Mohammad Adil Zahed, Regional Coordinator for York in Afghanistan

Adil stood infront of Heslington Hall, surrounded by bushes in the Quiet Place.

For this month’s Alumni Voices, we talked to Mohammad Adil Zahed who graduated from the University of York in 2017 with a Masters in International Development. Adil now works for The United Nations World Food Programme in Afghanistan and he also volunteers as Regional Coordinator for York in Afghanistan. Adil tells us about his time at York, his journey after Graduation, and why he loves volunteering for the University of York.

What brought you to the University of York?

Back in 2015, when I decided to pursue my postgraduate studies, I was thinking about which field of study I should choose. I was a civil engineer who worked not only in technical areas but also in the public sector with a focus on development policies. I decided to go for something that would augment my knowledge of public policy and development. 

Adil on Campus during his time at York

After a thorough search, I came across a very interesting subject that I thought was exactly what I wanted. The University of York offered the subject MPA in International Development. I extended my search to get to know more about the city of York and the University as I didn’t know much about the city and the University of York and was amazed to see the ranking of the University of York as well as the quality of life the city of York offers. I told myself, this is the place I am choosing. There was a twist when Chevening told me that the course I chose at the University of York was not eligible, but fortunately, it turned out to be a misunderstanding. 

How did the Chevening Scholarship help you on your path to success?

Chevening is a very prestigious scholarship and famous across the globe—especially in developing countries. For a long time, I had the dream of studying in the UK through a Chevening Scholarship. This inspiration came from my uncle who was a Chevening scholar and part of the 2007/08 cohort. I tried my best to get the scholarship and I did! 

Chevening has had an important role in both my professional career and personal development. Chevening helped me get exposed to a very diverse and rich environment where I could grow my network, get a world-class education, and learn more about the rich history and culture of Great Britain. I have noticed significant changes in myself after completing the Chevening journey.

What was your journey like from graduating from University to your current role?

In the last two months of my postgraduate studies, I told myself that I had to start thinking of the next steps in my life and returning back to my home country. I couldn’t afford to be unemployed as I had the responsibility of my family so I started looking for job opportunities in Afghanistan. The job market in Afghanistan in 2017 was very competitive, with less opportunities and very high demand. 

Adil and friends at his Graduation in 2017

I started applying for jobs in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and was targeting both Government and international organizations. I remember I was invited for an interview at a Government organization on the day of my arrival to Kabul. The time of the interview was about half an hour after my landing time. With no flexibility to change the time, I couldn’t attend the interview and that opportunity was lost. But I was hopeful and I told myself that something better was waiting for me. And after spending a few happy days with my family and children, I got an interview call from the World Food Programme. And I got the job!

Can you tell us a little about the World Food Programme and your role there?

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization in the world with a mandate of achieving zero hunger. WFP in Afghanistan provides lifesaving assistance to vulnerable people who are food insecure. At the World Food Programme we help people who are displaced due to conflict or natural disasters; Afghans returning from neighboring countries and refugees. 

I work as Programme Policy Officer and I am responsible for managing a business transformation project. In my role, I lead and manage the implementation of a new programme management tool that WFP rolled out globally through which we make sure the assistance reaches the most vulnerable people in dire need of food or cash assistance. I manage a team of around 11 individuals who work across the country.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates of the University of York in terms of finding a job?

A shift from an academic environment to a professional is not always very straightforward. It will require you to bring a lot of changes into your routine. So be prepared and open to changes. You will have to be more punctual being an employee and must work in a very diverse environment—diversity not only based on expertise but also age groups. So, don’t expect a team like a group of classmates.  

In the last months of your studies, start thinking about a professional career and deciding where you want to work and what type of job you want. Get advice from The University of York’s Careers and Placements team or alumni, via the York Profiles and Mentors platform, who are willing to mentor you and help you in finding a job.

Why did you volunteer to become the Regional Coordinator for the University of York in Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, there are a very limited number of people aware of opportunities for education abroad. We don’t have adequate representation of fine universities like York in countries like Afghanistan. People don’t really know who to ask for guidance. In addition, we usually have very few alumni from these universities and they are often scattered and disengaged. Afghanistan doesn’t have a big population and the majority of the people don’t go abroad for studies. 

I volunteered to be a Regional Coordinator to bring alumni of the University together and work jointly to raise awareness about available opportunities. I am gathering contact details of York alumni and I’ve had some success so far. 

What’s your favourite part about volunteering for the University of York?

It always feels special when I get in touch with someone from the University of York. It brings back the memories I have created during one year of living in York city. Getting in touch and talking to people from York and York alumni is my favourite part of this role.

Read more Alumni Voices.

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