Noorin Nazari MIDP '07 is the speaker at the Sanford graduate ceremony on May 12.
When the Taliban came to power in 1996 in Afghanistan, Noorin Nazari MIDP ’07 was unable to continue her schooling – simply because she was a woman. Believing in the power of education, she pivoted to support an underground elementary school for girls.
She and her family were forced to flee to Pakistan and then to Canada, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management from Carleton University in 2004.
“I returned to Afghanistan after my undergraduate degree and was excited to bring change. Soon after, I realized I could benefit from a more nuanced program. I still had policy questions. I applied to Duke and was accepted,” she said.
In 2007, she graduated with her Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) degree. She recalls her three years at Duke as a second home and that her degree took her to another level professionally.
“When I graduated from Duke, I realized my degree would open doors in my native country and anywhere in the world,” she said.
She again returned to Afghanistan and began international work using new skills with her advanced policy degree.
When the Taliban again took over Afghanistan in 2021, Nazari was heartbroken.
“I left Afghanistan when the Taliban came to power before in 1996. Right now, I am reliving that experience on a daily basis. I know what it feels like for those living there. Today, 50% of the people are not allowed to go to school, not allowed to use public spaces, not allowed to travel, not allowed to work. And the other half is oppressed, without freedom of speech,” she said.
The power of policy
For Nazari, policy has been critical in preparing for an unexpected world. Her life journey has shown her the power of policy.
“At a very personal level, I know policy is crucial – because of the absence of it living through civil war in Afghanistan. When I migrated to Canada, I knew that in order for society to be harmonious, that policy is important,” she said.
The pandemic has been another lesson in the importance of policy to create a better world, Nazari said.
“We have all experienced COVID – and we have all learned that our world is extremely unexpected and that policy is critical. There have been many other events that were unanticipated or that we did not connect to policy, like the changes over time to our daily lives due to climate change,” she said.
Since graduating from Duke, Nazari has worked internationally on governance, gender equality, education, and program management and evaluation projects. Nazari currently works for Global Affairs Canada.
“Being from a society where women do not have equal rights as men, where there is oppression, where I have lost family to conflict, I have lost years. But on the other hand, my experience gave me the tools, maturity, realizations and knowledge that I would not have had otherwise,” she said. “That experience is a landmark of my success. I was able to start from scratch and build on this with patience in my life.”
Advice for graduates
Nazari has three pieces of advice for Sanford graduates to navigate our unexpected world and make it better.
First, policy should be interdisciplinary.
“Different aspects of policy are interrelated. Security is connected to education. If you are in health policy, that is interrelated to safety and security. If you are an economic expert, this is related to gender equality. We should act in an interdisciplinary fashion and broaden the scope of action,” Nazari said.
Second, policy should be collaborative.
Only by working together can we bring change in our world, and Nazari acknowledges this collaboration is not easy – but it is necessary.
“We are living in a rapidly changing world. We need to constantly change our perspective and understanding. We need to bring ours but also others’ experiences to create a harmonious environment. This can’t be achieved individually. We have to nurture collaboration consciously,” she said.
Third, policy needs to be inclusive – with understanding and respect for others.
“Policy is still a realm that is monopolized by elites – racial, gender, cultural and technical elitism. As a person of color, a woman, someone who has crossed boundaries, as an immigrant, I know that diversity, equity and inclusion in policy is critical,” she said.
Nazari credits her Duke degree as a highlight in her personal and professional life.
“I have had the ability to materialize what I learned in my MIDP professional studies at Duke. As a student, I had an opportunity to take pragmatic courses. More than 12 years later, I have been able to see where the skills were used. My degree benefited me to not only achieve dreams, but to help others,” she said. “I was fortunate that my courses were taken with other international students; their perspectives enriched me.”
She is building on her life experiences every day. Nazari has published on the relationship between education and state-building in conflict-affected societies. Her recently published book chapter (Springer 2022) on the civic education textbooks of Afghanistan examines the multiple and intersecting roles of public-school textbooks in peacebuilding. In 2016, she started her doctorate at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Her thesis topic: nationalism and citizenship education, propelled by a lifetime of experiences that she hopes will help to build a better world for others.
“I have become a strong believer that life is about continually learning. Learning can be in any form; I chose to do a PhD program. It is really important for every person to have beliefs and values that guide them. For me, I believe in education,” she said.
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