Farzana Karim-Haji is the Associate Provost at Aga Khan University, Pakistan’s first private university, and an international education expert, Global Development, among many other things.
Farzana has spent nearly 20 years focused on the development of Aga Khan University’s international projects. She has plenty of advice to offer about the benefits of an interdisciplinary background, transferable skills, and good educational projects.
Aga Khan has international projects around the world, including in Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. But that’s not where Farzana got her start in international work. She was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived until moving to the United States, where she ultimately studied.
Before joining Aga Khan university, she worked at the United Nations Development Program in New York. At the UN she was a policy specialist on international development issues. And today, she’s based in Vancouver, Canada.
She sat down with Johanna and Paul on a recent episode of The Intern Group’s podcast How to be the Difference. You can listen to the full episode here.
On Being a Generalist
One of Farzana’s first pieces of advice for students and young professionals is to try many different things. That includes courses, hobbies, and more.
“You could love something and end up making it your career, but if you don’t try it you’ll never know,” she explains.
That advice comes directly from Farzana’s own experience. She’s a self-described “generalist”, who despite being on track to go to medical school and become a doctor, fell in love with anthropology, and eventually wound up working in international programs.
“For all of the people who tell you that you need to be a specialist – I took a different path.”
Farzana’s studies in international development allowed her to be very creative in her work. At the United Nations she moved between projects in different areas, bringing transferable skills with her.
“For all of these young people who have a liberal arts background – It was the best thing I ever did.”
The Importance of International Experience
Farzana knows better than just about everyone the impact of international experience. She has lived, studied, and worked all around the world. Now, she’s dedicated her career to ensuring other students and young professionals have that access.
The skill set you develop through that international experience are incredibly relevant in today’s world, Farzana said. And that experience can come in many different forms, including international research, studying abroad, international internships, and taking courses about cultures, languages, and countries.
With the popularity of the remote or hybrid model in today’s academic and professional institutions, getting that international experience is much more accessible. For students and professionals from the “global south,” global experience can still be a reality, despite lower levels of access. Those with families or other responsibilities can gain equally valuable experience remotely.
And that’s how she plans to focus her career moving forward. She’ll focus on bridging the access gap.