Career Spotlight Series V: Yousra Abdelrahman Analyst at the World Bank & International Development
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
The Career Spotlight series aims to shine a light on people from a range of different academic backgrounds and career pathways beyond the less traditional ones to inform, inspire and empower others to explore their own interests and talents. I’m constantly inspired by so many people around me who have taken the leap, challenged the status quo and pursued their passion which in some instances is different to what they studied at university. So, I’m hoping I can share their own accounts and stories to help you on your journey. To find out more about what inspired this, check out the launch blog here.
The fifth guest featured on the Career Spotlight blog series is Yousra Mohamed Abdelrahman. I came across her LinkedIn profile a few months ago and we arranged a video call and have connected a lot since. I was so inspired by her career journey, she studied Zoology, worked for Emirates Airlines, the UN and now works for the World Bank as a Program Analyst in the Urban, Resilience and Land unit, in the Sustainable Development Department. She shares so many lessons and insights which will hopefully benefit and resonate with many others who are considering a career shift or pursuing a career in International Development. The key recurring theme and takeaway for me from hearing about her career journey was don't settle and keep working hard towards creating the right opportunities for you.
Before we start with your career journey- what fuelled your career path? And what motivates you?
You can build a successful career in any field; the key ingredient is to find something you are passionate about and pursue it.
As Steve Jobs said ‘’the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle’’. That is what I did – I didn’t settle, I chose a career very different from my undergraduate college degree.
After I started working, I discovered that I have a passion for International Development and working in motivating settings and entities that facilitates the growth of their staff and fosters knowledge sharing.
How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey and what you do currently.
I graduated with a BSC in Zoology & Chemistry from Khartoum University. After graduation, I worked in different positions in the Emirates Airlines, the UN and the World Bank. Fast forward - I now work as an Analyst in the World Bank (WB) Headquarters in Washington DC, and…. I ENJOY my work!
Now, let me backtrack to the beginning. After graduation, it was clear to me, even though I genuinely admire Science and Biology and its essence to humanity - I was not particularly passionate about pursuing a career in the scientific research field. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to continue further postgraduate studies in the field. Coincidentally, at the time, Emirates Airlines had advertised a number of positions which appealed to me. I applied and was selected as a customer services representative. A key factor which led to my selection, was my fluency in the English Language, as well as my diplomatic responses during the interviews. I worked there briefly before applying for a position in the Travel Unit of the UN, which I qualified for, given my stint in the airline business, and I got the job. That was when I discovered my true career passion!
Later, I enrolled in studying International Relations and followed it up by completing an MBA in Project Management. Luckily, those two degree programs at the University of Garden City and Khartoum University, were customized to accommodate working professionals and I was still able to work full time. While doing my postgraduate studies, I applied for a position at the World Bank in Khartoum and was selected. I did a range of tasks reporting to the Country Manager, that included project and portfolio management support; office management and supervision of admin staff. During that tenure, I received a number of awards, including an award from the Vice President for my knowledge of the World Bank Trust Fund Management, the World Bank Human Resources Rules, and my leadership skills.
Few years after – I was given an opportunity to move to the World Bank HQ in Washington, initially for an extended on-the-job learning assignment in a regional Development Effectiveness Unit. I was trained on portfolio analytics and monitoring & evaluation tasks. Subsequently, I was offered a permanent position in another unit in the World Bank in Washington.
Again, I didn’t settle – I knew I wanted to work full time on an Analyst position, so I decided to work hard to create my own opportunities. I truly believe that opportunities don't happen, you create them, and I am destined to have the career I work hard for and decide on.
I started taking a number of cross support opportunities and stretch assignments with different teams. I kept applying and moving within the World Bank. I was fortunate to work in key Vice Presidents’ offices – and I was able to get those interesting positions by always having a focus on my career- choosing carefully the kind of tasks that I take on voluntarily. I brainstormed regularly with colleagues who were in the World Bank longer than me and some who were in senior leadership positions to learn from their experiences.
I never shied away from tasks with high visibility and exposure. I sought to build a strong reputation highlighting my solid experience and knowledge of the World Bank's operational policies and procedures. That eventually led me to my current ‘Analyst' position at the World Bank.
Among other tasks, I provide guidance to my teams on relevant operational policies, perform regular analytics on our portfolio performance, review and coordinate our teams’ progress towards fulfilling our corporate commitments in terms of including and collecting data on certain corporate results indicators.
What do you love most about your job?
I enjoy working in the World Bank, because it provides an environment of continuous learning, and experiences from across the globe. I get the chance to work side by side with top notch experts in a conglomerate of sectors and fields. I like reviewing projects to track results on the ground using Monitoring and Evaluation matrices, to assess the real change and impact on the lives of many people, as a result of the project under review.
How has COVID-19 impacted your role?
It's amazing how we were able to continue working seamlessly in the era of COVID-19. The World Bank already had the infrastructure to remotely connect teams across the globe - given its geographical scope and the extensive spread of its country offices. We have regular video conferences and meetings, we can connect to literally every World Bank database and system from our homes. Even projects’ supervision is now done remotely in many occasions using drones and different geospatial technologies. For some of us – we are even more busy working from home, given that the World Bank is heavily invested in supporting countries, with a dedication to help in the fight against this global pandemic.
What’s your advice for someone interested in pursuing a similar career path?
To the younger generations, starting their career journey, my advice is: Think outside the box - don’t limit your career options. Find your passion and always invest in learning languages, pursue post graduate studies and hone a set of fungible skills.
To pursue a career in international organizations, it is useful to have a degree in economics or to at least include modules in economics, international relations, political economy or similar studies as part of any other degree courses. Another fundamental advice given to me by my father, is to spend time sifting through the unit databases and to read files, reports and diverse program and project briefs. That way, I will understand the business, and the history of challenges faced by the unit and how they were overcome. My father is a retired ‘banking veteran’ if I may say. He told me that at the beginning of his career, whenever he assumed a new position as a branch manager - he used to close his office for at least half day on daily basis throughout his first month (or as much as it takes) just to read through reports on every single intervention, partnership or group of transactions handled by his new branch. To me, this was the jewel advice that I treasure and follow religiously till today, it gave depth to my understanding of my new roles. So read, read, read.
Finally, as you plan your career, think of the famous quotation: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination’’.
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