Frontlines Online Edition
Global Health/Iraq
April/May 2011

Scholarships Offer Counterweight to Iraqi Brain Drain

Bahija Jwad Ahmed received a USAID/Tatweer scholarship. Bahija Jwad Ahmed received a USAID/Tatweer scholarship. MSI

In 2008, while working in the Planning and Compliance Department of Iraq’s Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, Bahija Jwad Ahmed was overjoyed to hear that she had received a USAID/Tatweer scholarship. When she shared the exciting news with her elderly father, he expressed concern for her safety and asked why she was going to Egypt for a master’s degree in public administration when she already had a good job and held other degrees.

“I am ambitious,” she told him. “I want my country to succeed, and I have been chosen to help lead Iraq to a bright future.”

Her father gave his blessing, and Ahmed completed the two-year program at the Graduate School of Business at the Arab Academy of Science and Technology in Cairo. Graduating at the top of her class, she soon rose to fill a new position as head trainer of all 15 provincial training centers within the ministry’s human resources department.

Chosen from over 1,000 applicants, Ahmed is among 120 people from 15 Iraqi provinces representing 23 ministries who have received the highly sought-after USAID-funded scholarship. She is among the first cadre of 26 master’s degree graduates who returned home eager to apply newly acquired skills to rebuilding their devastated country. Other recipients are attending universities in Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon.

“The people of Egypt were very friendly and cooperative. But while there, I worried about my family and their security,” Ahmed said. “Then my father died. I went home to Iraq thinking I would not continue. After two weeks, I returned to Egypt feeling my father wanted me to succeed. Everything I learned—human resources administration, strategic planning, leadership and communication, project management—helped me review, then refocus the trainings we give. I even dream of becoming a director general some day.”

Much has been said about Iraq’s “brain drain”—the flight of its finest minds out of country to seek respite from insecurity and violence. Garnering less, if any attention at all, are the larger numbers that willingly choose to remain in Iraq. Program graduates say that they are driven by a deep desire to not only restore Iraq’s former status as regional leader and driving force of modernization, but also to aid their country’s return to its once prominent international position.

The return of Ahmed and her fellow scholarship recipients to Iraq is yet another milestone in USAID’s ongoing efforts to build a critical mass of highly trained citizens to drive modernization of Iraq’s public administration.