The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded Niaz Shinwari MIDP’13 the Distinguished Foreign Service National Award for 2016.

The award recognizes outstanding efforts to build resilient, democratic societies and reduce extreme poverty in countries where USAID maintains diplomatic posts. One employee is awarded in each regional bureau in a year.

Shinwari received the award at a ceremony Oct. 18 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.

“This award tells me that you can achieve anything if you are passionate about it and you put your mind to it,” Shinwari said. “It is a tremendous impetus for me to continue to pursue my passion for development, even while operating in a challenging environment.”

It is an environment that Shinwari understands all too well. Originally from Afghanistan, he and his family were forced to flee to neighboring Pakistan in 1988 after the war intensified against Soviet forces. After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics in Islamabad, he returned home in the hopes of contributing to his country’s development.

“As tough as it was growing up in harsh social and financial conditions, life also presented opportunities,” he said. “My family always gave me the strength and courage needed to grasp those opportunities at the right time, and I’m forever thankful to them.”

Shinwari now serves as USAID’s mission donor coordinator for the World Bank’s Administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Fund (ARTF), which aims to improve the lives of Afghans by investing in health, education, infrastructure and better governance. In his role, Shinwari acts as a liaison with both international development agencies and the national government.

He began his career in the Afghan government as a fiscal policy analyst and was later promoted to acting director of the Fiscal Policy & Economic Affairs Department. Hoping to expand his understanding of international development, Shinwari enrolled in the Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) program at Duke University after earning the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. He called the experience “the most memorable 18 months of [his] life.”

“MIDP is structured in a flexible way where you can excel both academically and professionally if you know what you want to do,” he said. “The experienced faculty are not only accessible, but have a deep passion for seeing students succeed.”

Following his graduation, he worked as an economic advisor for Adam Smith International at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. He was quickly hired as director of contract finance and promoted to acting director general of the Afghanistan Petroleum Authority, where he oversaw the development of the country’s oil and gas sector.

He joined USAID in the summer of 2015 to get a different perspective on development. “I wanted to come out of my comfort zone, continuing to work on similar issues but wearing a different hat, where I could be exposed to whole new world of development practices,” he said.

Shinwari plans to continue to help design “results-oriented and impact-driven” development policies, adopting best practices in creative ways to achieve lasting development in Afghanistan.

“The extraordinarily complex development challenges of our time require in-depth knowledge of the development in addition to understanding of the context,” he said. “I was fortunate that Duke helped me acquire it, and that it continues to help in my everyday work.”

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