Rizwan Bajwa: Governance on the humanitarian front lines

Rizwan Bajwa, MPP Class of 2007

Rizwan spent the last four years organising school feeding and education programmes in war-torn Syria and Iraq.

Along with a handful of colleagues from the United Nations, Rizwan Bajwa spent the last four years organising school feeding and education programmes for the World Food Programme (WFP) in war-torn Syria and Iraq.

In Aleppo, where transporting supplies became nearly impossible in late 2016, the Pakistani native worked with colleagues to organise a kitchen that relied on whatever local economy existed. The kitchen employed women, who had become the breadwinners and heads of households, to make food for schoolchildren. In Homs, he supported a voucher incentive project that paid families in groceries so their kids could make up school they had missed. In 2017, he moved to Iraq to assist people displaced by war, who were forced to cross the desert to reach camps and informal settlements.

Rizwan was a member of the first Hertie School Master of Public Policy (MPP) class, graduating over a decade ago in 2007. “At Hertie, my faculty advisors taught me to proceed logically, think analytically, establish a needs analysis, establish a situation analysis, get your sources, get your references right, identify the gap and how to fill this. These are basically the first steps of programme design, which is what I do now professionally.”

In developing programmes, Rizwan helps build governance capacities at the local, provincial, and national levels. Institutions that enable good governance are the pillar upon which these programmes are built, he says. Registering the displaced, identifying the needy, getting help from the police and locating NGO partners are much easier when tried-and-tested structures are available, even in emergency situations.

He and his colleagues frequently have to negotiate for access – to authorities, to places, to schools or for supplies. He often finds himself reaching into the toolbox he acquired in the MPP programme. “The soft skills we developed in seminars with professionals, like networking and negotiating, these come in very handy at the field level where there are no set rules and no set structures,” said Rizwan. “You basically have to work with local representatives and local partners, with community movers and shakers. At Hertie, we had very good negotiation simulations – both business and conflict resolution. I keep thinking about those exercises, and it helps me understand various actors’ positions: who’s in it for what. There are some basic ground rules that exist no matter where you are.”

Field work was not something Rizwan Bajwa realised he wanted to do until he found himself sitting behind a desk after graduation. “When I graduated, I was sure I wanted to work in policymaking – for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank or the IMF,” he said. Rizwan spent a couple of years at the ADB before joining WFP. For those who want hands-on experience in the field, he says, the best way to start out is to build up some technical expertise locally, working on projects right at home, or raising your hand when there is a crisis. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but that is when people are needed quickly.”