Jaisha aims to use her MSCAPP toolkit to design better policy for Pakistan.
Headshot of Syeda Jaisha
Syeda Jaisha

Syeda Jaisha hails from the bustling metropolis of Karachi, Pakistan. While she describes her birthplace as a place of competition for basic rights, she also recognizes its value in shaping who she is. "Growing up as a woman in Pakistan is one of the most formative aspects of my self-identity. It taught me an appreciation of struggle, and it is an integral part of my motivation to improve society."

When she was 15, Jaisha had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program and lived with a Somali-Muslim-American family in the US for a year. While in the US, she absorbed the multi-dimensional culture and became invested in the social issues she witnessed at play. "My first training in feminism was living with my host family, because it consisted only of women... I didn’t identify as a feminist until much later in my life, but now that I do, I attribute that identity to my exchange program experience. I still remember how, during that year, I would sometimes pause at my ability to walk where I pleased without a chaperone and travel whenever I wished."

Upon returning to Pakistan, Jaisha's inspiration from her experience in the US motivated her to begin working on local-level social issues. She served as a mentor and facilitator at United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund-Sindh (UNICEF-Sindh) where she said she was exposed to the raw turmoil of daily injustice. "During one of our sessions, a girl asked me to talk to her family, as they were trying to marry off her underage sister. In that moment, I realized that although it’s important to strive for better education and overall opportunity, the luxury of time is not something that that girl had. I saw it was even more important to impact policy in order to have a real effect on the struggles of the people, and that compassion is an essential part of good policy."

Jaisha's experience with UNICEF-Sindh compelled her to pursue her undergraduate degree in economics and mathematics at the Institute of Business and Administration in Pakistan.

There, Jaisha worked as a research assistant, studying the economic history of the province of Sindh in Pakistan. "I realized that time and time again, the same narrative was being told, but there weren’t many people in the government or policymaking spaces trying to do anything to change that narrative.” Misuse and misallocation of funds still plague the provincial government, Jaisha said. "I fear that twenty years from now, another research assistant will be watching the same forces playing out the same story."

These observations, Jaisha said, led her to explore graduate programs in policy. When she came across the Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program at Harris, Jaisha said she was impressed by the program's design. "I strongly believe that data is the most important ingredient for formulating and implementing effective policy, and the MSCAPP program at Harris aligned with that belief." She also appreciated that Harris valued her past work experience and saw her as a valuable contributor to the program, despite a lack of coding experience. "I am happy to say, though, that I have made quick progress in my coding classes. My experience thus far has been eye-opening, transformative, and rewarding."

As for her future plans, Jaisha hopes to "disrupt Pakistan’s policymaking spaces that are otherwise led by people whose personal experiences are removed from those of an average Pakistani. I want to create maximum impact with an approach that combines bottom-up and top-down mechanisms—where my grassroots experiences and data-drawn insights inform policies and where my fieldwork incorporates data-driven research to design and improve solutions."