“Value data-driven research, stay open to collaboration and place the long-term needs of beneficiaries at center.”
Earlier this year, I completed a four-month research internship on refugee education at the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education [AGFE]. The internship was in-line with my master’s at the University of Cambridge and was driven by my strong interest in pursuing a career as a researcher of forced displacement and migration, My experience at AGFE taught me three key things about working in the non-profit sector and serving vulnerable populations.
Firstly, I discovered the value of data driven research to both education and philanthropy within the Arab region and beyond. Organizations such as AGFE provide young professionals with a chance to interact with a plethora of well-informed people to better understand the numbers and on-the-ground research that has been done to support the most vulnerable populations in different contexts. My contribution to these projects mostly encompassed conducting background research on the intersection between refugee education and employment in Jordan and Lebanon, which exposed me to how complex the field is and how important it is to study and understand the local context when developing refugee and education-related initiatives.
Secondly, I learned that research should bring together multiple perspectives and encourage cross-sectional solutions. Put simply, solutions to complex problems have to be layered. Whilst preparing to launch a new initiative at AGFE, I had the chance to witness, first-hand, how critical collaboration is between different stakeholders in identifying gaps on the ground. I met young and inspiring professionals in the Arab world who represent local voices of change and I spoke to US-based researchers about stakeholders that shape the direction of refugee education. I realized that although organizations are doing important work on the ground, joint projects, especially research projects like those facilitated by AGFE, would foster a cohesive voice and have a greater impact in the region.
Thirdly, I recognized the importance of building holistic models to address the needs of refugees and other vulnerable populations that put them at the center of the program. A successful program is not one that is focused on the number of participants who completed it, but rather one that has a long-term focus on the participants’ success within and beyond the program. In my role documenting the experiences of refugees enrolled in the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars programs, I was humbled by their stories, from inspirational moments in their lives and personal experiences in the program so far and realized the importance of engaging them in the work we do.
To conclude, my advice to any aspiring or young researchers in this field is to value data driven research, to stay open to collaboration with other researchers and stakeholders, and most importantly place the long-term needs of the beneficiaries at the center of the research or programs you work on. By doing these things, you will be contributing to the implementation of sustainable projects that will not only benefit refugees and vulnerable populations, but the region as a whole.
Emina Osmandzikovic is a Researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory, based in Abu Dhabi. She is a graduate of the Master’s of Politics and International Relations program at the University of Cambridge, where her thesis focused on forced migration and integration of refugees within the European Union. She obtained a B.A. degree from New York University Abu Dhabi in 2017.