Our MPP students: Riad Katkhoda

We caught up with Riad, currently working with the World Food Programme in the Caribbean, to discuss his motivation for joining the MPP and his passion for social protection policy

We reached Riad at his new home base in Dominica, an island country of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, where he was stationed at the time with the World Food Programme (WFP), the food assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization focused on food security and hunger. Riad is now based in Barbados.

Riad started his work with the WFP's COVID response effort in Dominica to support those most impacted by the pandemic—a role he accepted soon after graduating from the Max Bell School’s inaugural MPP cohort in November 2020.

“We’re affecting the lives of people every day here and I’m seeing the impact policy makes first hand,” he says.

An international background

Originally from Jordan, Riad moved to Canada in 2008 to pursue a BA in Economics and International Development at the University of Toronto. After graduating, he returned to Jordan to work as a senior associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He then transitioned to the public sector to work at the Jordanian Prime Minister’s office, where he focused on social protection policy.

From there, he accepted a consultancy role with the World Bank in Jordan before joining the WFP. He worked with the organization in 2019 for just a month before starting the MPP program in Montreal.

Driven by a deeper purpose

So why hit pause on a prestigious career in a field he’s passionate about to go back to full-time education?

“I needed the theoretical knowledge, mostly because I wanted more legitimacy,” Riad explains. “My professional experience was diverse. I did a stint in banking, a stint in consulting, so when I transitioned to public policy, I needed something to ground my thinking.”

Another motivating factor in pursuing public policy for Riad was his deep-seated passion for social protection.

“I see myself as being a leader and disruptor in this area. I fully believe we need to level the playing field for everyone, or at least provide them with the opportunity to do so on their own, and that gives me the drive to wake up every morning.”

An intense but invaluable experience

Riad was drawn to the Max Bell School’s program in particular, he says, because the one-year format would allow him to get back to work sooner. But the experience was definitely challenging.

“It was extremely intensive, as I knew it would be. The hardest part was getting back into that academic mind space and trying to keep up with all the readings and assignments.”

He also chose this MPP because it combined the practical and theoretical approach to policymaking he was looking for.

“The combination of complexity seminars, skills workshops and case studies was something I really looked forward to. From those, we ended up taking a lot of transferrable skills that I’m using in my professional career so I think it was a wise choice.”

Building real-world skills

One of the most valuable skills Riad took away from the program was learning to lead and manage teams. “The program focused a lot on teamwork and we changed the teams we worked in, which allowed me to polish my team-building and leadership skills. And these are things I’m using day in, day out over here [in Barbados]”.

Another key takeaway was learning to look at problems from more than one angle.

“I’m used to looking at things from either an economic or social protection angle. But one thing that stuck with me, which I constantly introduce now when thinking about policy, is looking at it through a human rights-based lens. This is an approach that’s integral to policy making and that may be lacking in these unique times.”

A meeting of diverse minds

In addition to building these real-world skills that he’s been able to apply in his current role, Riad found the diversity of his MPP class to be a real plus. “The School did a great job of choosing a very diverse group from different backgrounds, perspectives and work experiences.”

As the only Middle Eastern in the group, Riad took every opportunity to share his unique perspective with his peers.

“I definitely bombarded the MPP family with issues from my side of the world, certain issues the group wasn’t aware of, and I made a point to constantly mention them,” he says. “In Canada, we’re blessed to think about certain policy issues that present a priority for the developed world. However, there are many other issues in the developing world that also need to be brought to the fore.”

What’s in store for the future?

Riad will be expanding his role in the Caribbean to serve as a policy officer for cash-based transfers in Barbados, where he’ll soon be moving to help support those most vulnerable both locally and in the entire Caribbean region. Longer term, he plans to return to Jordan and put all that he’s learned into practice at home.

“I definitely see myself as a policy maker in Jordan in the long run. Eventually I want to take all of my experience and apply it in my own country,” he says. “We have high levels of vulnerability in Jordan, including a large population of Syrian refugees, so there’s a lot of work to be done back home from a social protection standpoint."

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