.C. World Bank career track to relocate to our country office in Beirut, Lebanon is the biggest risk I have taken so far in my very limited career. Moving to a country in which I didn’t know anyone and that I had only visited once before was not an easy decision to make. However, as an international development professional, I highly value field experience, especially when working on a region as challenging and dynamic as the Middle East and North Africa.
While typical World Bank staff positions do require an extensive amount of time being on mission, I do believe that living and working in the field for an extended amount of time is a much richer learning experience. I wanted to understand the challenges the region faces from the perspective of the people living there, and not just from the perspective of policy makers in Western capitals. I believe that this will eventually serve to make me a much better informed international development professional, and that my experience here will help me to design projects that are in line with what affected communities desire.
What has been the most challenging experience?
I am a native Arabic language speaker, however after 15 years of living in the United States, I had completely forgotten the language. Knowing that it would be extremely difficult for me to have a position working on the MENA region without knowing Arabic, I decided to relearn the language during my time at Georgetown University. Arabic is one of the most difficult languages to learn and balancing my Arabic classes with graduate school and work later on can be challenging, but it has certainly opened up many more opportunities that I would have been able to have otherwise.
What is your main goal for 2018?
I am based within the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice of the World Bank. My main goal for 2018 is to expand my Social Protection portfolio beyond energy subsidy reform.
What daily habit has been key to your success?
Keeping my goals and dreams in mind each and every day. It helps me stay focused on my long-term goals, especially during periods of hectic transition.
Where was the last place you traveled to?
The last place I traveled to was South Africa. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited and my first time on safari. After seeing animals in the wild in the world famous Kruger Park, I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy going to a zoo as much again.
What are the top 3 things you always travel with?
Ear plugs (I’m a very light sleeper), a Lonely Planet guidebook to my destination, and gym clothes.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
Washington, D.C. I loved every moment of living in DC for the past four years, and it still feels like home.
What's your secret to success?
The opportunity will not always present itself, sometimes we have to create our own. After applying for World Bank positions based in the MENA region for the past year to no avail, I decided to fund my own move to Beirut, with the blessing of my team. My decision paid off within a month of me being here. Because I am already in the field, it costs much less for me to participate in missions than it would have if I was still located in Washington, DC, thereby allowing me to participate in missions much more frequently.
Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you will still land among the stars.
Who inspires you?
Since I was a little girl, I have always been inspired by women who have defied the limited gender expectations set upon them to reach positions of power or success in their fields. My first books were about women who changed the world. Whether they were ancient female pharaohs like Hatshepsut, or modern trailblazing politicians such as Hillary Clinton, or sports world champions such as Serena Williams, or humanitarians such as Malala Yousafzai, their stories inspire me to reach my full potential regardless of societal limitations.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
When dealing with impostor syndrome, channel a mediocre white man, because they never seem to question why they have a seat at the table.
What do women bring to positions of power?
When women are in positions of power, they are able to not only provide a different perspective unique to their experience as a woman, but to also advocate for issues that are valued by half of the population but that are often ignored such as women’s rights, sexual and reproductive justice, closing the wage gap, etc. In addition, the symbolism of having more women in such positions is also extremely important because it results in changing societal expectation of what women should and can achieve. This is why projects that highlight women’s achievements like “Women on the Map” are so important.
What are your favorite books on women’s empowerment?
Non-fiction: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Fiction: The Power by Naomi Alderman
What advice do you have for young women aspiring to work in international development?
Move to the field and don’t be afraid to do so. It sounds much scarier than it actually is, and will only make you a better informed and more compassionate international development professional. Also, learn another language.
The core of this year’s theme, “Leave No One Behind – End Violence against Women”, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 and UNiTE Campaign’s observance of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women (25 November – 10 December), is the importance to support those who are particularly vulnerable.
What action can be taken to eliminate violence against women?
Advocating for legislation that protects women from violence and that adequately punishes perpetrators. However, even in countries that do have such legislation, it’s important to keep governments in check to ensure that these laws are applied effectively. In addition, women must also feel safe enough to report gender-based violence. Solutions such as special units within police precincts that are staffed with female police officers who are trained to assist victims of gender-based violence, as well as special medical units within hospitals whose staff are trained to collect sexual assault forensic evidence and provide medical and psychological assistance to victims are great ways to increase the likelihood that victims report crimes of gender-based violence.