Think Creative Spring 2022

Creative Life

a mission-driven community

Manal Chafik didn’t take what she describes as the typical path to a career in international development. She was never a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her undergraduate degree was in computer science. Her first career goals were in the information technology sector. But Chafik grew up in a Moroccan Ameri can family, where Arabic and French were interchangeably spoken, and the customs and culture of North Africa were ingrained in her upbringing. The strong cultural connections formed in her youth gave her a sense that she was part of the wider world around her. Finding a way to incorporate that global perspective into her career became her challenge. Visiting friends who lived inWashington, D.C., proved to be the catalyst for her career change. Many of themworked in international develop ment, an industry Chafik admits now she knew very little about at that time. Chafik made the switch from IT in 2005, starting out as many early career development professionals do in project backstop roles. She worked in the home offices for Chemonics and then AECOM, with trips across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. She attended graduate school while working full time, receiving her master’s in public policy with a focus on international policy fromGeorge Washington University. Diverse background and experiences “My diverse background is a reflection that there is no direct route to working in develop ment,” she says. “It was my cultural background coupled withmy language skills, exposure and familiarity with several cultures and countries frommy own travel and educational experi ences, as well as my upbringing that drove my curiosity and interests towards working within the international development sector.” Chafik joined Creative in 2018 as a Project Director in the Political Transitions Practice Area. Within six months, she was asked to be the Chief of Party to manage the FURAT Plus Manal Chafik A diverse perspective for project success Staff Spotlight

“My diverse background is a reflection that there is no direct route to working in development,” says Chafik.

program, a governance project working in non-regime controlled northeast Syria and funded by the U.S. State Department’s Near East Affairs Bureau, as part of Creative’s Syrian portfolio based in Berlin, a position that she says aligned with her professional goals. The Al Rashad project was added to Chafik’s Syria portfolio soon after the FURAT Plus program launch. It, too, is funded by the State Department in cooperation with the German Foreign Office to support northeast Syria’s security sector in concert with community engagement across areas not controlled by the regime. Chafik’s team coordinates across three time zones—northeast Syria, Berlin andWash ington, D.C.—several different donors, and includes subject matter experts across both programs. The team is predominately Syrian, allowing Chafik to tap into her language and cultural skills and support the team in their

capacity building and professional growth. The fast-paced portfolio and short-term funding horizons require the team to be flexible and to adjust to shifts in USG funding, as the volatile security situation and other geopolitical vari ables play out, she says. A perfect fit Despite the challenges, being the Chief of Party for the Syrian portfolio was a cumulation of Chafik’s 17 years of experience in an industry she entered in on her own unique path, she says. Couple that with her knowledge of the Middle East, and the position was a perfect fit. She was Creative’s COP of the Year in 2021. “Here I am, as an Arab American as Chief of Par ty, so I already have familiarity with the culture and Arabic language,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have that, because it allowed for an instant rapport when I stepped on to this project. I’m grateful to have that cultural insight and accessi bility. It made such a difference.” n

Photo by Ahmed Chafik

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