Aden plans to use the quantitative toolkit at Harris to help formulate bottom-up policy she feels is desperately needed in international contexts.
Headshot of Deqa Aden
Deqa Aden

“I grew up knowing that generations before me grew up during a civil war,” said incoming MPP student Deqa Aden. Having grown up in Hargeisa, Somaliland, an autonomous state within the borders of Somalia, Aden’s passion for solving problems in countries characterized by fragility, conflict, and violence is intrinsically linked to her upbringing. “We always knew in the back of our heads there was a chance for another civil war.”

Aden plans to use the quantitative toolkit at Harris to help formulate bottom-up policy she feels is desperately needed in international contexts, especially in places like Somaliland where, she said, “Not many outside groups invest.”

Aden considers her mother, a successful bank director, her biggest inspiration. “My mother pushed me to go to school abroad.” Aden heeded her mother’s suggestion and became the first Somali girl to attend Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as the first Somali girl to study at Grinnell College in Iowa on a full scholarship. After graduating from Grinnell with a bachelor’s in political science and psychology, she took a data and research analyst role at the World Bank. Her first assignment involved finding ways to create jobs for youth that were at risk of joining extremist groups in Tajikistan. “Part of my job was to figure out how to leverage two sectors of the economy that could help generate income for these youth.”

After spending nearly two years at the World Bank, Aden was inspired to return to Somaliland to do grassroots-level policy work. She became a manager at HarHub, a small donor-based organization that works to create greater access to financing for youth- and women-led enterprises. “Our driving question was: How can we create access to finance for people with creative ideas?” Aden believes that assisting women-owned businesses benefits not only the owners, but also the surrounding community at large. “It was really important to us that we are gender inclusive.”

When asked what attracted her to Harris, Aden was unhesitant with her response: “The chance to study with Professor Christopher Blattman. I had previously read, and been inspired by, his research, so when I was exploring graduate programs and saw that he taught at Harris, I knew Harris would be my top choice.” However, Aden is also deeply interested in honing her analytical skills. “Data analytics is very important to the work I want to do.”

Aden said The Pearson Institute also drew her to Harris. "Through my work experience, I became interested in understanding the key push and pull factors that make unemployed youth susceptible to violence. The Pearson Fellowship seemed the perfect opportunity to expand my research interest in this field and connect with professors, experts, and fellow classmates who are dedicated to global conflict resolution. As a Pearson Fellow, I am interested in investigating how job creation and psychosocial treatment programs could be a remedy to prevent vulnerable youth in fragile countries from joining extremist groups."

Aden also said she is excited to immerse herself in Harris’ diversity. “I’m really looking forward to meeting people from all over the world and having classroom discussions with such a diverse student body. I’m eager to see how my fellow classmates’ work and life experiences will direct the discussions we will have.”

For prospective students, Aden recommended having an idea of what they are passionate about before deciding to commit to a graduate program. “Have an idea of what projects you are passionate about and the professors that work in that field. That is definitely what helped guide my decision to attend Harris.”