The Edgar Graham Prize for the best postgraduate dissertation has been awarded to Nadia Iona Hasan (MSc Migration, Mobility and Development) from the Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London.
You have completed both your undergraduate (BA French and Arabic) and postgraduate (MSc Migration, Mobility and Development) courses at SOAS. What is it you like about the place, or are you just a sucker for punishment!?
“Well, I completed the French half of my first degree at UCL, so I had some respite from strikes and sit-ins during my undergrad years. But I guess I came back to SOAS for two main reasons. Firstly, it offered a specialised postgraduate course in what I was really interested and invested in – migration and development.”
“I really wanted to explore the big questions that had absorbed me for the last few years – about inequality, exclusion and national identity – and I knew a Masters at SOAS would allow me to do that.”
“Secondly, it was the culture and politically-active student body that made me want to return to SOAS. I’ve been volunteering for migrant and minority advocacy groups ever since my year abroad, and I knew that this was a part of my life that I could keep up at SOAS.”
You recently won the Edgar Graham Prize for your dissertation on ‘Serving Class and Capital: The Political Economy of Migrant Domestic Work in Lebanon’. Can you précis your topic, and how did you come to get interested in the subject?
“During my year abroad in Jordan, I visited Beirut with friends. People had told me how progressive and ‘free’ the city felt compared to Amman. And, it did feel like a really exciting, cosmopolitan city – full of great art, cafes and culture. However, there was another side to the city (as there always is with ‘cosmopolitan’ cities) – whole families of refugees lined the roads of Hamra at the time, and guards with big guns patrolled street corners.
“After my trip to the city, I became really interested in the paradoxes of Beirut, and Lebanon more broadly. So, when journalist friends started writing reports about the country’s migrant domestic workers about a year ago, I wanted to find out more.
“Many articles I looked at highlighted the mistreatment, which live-in maids are subjected to in the country. These reports struck me as important, but didn’t really get to the roots of the issue. My dissertation instead looked into the social and economic systems underpinning Lebanon’s reliance on foreign maids. I found that migrant domestic worker recruitment is a huge industry, with hundreds of agencies profiting from the trade in Lebanon and sender countries. It is an industry, which allows the government to eschew any financial responsibility for social care provision. And, the mostly poor, racialised, migrant women brought into the country as maids are seen as disposable and expendable.
“This system of ranking and commodifying humans according to their gender, nationality and ethnicity is not simply a Lebanese, or ‘Arab’ problem, but a global one.”
Now that you have completed your course, have you been able to take your research into your work?
“I’m currently working at a social enterprise called Ten Years’ Time. We run education programmes for philanthropists and grant-giving professionals, to encourage them to think more deeply and systemically about social change. We do this by connecting them to policymakers and academics, but also to communities and frontline staff who have first-hand experience of the areas they seek to change.
“We also run free careers evenings for people looking to enter the ‘social sector’ (non-profit and purpose-led jobs) and a social sector jobs site called Changemaker Jobs, where organisations can promote their opportunities for free. Current SOAS students – look us up! We’re also about to launch the 2027 Programme, which will place talented people from working-class communities within grant-giving foundations and trusts.”
Can you describe a typical day at work?
“I don’t really know if there’s a ‘typical day’ as such. Last Friday our team chaired a kick-off meeting with a Latin American client who wants to support the education system in rural Peru, I pulled together a participants’ guide to the Grant Givers’ Programme and discussed our comms strategy for Changemaker Jobs with my manager. Every other week there’ll be a Grant Givers’ event to attend, too – these are breakfasts, lunches and dinners – where we host a speaker to discuss a new, challenging idea in the field.”
What do you find most motivates you in the work that you do?
“I think Ten Years’ Time is all about disrupting power imbalances – that’s why we put philanthropists and grant-givers in the room with the communities they’re seeking to support. It’s about saying to people with the power to give, ‘look, you may have money but you don’t have deep knowledge of the problems you want to help alleviate – you need to sit back and listen to those who understand these systems best.’”
What are your ambitions for the future?
“I don’t know if I have any grand plans for the future – I simply want to keep on working for organisations that try to get to the roots of unjust social and economic systems. I’d also like to start sleeping more and watching more movies – do they count as ambitions, too?” (“Definitely!” Ed.)
How has SOAS helped you to get where you are today?
“I think SOAS has allowed me to be radical and critical about aspects of the world, which are accepted as necessary evils elsewhere.”
“That type of critical awareness about social issues is fundamental to my job, so I guess SOAS has been pretty instrumental in leading me to where I am now.”
Want to learn more?
The Department of Development Studies at SOAS have unrivalled practical and theoretical knowledge of the many branches of enquiry that make up Development Studies (political economy, globalisation, migration and displacement, conflict, agrarian change, labour movements, political ecology, and institutions).
The Department offers a wide range of degrees at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, including BA Development Studies; MSc Development Studies; MSc Labour, Social Movements and Development; and MSc Violence, Conflict and Development.
Find out more
- Check out Development programmes at SOAS
- Find out more about the work of Ten Years’ Time
- Follow in the footsteps of Nadia on MSc Migration, Mobility and Development