Inspirational Woman Interview: Hezha M. Khan

Hezha Mohammed Khan is a Professional Development Coordinator at the Qaiwan Group, an industrial conglomerate that operates in sectors including oil refining and trade, energy, real estate, and hospitality. She also works as an International NGO consultant for youth lead organizations, and a Monitoring & Evaluation consultant for international organizations in the Kurdistan Region. Hezha also is the Founder of the American Private Center (APC) for Youth Empowerment, which provides capacity building services and opportunities for youth and young professionals. With funding from the US Department of State, the APC started helping young girls and teenagers learn English and equip them with necessary skills through personal and career development programs.

Can you tell us about your professional background?

Hezha Khan: I am a social entrepreneur and international NGO consultant from Kurdistan of Iraq. I started my career when I was only 17 and started working in civil society after my participation in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange program, a highly competitive exchange program for Iraq and Kurdish youth to participate in 4 to 6 weeks of leadership training in the US. I went through very intensive training on various topics with the US Department of State and other international organizations here offered training in return for my volunteer services.

I currently have different positions in different fields; I work as a professional and business development manager at Qaiwan Group, one of the biggest private sectors in the region. My job mainly focuses on capacity building and professional development within the organizational structure of the company, leading new business startups; sometimes I’m required to do Public Relations for the company as well.

As for the world of civil society, I’m the country representative and an International NGO consultant for Unspoken Smiles Foundation, which focuses on promoting oral hygiene worldwide, especially under-served communities like Haiti, Kurdistan and India. I’m a Trainer and consultant at EMR for Consultancy and Development, where we monitor and evaluate long term projects for international donors, mainly focusing on projects serving internally displaced persons and refugees.

On a larger platform, I’m currently working with a group of youth from the Middle East, to start a campaign on Youth, Peace and Security; we will soon launch a huge campaign to promote positive change led by young leaders. I met the team during my participation in a regional consultation on Youth Peace and Security held by UNDP Regional, in cooperation with UNESCO and UN Security Council on Resolution 2250.

You are also the Founder of the American Private Center, which provides capacity building services and opportunities for youth and young professionals. What were the biggest challenges you experienced when founding the APC and what has been its impact so far?

Hezha Khan: I was inspired by myself, particularly the impact of quality education and English language skills on my career. It was always very clear to everyone that I would end up having a very bright future, which I’m currently living and feel very much satisfied about. I wanted to provide this opportunity for as many other youth and teenagers as possible, and the APC seemed like the only way to do so.

The biggest challenge I experienced was being a young woman myself. I started the organization when I was 22, but this wasn’t my first project; when I was 20, I started an organization to provide vocational training for people with disabilities. I started the project with the American Engagement Innovation Fund, and was able to survive for 8 months; the lessons I learned from this failure, helped me a lot in starting my APC for Youth empowerment organization. I learned to start smaller, and target fewer people, but work on having a greater impact on their lives.

The APC was able to secure one of the biggest US government grants: “The Access” program for 4 years. We have 150 graduates who have each attended 20 months of intensive training in English language, personal development and various capacity building sessions. The APC is a school for life. We were also very successful in providing short term courses, between 4 to 8 weeks, volunteer opportunities and knowledge sharing dialogue sessions for over 150 youth and young professionals.

How did you first become interested in teaching?

Hezha Khan: I have always wanted to have a positive influence of people; it’s not teaching that I like, but the power of modern education, and knowledge sharing that I’m interested in.

Can you share some of your experiences as an Academic Delegate at the International Youth Assembly at the UN?

Hezha Khan: The event was a huge networking opportunity for me. I met so many young leaders around the world, including founder and CEO of Unspoken Smiles Foundation, who immediately asked me to become a country representative in Kurdistan; Annarose Clarisse, who is now Founder of UN Youth Seychelles, and the Amatya siblings from Nepal.

I already had a very strong background and achievements working on the SDGs (without even knowing that they existed), and the whole assembly was focused on the SDGs. After my return to Kurdistan, I started including the SDGs in my work and held several workshops for over 200 participants, encouraging youth to start their own social enterprise to serve the SDGs.

I was invited by Seychelles National Youth Council to speak in their very first conference on the SDGs, held on December 9th, 2016 as an international keynote speaker. This opportunity was given to me through my friend Annarose Clarisse whom I met during the Youth Assembly.

In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the future of energy sustainability?

Hezha Khan: I’m very optimistic about the future of energy in the world. Leaders around the world seem to be all focused on finding new sustainable solutions to provide a clean energy to their communities. Put simply, providing access to clean, affordable energy is an essential element for societal and economic development. The challenges are facing our side of the world, where war is making it difficult for governments to start working on sufficient energy sources.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Hezha Khan: Unfortunately due to the political and cultural nature of my country, it was very difficult to find a local role model to look up to. Watching Oprah and following Hillary Clinton have created a vision of a strong and successful woman in my mind, called Hezha. I would imagine my future, look up to it and work hard to become the person I dream of. I wasn’t born an angel or a superhero, but I always work on becoming the best version of myself.

What advice do you have for people who want to start education institutions?

Hezha Khan: My advice for anyone who would like to start an initiative, is to believe in it yourself, and experience its outcomes.

What are your favorite books, films, websites and resources on the environment, education, and starting your own company?

Hezha Khan: I spend a lot of time reading online articles and researches on challenges facing the world and success stories of people around the world.  I do not have a specific book that I refer to. But reading success stories feeds my soul and encourages me to reach my full potential.

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