“Aren’t we enlarged by the scale of what we are able to desire?” ~ Mark Doty
Congratulations to Varsha Thebo, who was selected as the Hillary Rodham Clinton Research Fellow. This fellowship program provides Ph.D. or master level graduates the opportunity to conduct rigorous, policy-oriented research to address key knowledge gaps in the field of women, peace and security.
Varsha is a recent graduate of the program and is from a rural area in the Sindh province of Pakistan. She received her Masters in Global Human Development with a concentration in Global Health and Project Planning and Evaluation. Varsha taught herself English and Mathematics since there were no proper schools in her area. She became the first and only recipient of the Global Leadership Scholarship from Pakistan, which allowed her to complete her bachelor’s degree and began the start of her career. Over the years, she has organized small study circles for young girls in the village. Her work was featured by Michelle Obama during her “Let Girls Learn” address in Doha in 2015.
Varsha has worked with several international organizations in various positions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Global Village Project, Katsikas Refugee Camps, The Harpswell Foundation, Deloitte and Prudential Financial, Coca-Cola and Elevate: Partners for Education. This brief overview of Varsha, not only displays her hard work and dedication but shows why she is well-deserving of this opportunity.
What or who inspired you to work in this field and how do you stay motivated?
There is absolutely no shortage of things that keeping me motivated. When I was leaving Pakistan, I knew that I was leaving with a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I had an opportunity to turn my life around, unlike a lot of young women who are still living in the rural areas of Pakistan and so many other countries with no access to basic education and healthcare. It was only a few years ago that I was also one of them. And I always remember that no matter where I go, I will always be one of them. I know that I have the responsibility of being the voice of so many young rural women who never got a chance. The demographic I belong to and want to work for is rarely ever represented in any data, heard in any consensus, or found on any grid. People, especially women, living in rural areas are always on the periphery due to a lack of political will, inequity and inequality of opportunities, and oftentimes a very intentional exclusion and marginalization. I have chosen this field because I want to bring them to the center.
Why you are excited about this position and what do you hope to accomplish?
There are so many reasons why I’m most excited about this position. One of my goals is to be able to impact and shape policies pertaining to women’s empowerment and having the opportunity to work in a place that does exactly that through research is just incredible. I recently read the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, which gave me the language to talk about exactly what bugs me in most data used in my academic research: data bias and gaps in the collection of data that explicitly leaves out the perspectives of women. Most of the data collection that takes place on a household level, at least in parts of the world I’m most familiar with, is biased as it’s usually men who are the heads of households. This gives rise to a lack of sex-disaggregated data. This lack of representation produces a lack of knowledge regarding challenges that are just specific and unique to women across various sectors. In order for our models and policies to be more gender-responsive, these data gaps must be filled. Nothing excites me more than to be a part of an institution whose mission is to address this problem. Another really exciting part is being able to work with an all-female staff, each of whom embodies brilliance and excellence in the field of gender development. I hope to be able to learn, grow, and develop both personally and professionally in the company of such remarkable women doing remarkable work for other women.
How would you use this position to influence others and how would it impact your career goals?
Being able to engage in high-level research, under the guidance of women like Dr. Jeni Klugman and Melanne Verveer, and then to present those findings to the world to inform policies will be extremely significant and influential in itself. My goal has always been to support women, especially those living on the fringes of society, and I hope to be able to advocate more for that in this position. One of the many things that rural areas and their representatives often lack is exposure to global networks. I am hopeful that this position will certainly fill that gap for me by bringing me closer to high-level researchers and policymakers so I can learn more about influencing change on a bigger scale.
How do you think GHD has helped/will help you with your career?
If it weren’t for GHD, I wouldn’t even have gotten this position. GHD has already brought me so many steps closer to enabling change by giving me the right skills, knowledge, connections, and, most importantly, wonderful friendships. It has given me an opportunity to learn from and contribute to conversations with a highly select set of leaders. The program has certainly paved the way forward for me by strengthening my role as a development practitioner, providing me with rigorous academic training, along with many opportunities to network with world leaders.
I will forever remain grateful to GHD for giving me mentors like Professor Radelet, Professor Wise, Professor Tiongson, and Professor Udomsaph. And I’m equally grateful to have shared my graduate experience with 29 of the most brilliant young leaders in the world. My professors and my classmates are GHD’s lifelong gifts to me. I hope that the 30 of us continue to amplify each other’s impact in the future. And I also hope that we continue to learn from our teachers, from the world and from each other to further increase our understanding on the issues we have discussed, worked, and studied hard for two years.