Halimatou Hima MPP 2014 is passionate about improving education for children, in particular those who have experienced conflict. For her ability to create positive change, including with multilateral groups such as the U.N. Security Council and by shaping the global agenda on education in crisis settings, the HKS Alumni Board selected her to receive the 2023 Emerging Global Leader Award.
Hima learned the value of education from her family, especially her great-grandmother. “One lesson from her that I carry with me everywhere I go, is to search for ilimi,” she says. Hima notes that ilimi means “knowledge” in Hausa, the most widely spoken language in West Africa. But her great-grandmother added a key element to the concept: “She explained it to me as the harmonious combination of knowledge, humility, and purpose.”
This sense of purpose led Hima to become, at age 15, the first president of the Youth Parliament of her home country of Niger. She says it was a challenging experience. “We faced threats from some of the voices that didn’t really agree with some of the work that we did,” she says. “Yet as we engaged with communities, it became very clear to me that we have to be able to create unlikely alliances [among] people who might not necessarily sit together. And even people who may initially appear hostile need to be part of the discussion if we are to really create meaningful discourse.”
Her ability to negotiate among people with diverse viewpoints was essential when she served as an expert counselor at the United Nations in 2020–2021, during Niger’s tenure as a member of the Security Council. Amid the global pandemic, Hima successfully shepherded Resolution 2601 through the Security Council—the first-ever U.N. resolution to assert the right of children to education during armed conflict. Ninety-nine nations cosponsored the resolution—a number surpassed only by the 130 nations that cosponsored a 2014 resolution on the Ebola outbreak.
“At its core, this resolution states what should be self-evident—that in armed-conflict situations, education is as essential to children as water and food,” says Hima. “It is not and should not be an afterthought or something to do when things get better. Education can be the light that carries children through the darkness of conflict. Education allows children to find a sense of normality.”
Violent conflict has a significant impact on large numbers of children. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack estimates that from 2015 to 2019, nearly 22,000 students and teachers were killed or injured, with tens of thousands more prevented from being in school—and more than 222 million children around the world have had their education affected by conflict and humanitarian crises. Given how important education is to economic development, says Hima, violence today affects entire regions for years into the future. “When children and young people no longer learn, the very foundations needed to rebuild strong societies and economies are compromised. It is therefore not surprising that some of the poorest countries today are countries facing fragility or conflict.”
Hima takes a special interest in the education of girls. “In armed-conflict situations, girls face heightened vulnerability, and schools often fail girls,” she says. “They are more likely to be out of school, less likely to return after school closure, and less likely to complete secondary school. Sometimes schools do not have proper sanitation and wash facilities, so adolescent girls can easily drop out. Yet to many children in forced displacement, the ability to continue learning can be a reminder that a better tomorrow is possible, and for girls, education can give a sense of possibilities.”
For the past few years, Hima has served as an ambassador of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF), an organization dedicated to making Africa a global hub for science, research, and technology. She organizes Science Week in Niger, part of NEF’s continent-wide effort to encourage young people—especially women, who are underrepresented in science and research—to explore opportunities in STEM and to see that science is within their reach. “During the first two editions,” she says, “in 2018 and 2019, over 3,000 children from public schools joined a weeklong ‘science village,’ where they had the opportunity to experience science firsthand in tangible—and for some, magical—ways.”
Today, Hima is a senior fragility specialist covering coastal West Africa at the World Bank, a position that allows her to use the skills she learned not just at the Kennedy School but also at the University of Cambridge, where she earned a PhD at the Centre of Development Studies. Carl Manlan MC/MPA 2012, a former member of the HKS Alumni Board who nominated Hima for the Emerging Global Leader Award, says, “Halimatou is an exceptional individual who believes that success does not come at the expense of others.” Her selfless devotion to improving lives through education has made a difference for countless children—and will continue to do so for many years to come.
Photography provided by Halimatou Hima.