Dr. Khalida Ghaus is the managing director of the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC). Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, On Think Tanks’ editor at large for South Asia interviewed Dr. Ghaus as part of the of the series on Women in Think Tanks, South Asia.
Annapoorna Ravichander: What was your role prior to becoming the managing director at SPDC? What was it about SPDC as an organisation that attracted you to it?
Khalida Ghaus: There was no formal association with SPDC. However, I was familiar with the work being published by SPDC, and knew several of the employees working there. The fact that it is a policy research organisation producing high quality publications, along with the credibility it established for itself, were the main reasons for moving from the University of Pakistan to SPDC.
AR: Did you face any challenges at the start? How did you address and overcome them?
KG: As an outsider and a non-economist, coming in as managing director raised concern amongst the employees. With the end of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funding, SPDC was in a transitory phase. Immediately after joining the organisation, I had to finalise a no-cost extension CIDA and find another source of core funding. This had to be done at the same time I dealt with uncertainties amongst the research staff and while downsizing the non-technical staff group. Our administrative staff downsized from 31 to 14. A multi-disciplinary approach to socio-economic issues was introduced, where gender issues and environmental issues were introduced and funds were raised for research in the two areas.
AR: What personal and professional characteristics should a think tank director have?
KG: The head of a research organisation must be a team player. She or he should be accessible, aware of the current and emerging issues of the country, and also be familiar with donors’ main areas of interest. The leader should also be in liaison with the relevant bureaucracy and policy makers. Putting the organisation at par with international standards and practices is one of the important responsibilities of the head of an organisation.
On a personal level, a leader should not be reactive nor pessimistic. She or he should have the courage and resilience to generate hope during difficult times for the organisation. Finally a leader should treat all employees equally, and be governed by the rules of the organisation.
AR: What are the main lessons you have learned being a woman and leading an institution?
KG: Resilience, firmness, flexibility, commitment, and competency along with the discipline and rules/regulations places a person in a position of power. In over twenty years of experience heading organisations, gender has never ever been a consideration for me. You don’t have to behave like a man to hold a position of power, just as you don’t have to flaunt your femininity to be heard. It is the decision making capacity, along with the qualities described above, which are important for any women leader.
AR: How do you balance your career and ambitions?
KG: Mainly, by striking a balance between the two and switching priorities in time of (extreme) emergencies. However, the decision is personal and should not be the consequence of external pressure. Women should set boundaries between their work and home lives from the start of their careers.
AR: What are the main lessons you have learned throughout your career?
KG: Commitment to one’s profession and willingness to grow. Every phase of your professional life demands capacity building. Teaching and research methodologies are fast changing and complex. To be in the market, you have to keep up with new knowledge. Equally important is to work as a team and feel ownership for the institution. These two help build a sense of belonging and also channel the energy of the team.
AR: How important is it for you to excel in your career as a woman?
KG: Acquiring excellence in my professional life has always been a top priority for me. This should be true all women and who have opted to pursue a career. However, it is equally important to strike a balance between your professional and personal lives. Timely professional growth, commitment, hard work, and honesty with one’s profession is the key to success. However, to achieve this success, it is important to know what your interest is and where your talent lies.
AR: Do you think that think tanks should encourage some clauses in their employment rules like flexible working hours, in-house gender sensitisation sessions, and include gender aspects in their vision and mission statements?
KG: Think tanks must have policies in place that negate any type of gender discrimination including (wage) or harassment (sexual). These should include maternity/paternity leave, or day-care room for nursing mothers. SPDC has all of the above.