Zahra Latif

Zahra Latif (MPP 2015) used the Master of Public Policy as a stepping stone from the third sector to policymaking and she is currently working in the British government as Private Secretary in the Prime Minister's Policy Unit.

She joined the course with a desire to create opportunities for marginalised groups, having worked in a grassroots capacity for charities and NGOs with a focus on community cohesion.

“My career choices were informed by being the child of migrants and having the feeling that I am at once an insider and an outsider. Although Britain has many opportunities, I realised that not everyone is enabled to access these.”

She applied for the MPP to widen the impact she was having by enhancing her on-the-ground experience with a strong academic backing. “I was helping people on an individual basis, but I saw how politics shapes the funding landscape and consequently, which projects are pursued. I wanted to make change at scale, so felt I needed to become a shaper of government policy rather than just subject to it”, she says.  

The Blavatnik School’s applied policy focus, eminent faculty and student diversity were some of the reasons why Zahra chose the MPP.

“The course helped me gain practical tools and gave me a rigorous academic training in some of the foundations of policy. You get so many opportunities during the year and have the feeling you could go anywhere and do anything.”

With her goal of a career in policymaking for the public good in mind, Zahra did her summer project in the UK Cabinet Office, working on youth policy. At the end of the placement she was offered a job to lead on an innovative approach to government consultation – working directly with young people from a variety of backgrounds who conducted peer-to-peer research to inform government’s policy. From this role, she went on to join the Open Innovation Team within the Cabinet Office, which supports policymakers in engaging with outside expertise with a particular focus on academics.

From these first two positions she gained an insight into both the possibilities and challenges of the civil service: “When you work directly with people within a charity, like I did before the MPP, you can directly see the impact you’re having. But in a policymaking role you are more removed – as a civil servant, you are part of a bigger and complicated machine trying to work for people’s good.”

Looking to progress and develop her insights into the forces that shape policy, she applied for her current role as Private Secretary in the Prime Minister's Policy Unit, which covers all of UK domestic policy. Day to day, Zahra works with the unit’s Director to drive the Prime Minister’s priorities and suggest ideas to meet these goals. She coordinates cross-cutting advice and links up different policy areas, working with teams within No 10 and across the Civil Service. She has also taken on policy work of her own on clean air and domestic abuse.

In the long-term future, Zahra would like to run for election as a Member of Parliament, thereby bringing together her policy training, experiences in the charitable sector and public service to have a positive impact on citizens’ wellbeing.

“Helping people is what drives me. I went to the Blavatnik School with the intention of learning as much as I could to benefit society in my career, and this is still at the forefront of my mind.”

April 2019