An encounter with an alumna from the class of 2015 introduced Mona Murad (MPP 2021) to the Master of Public Policy (MPP) at the Blavatnik School of Government. When Mona was coming to the end of her undergraduate studies and about to join the UK civil service, she met Zahra Latif (MPP 2015) during her summer project at the Cabinet Office which made a lasting impression on Mona:
“Seeing that another British Muslim woman was doing the MPP at Oxford made me realise I could do it. I think that speaks to the power and importance of diversity and representation.”
Coming to the Blavatnik School of Government
Six years later, she has joined the MPP with five years of work experience in the UK civil service, across various departments of the government. A Duke of Cambridge Scholar, Mona was awarded full funding for her outstanding commitment to public service in the UK.
“Having this scholarship means I can take full advantage of all the opportunities at Oxford without any worry on my back about funding my studies. Being able to join a group of outstanding UK civil servants who’ve received this scholarship is also really incredible.”
Since arriving at the School, Mona has been impressed by the MPP’s incredible diversity. Being able to interact with civil servants from many different countries across the world and compare notes has been an invaluable experience already.
Policymaking across UK civil service departments
Mona’s experience in the civil service began at an interesting moment for UK policymaking. In September 2016, the UK had just voted to leave the EU, and so she was put to work straight away on the UK’s exit strategy in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Here she focused on developing the UK’s strategic interests in a UK-EU Trade Agreement for UK businesses.
After a year in this department, Mona joined the UK Civil Service Fast Stream programme, a three-year training programme in which participants move around different government departments and work in a range of operational, policy and legislative roles. During this time, Mona was based at the Department for Business, the Department for Housing, and the former Brexit Department.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Mona was based in the Cabinet Office, the department of the government responsible for supporting the prime minister and cabinet of the UK. In a test of her resilience and morale, Mona was urgently deployed to help government departments make decisions and come up with policies in the fight against the pandemic. During this effort, she advocated for considering and incorporating the differing impacts of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities into policymaking, which she considers a highlight of her career so far.
Applying for the Master of Public Policy (MPP)
Towards the end of July 2020, Mona began to think it was the right time for her to apply for the MPP. At this stage, Mona had gained experience in a senior policy role which had given her the tools to get as much as she good out of the course:
“I was doing a lot of crisis response, and didn’t have much time to think. I applied for the MPP because I was really keen to take a step back and reflect on my experience in government and think about how to develop sharper thinking skills and better strategic awareness.”
When Mona completed her application she emphasised her range of policymaking experience at the highest levels of government, along with her commitment to advocating for the incorporation of minorities in the policymaking process. When she was offered a place on the MPP, she was excited. But she knew funding could be an issue. She applied for as many scholarships as she could find, and also considered the possibility of taking out loans to pay for her studies. When the School offered her the Duke of Cambridge Scholarship she was delighted:
“When I found out I was getting the scholarship it was very emotional; it would have been very difficult for me to come without it.”
In just a short time, Mona feels her experiences at the School have begun to open up many avenues for exploration:
“I’ve been going through a self-discovery process, trying to land in a place where I can help support really rapidly growing industries while at the same time trying to regulate that growth – the intersection between technology and regulation is really interesting to me”
Above all, Mona sees her time on the MPP as an opportunity to become a better problem solver, skilled at working with a range of different stakeholders and communities to ensure maximum impact for the most vulnerable people. Whether this will be back in government straight away, in the third sector or in a hybrid public-private space, Mona is unsure. What she remains sure of is her dedication to inclusive policymaking and advocacy, which will undoubtedly flourish after her year on the MPP.