By Nasif Khan MC/MPA 2024

From the world’s top NGO to the foremost policy school

Nasif Khan standing in front of HKS building and a flowering treeAs my wife and I prepared to welcome our firstborn, I found myself reassessing my ‘why’ in life. Working for BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, was no easy feat. I struggled to find balance between my demanding job as the Chief of Staff and Head of Strategic Partnerships and my family responsibilities.

It was my wife, Nawrin, who suggested I pursue a master’s degree to pause to re-evaluate my priorities—an idea I had been postponing since I completed my undergraduate degree in 2011. It may sound cliché, but I chose HKS because I believed that I should go from the world’s top NGO to the world’s top policy school. HKS seemed like the best opportunity to further my career in global development.

Focusing on learning

Without realizing it at the time, I came to Harvard with an inflated ego, ready to spend the year more focused on networking than learning. Initially, I didn’t realize this mindset would be a barrier to my personal and professional growth. Luckily, Professor Ronald Heifetz helped change my perspective. During a session with MC/MPA students at the beginning of our program, Professor Heifetz advised us to set aside our egos and invest a year in learning—this advice changed my course of action at HKS. From then on, I focused on exploring areas outside my comfort zone in the pursuit of truth and wisdom. 

A buffet of courses for aspiring global policymakers

HKS has enriched my understanding of the complexities of the challenges facing the world today. I love that HKS offers a plethora of courses, covering all areas of policymaking . 

My classes with Professors Farayi Chipungu, Ronald Heifetz, Marshall Ganz, and Christopher Robichaud were intellectually stimulating and challenged my understanding of leadership. I learned a great deal about climate change and energy transition from Professors Rebecca Henderson and Meghan O’Sullivan. From Professor Iris Bohnet, I learned how biases play a critical role in decision-making and how we can use behavioral science to make the world more inclusive and equitable. 

In addition to my coursework, I attended seminars, talks, and study groups on international affairs, AI and emerging technologies, women and empowerment, policymaking, and intelligence to further my learning. 

Engaging in difficult conversations

Throughout my year at HKS, students were often encouraged to seek the full story rather than settling for a single narrative. Professor Tarek Masoud demonstrated what it takes to have difficult conversations by hosting the Middle East Dialogues series to examine the Israel-Palestine conflict from multiple perspectives. The University-wide initiatives to hold difficult conversations showed me how to use an existing crisis as a learning moment to seek truth and wisdom through inquiry and engagement. 

My advice to newly admitted students

Use this as an opportunity to ground yourself. I have learned that the pursuit of truth and wisdom is a lifelong journey, often requiring collaboration with others who hold different perspectives. I hope to continue this pursuit in the field of international development after my graduation.

I don’t take this opportunity for granted, and I hope that the newly admitted students won’t either. Let us strive to uphold the motto of our university: veritas. 

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