This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Bad roads are a longstanding problem across Nigeria, blamed for high rates of vehicle fatalities and impeding development of Africa’s largest economy.
Hadiza Hamma wants to help with this, and to teach others in her home country how to take on community-improvement projects.
The first student to complete the master’s degree requirements for the Division of Continuing Education’s new Development Practice Program, and one of only four who will receive it this month, Hamma also won the Dean’s Prize for her capstone project, a community-development plan for construction of a road that will dramatically improve the quality of life in the town of Afaka.
“The road is a lifeline for the community because it connects the community to the rest of the city,” said Hamma. In its current poor condition, she said, the road is a health and safety risk, prone to recurring accidents as well as dust (during the dry season) and flooding, which is aggravated by poor drainage, among other factors.
The road project, sponsored by Aflac Plastics Ltd., a private company in north central Nigeria, will enable safer, easier trade. “This will improve the socio-economic life of the people and engender peaceful co-existence between the community and the company,” Hamma said.
Such an outside-the-box, public-private collaboration is just what the Development Practice Program is designed to foster. “When we started the program, we were thinking in terms of global development practice, with strong human health and well-being and sustainability components,” said program director Thomas P. Gloria.
Developed to empower mid-career professionals to tackle the multidimensional challenges of sustainable development, from climate change and poverty to gender inequality and access to sanitation and clean water, the program seeks to “leverage local knowledge through global practice,” said Gloria. With her focus on enabling economic empowerment and resilience of women as well as her commitment to life-long learning, “Hadiza has become the personification of our program,” he said.
That Hamma, a lawyer and academic, earned this degree while teaching full time at her alma mater, the University of Abuja, and raising three children suggests she already had superior management skills. However, Hamma said the program gave her hands-on experience with the step-by-step planning necessary to get such a project off the ground.
“In class, we students operated as a consulting firm,” she said, noting the leadership of William O’Brien, an associate professor of the practice at Clark University who also serves as instructor-adviser for the Extension School class. O’Brien acted as the student firm’s “managing partner.” The class had to master the practicalities of development planning, such as risk assessment and mitigation, stakeholder engagement and funding, and identifying milestones as key performance indicators. “We had working sessions where we discussed each consultant’s research and progress and obtained feedback from the rest of the consultants,” Hamma said. This resulted in “the final deliverable,” the community development plan.
Hamma said the practical experience will enable her to teach sustainable development from a multidisciplinary perspective. “That is, to be able to blend my law background with the science, economics, and social aspects of development,” she said.
“Before, I’d think, ‘There’s a problem. The government should do something about it,’” said Hamma. “Now I can work on it. I can get my students to come together and engage on issues of social responsibility.”
Hamma began her own journey toward a degree in the summer of 2017. Originally intending to pursue a certificate program, she enrolled in two of the four required courses. “I wanted to do short courses because I thought it will be difficult to cope with starting a new degree,” she said. Very soon, she realized that she wanted more — and that she wanted to pursue a degree.
“I fell in love with the program,” she said. “In such a very little time I learned so much more than I thought I could learn in such a short while.”
While Hamma was able to come to campus last summer, she fulfilled the remainder of her degree requirements online. Despite the restrictions of online learning — including, in her case, a five-hour time difference — she found the process as engaging as in-person classes.
“I was surprised to find out how easy and convenient it was to do online learning,” she said. Materials were easily downloadable, and the fact that lectures were recorded allowed her to view them on her own schedule — and rewatch them as she pleased.
Engaging in live discussions and collaborating on projects, she said, “I’d get so engrossed I’d forget I was in my house.”
Hamma said she is disappointed about missing Commencement on campus [which has since been postponed following the outbreak of COVID-19], but she hopes to be able to make the trip back sometime soon. “I just want to open my eyes and see myself in Widener Library right now,” she said. “And I want to visit the Harvard Coop, all over again.”