WHO IS NESREEN BARAKAT?
Nesreen Barakat has more than 20 years of experience in the area of economic and social development, working with government, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector in Jordan. Recently, she served as a Minister of Social Development, Minister of Public Sector Development and General Director of the National Aid Fund. Prior to that, she was a Council Member at the Greater Amman Municipality, Economic Advisor to the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) and a Director of the Competitiveness Unit at the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.
As an entrepreneur, in 2005, Nesreen founded To Excel Consulting and Associates, a company focused on the provision of consulting services related to socio-economic, administrative and local development studies. Nesreen has extensive experience in managing and implementing result oriented technical assistance projects: she was the lead of the Enhancing Productivity Component (Economic Development Program) at SABEQ, a USAID funded Program, and previously held the position of the Manager of the Policy Support and Institutional Strengthening Component at EJADA, an EU-funded program.
Nesreen is a member of the UNWOMEN NGO Advisory Group in Jordan, member of the Business and Professional Women Association (BPWA), board member of Amman Arab University, fellowship of Vital Voices and a founding member of the Jordan Corporate Governance Association, the Competition Association and the National Global Compact Network in Jordan. She served on the boards of Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation (JEDCO), the National Fund for Enterprise Support (NAFES), and was a member in a variety of task force committees including the National Agenda Investment Task Force.
Nesreen holds an MBA degree from the Business School at Durham University in the UK and B.Sc. degree in Computer Science from the University of Jordan. She also received intensive international training at Harvard and Berkeley Universities on enhancing the competitiveness of nations, scenario planning, strategy development and implementation.
You can connect with Nesreen here:
IN TOR 027 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The seemingly endless initiatives Nesreen has founded or spearheaded for the public and private sector as well as an entrepreneur, encompassing a wide range of issues of women, democracy, and evaluation.
- What it’s like to be an independent consultant in Jordan, trying to gain regional reach, competing with a diverse set of actors.
- Nesreen’s upbringing, from an ICT degree to her Ministerial duties, her high level partnerships and unique approaches to integrated development.
- Nesreen’s view of what it would take for a more dynamic and impactful development consulting sector in the Arab world, starting with taking evaluation more seriously.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group
- Business and Professional Women Association of Amman
- UN Global Compact Network in Jordan
- Michael E. Porter Competitiveness Team
- UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
- Vital Voices
- Measurement and evaluation
- Girls and women’s issues
- Country profile
- Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
- Private sector
- Consulting services, professionalization and standards
- Amman, Jordan
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
What Nesreen does
Heading a consulting firm, it works in assistance and performance evaluation.
In 2005 started, supervised. Expanding, partnership, strategic direction.
Active UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group member for policy and practical development to help women in Jordan and the Middle East.
Also member of the Business and Professional Women Association of Amman, mentoring support for younger girls.
Founding member of the UN Global Compact Network in Jordan.
Tries to balance office work with membership service.
“I’m a difficult person to relax. My husband tells me this.“
Many clients, international organization, donor agencies, civil societies.
Just completed Jordan’s country profile for development agendas. First one for an Arab country.
About to present child labor assessment on Jordan and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.
Assessment for USAID food resilience and security in Yemen.
Assessment for private sector in Arab countries, focusing on investment, entrepreneurship and women economic empowerment.
Evaluation for a peace building project in Yemen.
A small to medium office. 10 in-house people, 6 technical people. High dependency on consultants, people as well as firms; and local partners.
“It requires effort, and a wide spectrum of expertise.” Team assembly is very important.
How Nesreen ended up here
“I have never, ever knew that I’d be here.“
She started with ICT, was an analyst then programmer. “I cannot wake up another day doing the same and talking to the machine.“
MBA helped her. She knew she wanted to work with people, understand social and economic situations better, the communities.
Journey through professions, more or less like she’s doing today. Joined Michael E. Porter’s Competitiveness Team, supported the private sector through the Jordan Government.
Felt like being in the private sector. “I’m not sure I understand what they are doing.” Started from scratch, after 12 years. From Director at Ministry of Planning to entrepreneur, no fixed income or job security.
Told “If you want to be a Minister, you need to stay.” After 10 years in the private sector, “they got me back as Minister.” 1 year, cabinets of Public Sector Development and Social Development.
Nesreen left the company, but made sure it would remain standing up. Complete resignation. “It was a very easy decision for me.” She was looked to for advice by the government.
Entrepreneurial juggling, expansion
“Difficult. You have to ensure quality, while also capture new projects.“
Projects have champions. New projects undergo an evaluation tool previous to commitment, to assess chances of success obtaining funding. A financial person works on the offer and technical people, business development officer and Nerseen put proposal together.
The bulk of work is in Jordan, but more regional work in developing countries is coming. Few online sources include UNDP, World Bank, USAID, European Commission. But their strongest device is the referral tool.
Lots of repeating costumers, source of pride for continuing relationships.
Facebook page highly active for engagement and informal client communications.
“We win about 70% of the proposals we submit.” They only bid after likelihood of winning is high. If it is, they take the proposal very seriously.
Arab development market intelligence
“Competition is fierce.” Many similar firms. They strategize on niche: monitoring and evaluation. Lots of unique learning in the field, which is evolving. Current focus on building track record and join professional organizations, like EvalMENA.
“We are among the few specialized in monitoring and evaluation. But competition is a moving target.“
Economic hardships made private business activity tougher. Call for sharper leadership.
On evaluations that nobody acts upon
It is frustrating to give advice to a client that is not moving. But the partnership is what matters the most. Nesreen’s firms tries to keep constant communication, there is mutual understanding and few surprises. Clients are still invested in change.
Positive report on their evaluation work for a framework to establish a Children’s Parliament. They tried to match Minister of Education’s approach, very practical, designed for new activities to build upon previous ones.
On UNFPA project, they advised a youth focus. They obliged.
Future challenges from abroad expansion
Arab countries present unique challenges. Connectivity is limited. Talent pools are underdeveloped. Administrations are very difficult to reach.
Reaching the market has involved finding local matches for partnerships, it has been done in Egypt and Pakistan. They obtain help in finding consulting talent and mission supervision, ensure quality.
International development agencies have facilitated their success in application, since they are known partners even though Nesreen is applying for projects in new countries.
Some countries were unable to penetrate.
Consulting pools limited
Quality is not there. People who understand, deliver, are punctual, fulfill expectations.
Consultants are ranked by success, it determines the extension of the relationship, the fees.
It is important to find the right person. Flexibility is a must, it benefits clients and improves success. Terms of reference are really last resort. Consultants are involved in the equation.
But consultants are not usually flexible, they want to do their thing and move on.
Story with issues
On a corporate responsibility mission in three countries, Nesreen underestimated the effort, the assumption was field work would be more fruitful and corporations would be able to provide detailed documents. Neither were the case. Corporate responsibility was growing, but was not up to code. Her team needed to dive in deeper and do things right, at unforeseen costs. Consultants she worked with were flexible enough and understood.
Systems in place
Project management software.
Recently, Vital Voices has provided support in women’s programs but also provided a dedicated server.
Dropbox, Skype, needed for an international public administration projects.
Internet dramatically shortened research turnaround time.
“If you have sincere passion, go for it.“
People on the field must have many kinds of understanding and be very practical.
Listen to everyone. Be intellectually capable to design the right tools.
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