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“I just hope people won’t use Iraq as a way of settling scores,” says Nesreen Siddeek Berwari-AlYawar, who earned a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School in 1999. “We need the international community to unite behind us.”
Nesreen speaks with passion and vision as she talks of the current negotiations that will lay the foundation for the future of her country. As Minister of Municipalities and Public Works in the Interim Government and now a newly elected member of the General Assembly, she is playing a central role in building that foundation; and she brings to the task the influence of her Kennedy School education.
“Every person, every experience influenced me. It’s still with me. I use methods I learned. The way I think, see the world, and solve problems were all influenced by my time at KSG,” she says.
January 30 was “Liberation Day” in Iraq, according to Nesreen. The country surprised the world as people defied the insurgents, turning out to vote in numbers far greater than expected. “It was about taking charge of one’s life and taking part in shaping the future.”
“Reinvigorate, Reform, Rebuild” has been Nesreen’s motto as the Interim Government’s Minister of Municipalities and Public Works. Iraq’s largest ministry—42,000 employees in 275 offices spread across the country—was suffering from 35 years of neglect. With the country in chaos, the difficulties have been enormous, with neither the money nor the structure to solve all problems immediately. Inside the Ministry, Nesreen has introduced innovations, such as teamwork, creativity, diversification of resources, and devolution of power to lower layers of the organization, even including the community.
Her current challenges draw heavily upon her training at the Kennedy School. Nesreen was Minister of Reconstruction and Development in the Kurdistan Regional Government when she recognized the need for more skills. The Kennedy School, she said, offered the most comprehensive training, one that would give her the tools to solve problems in a complex situation.
Her leadership has attracted attention beyond the borders of her country. In 2003 she received the U.N.-Habitat Scroll of Honour for her work in Kurdistan. Last year, 2004, the Arab League named her one of ten most distinguished women from the Arab world. This year, the World Economic Forum chose her for its Forum of Young Global Leaders.
Nesreen’s is a story of transcendence, of paths taken and choices made that led her toward power instead of destruction. In the process she has gained the grace, inspiration, and skills to speak with authority as she and her fellow Iraqis struggle through the hard work of creating a new country and a new future.