How Parasto Hamed, MPS ’14 changed her focus and changed lives
Parasto Hamed found early success in her international development career, but she soon recognized that something was missing. Her true passion, she realized, was directly related to food security and value chain development. As a result, she took a break from her career to pursue an MPS at Cornell, a decision that opened new frontiers in her career and opportunities to be directly involved in international agriculture. We sat down with her to learn more about her interests, her projects, and the change she wants to make in the world as a Field Coordinator at AgResults.
You have been working at high levels of international development for more than a decade. What are the biggest challenges you want to tackle in the world?
Every person on the planet is connected to agriculture in some way. Agricultural development presents incredible opportunities to directly improve the lives of billions of people. Especially in developing countries, improvements in agriculture translate to huge differences in health, nutrition, economic opportunity, education, equity, and so much more. International agricultural development is the best way I see to really make a difference.
On the farm, I see opportunities to reduce aflatoxin through improved on-farm grain storage, and for dairy farmers to make higher incomes through the use of improved inputs. Nutritional problems can be alleviated by biofortified maize to reduce vitamin A deficiency. On the animal health side, farmers stand to benefit if we can incentivize the development of foot-and-mouth and Brucellosis vaccines affordable for smallholder farmers.
I want to help the private sector develop sustainable approaches to address market failures in a profitable way that also benefits smallholder farmers through increased access to improved inputs and technology. That’s what I’m working towards, and that’s why I do what I do.
Why did you decide to pursue an advanced degree in global development at Cornell?
After four years working in international development, I wanted to move from being a generalist/project manager to specialize in food security and value chain development. I already held a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, but I felt I needed more training directly in agriculture to achieve what I really wanted. I realized that I could stay a generalist and try to work on a project in my area of interest or take a break and redirect my path. The CALS Master of Professional Studies program was perfect for me to build off of the experiences I already had and focus specifically on agriculture.
How does your work make a positive impact on the world?
I took a position at Deloitte not long after I graduated from Cornell. I now work as field coordinator on the AgResults project. AgResults is a $152 million multilateral initiative that uses Pay-for-Results prize competitions to incentivize, or “pull”, the private sector to overcome agricultural market barriers by investing in innovative research and delivery solutions that improve the lives of smallholder farmers. At our core we are an experiential learning initiative, continuously building evidence on what works and what does not, and we use prize competitions to spur sustainable market change.
My MPS from Cornell put me in a place to contribute directly to the development areas I care about most. I’m working in agriculture and collaborating with different stakeholders along multiple value chains.
What was the most impactful or memorable experience of your time in the MPS program?
I would say the relationships I was able to build with my classmates and my professors. I learned a lot from them while I was there and continue to collaborate with them since graduating. The program is the perfect size for building professional relationships that last.
What are some of the greatest lessons you took away from your program/your time at CALS? How did those lessons inspire your career goals?
I took a year off from work because I realized that it would be extremely difficult to become a specialist without a degree in agriculture. The program gave me a chance to learn about the nuances of ag development, but it also gave me the flexibility to take classes I was interested in to be able to learn what I needed to go back into the development with a strong understand of developing and the challenges they face in the ag sector.
What advice would you give to students who want to pursue a career in global development?
It is never late to take a break from work to redirect your career if you are passionate about it. Global development is an ever-evolving sector. Never feel like you are stuck to one path — follow your passions, and it will take you where you want to go.
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