Michelle Khilji graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2009 with a BA in Economics where her culminating thesis focused on the development trajectory of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Michelle took a gap year where she volunteered in flood relief efforts in Pakistan in 2010 and continued as a Monitoring, Evaluating and Research consultant with the National Rural Support Programme in Islamabad, Pakistan. Michelle graduated from the International Trade & Investment Policy (now International Economic Policy) program at the Elliott School in 2013. Shortly after graduating, Michelle was recruited by Chemonics International and served as a Project Management Associate backstopping the USAID Pakistan Firms project. After 10 months in Pakistan on a field assignment, Michelle returned to DC and joined Chemonics’s Asia Region’s New Business team, only to return to Islamabad in 2016—making it her permanent home. She now serves as an independent development consultant for Chemonics and a few assignments with the World Bank. Michelle is a mother of a 2.5 year old boy, Zayaan.
Describe your current position and what are your primary responsibilities?
I am currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan and serve as a New Business Development consultant for Chemonics International’s Asia Region. I specifically serve as an in-country focal point for recruitment and partnering discussions. I coordinate directly with the Asia New Business team and proposal teams in Washington, D.C. to oversee relationship management and serve at times as a face of Chemonics’ new business efforts in Pakistan. I conduct on-going business development research which often entails coordination with diverse set of proposal development team members (i.e. editor, graphic designer, proposal writers and technical coordinator). I support the ongoing recruitment of local staff for upcoming solicitations from USAID/Pakistan. This includes the recruitment of senior leadership, technical experts and operation specialists. I see the recruitment process through, from the interview and recommendation phase, to ensuring all documentation is collected per USAID guidelines for recruitment and drafting salary negotiation/justification memos. At times this requires drafting market research on salary justifications.
How does your current position compare to what you thought you would be doing when you first started your degree at the Elliott School?
Completely different. Chemonics International is a subcontractor of USAID. My practical experience at Chemonics International has provided insight about USAID-funded programs around the world and how the design of these programs involves multiple stakeholder contribution. You begin to realize truly how political economy drives the public stakeholder and donor community in terms of how they prioritize development funding and programming. At the time I was pursuing my Master’s degree at the Elliott School, I always imagined playing a role in the design of programs, but now I realize how even at the most grassroot level, politics has a strong role to play and can be limiting in terms of resource allocation.
What part of your career do you find most rewarding and why?
While I do find at times programming is politically charged, I do find it refreshing that conditions are put in place to ensure monitoring of USAID funded programming. This holds all stakeholders accountable and there is an emphasis on justifying American taxpayer’s money.
In your experience, how has a graduate degree related to international affairs been valuable?
I strongly believe that a graduate degree in the international development sector has always been viewed as the bare minimal. It is required to get one’s foot in the door to obtain the most practical and necessary experience in the development sector.
Favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
I am a Netflix addict. Rainy days are the perfect day to throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave, make my self a nice hot cup of coffee and to kick back and binge watch on Netflix original shows. My more recent guilty pleasure was Money Heist.
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