Water Policy Analyst
Global Green Growth Institute
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I originally wanted a career in a field that I felt would impact the world. I was born in Pakistan, a country where poverty and human rights abuse are part and parcel of life. I found that working in the public sector was inefficient and ineffective, and the only way to move forward was embracing technology. In fact, technology has impacted the lives of people more than any single leader or politician.
I decided to therefore pursue a career in engineering, which I felt would equip me with the technical skills to design solutions to the world’s biggest problem, which an activist, politician, leader, or any public official would still not be able to do without having the pre-requisite skills. Today, I work in the water sector with an international organization that designs solutions for green growth. I presently am working on projects in Vietnam, Cambodia, Jordan and India.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There are too many to be honest, but perhaps if I had to choose one, it was during my undergraduate, where I worked on an independent research project that looked at the Mississippi River and the Indus River. Both rivers encounter seasonal flooding but the way officials manage flooding was what was more interesting.
I developed a GIS-based decision support tool using hydrodynamic models and GIS which would provide policy makers the necessary information to identify areas that are likely to get flooded, and at what levels. I used this model to look at river stretches of the Indus and Mississippi. The research was also awarded a Hoopes Award of $6000, which is the highest accolade awarded by Harvard University for research.
My entire journey here: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/blog/2017/07/alumni-profile-laila-kasuri-ab-13
Role models and heroes:
A great role model and mentor was my own advisor, John Briscoe, who passed away in 2015. He was a water practitioner from South Africa, and also won the Stockholm Water Prize in 2014. He was a strong force in pushing me to pursue STEM and grow in a field that was inundated by men.
I am currently trying to expand mentors who are more entrepreneurial. Elon Musk is someone I really consider as my hero. I always wish I had the ability to take risks the way he did. I also think that his relentlessness, despite failure is inspirational.
Why do you loving working in STEM?
I really like solving puzzles, and STEM allows me to solve puzzles and also make a difference at the same time. In fact, a simple problem such as sanitation can be solved by engineers who can now innovate and valorise waste to produce energy. Similarly, working on hydropower projects is exciting especially to see how water can be used to run appliances in our homes. It is exciting to know that STEM can be used to solve some of the greatest challenges in the world! I have truly had some very exciting opportunities through STEM!
Advice for future STEMinists?
I advise them to become leaders! All too often, women become followers and hardly ever find mentors who can encourage them to take risks. I really suggest future STEMinists to take risks and also fail. For every opportunity I have gotten, I must have failed at least ten times. For every job offer or fellowship I got, I received at least twenty rejections. It’s certainly difficult to be rejected time and time again, especially if the candidate selected is a man who can visit more sites or work in certain areas, but I am always glad I tried!
Favorite website or app: Google Maps. I’ve managed to explore so many countries alone and experience a rich, diverse live through the ability to navigate!