Isfandyar Zaman Khan has 20 years of experience managing complex financial policy, technology, and competitiveness issues, working internationally in over 30 countries. He is currently a lead specialist in finance, competitiveness, and innovation at the World Bank in Vienna.
The following interview, part of a series conducted by Ahmad Jamal Wattoo MPA ’21, has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What prompted you to enroll in SIPA’s MPA in Economic Policy Management program?
I did a campus visit while I was working in New York. I was struck by the openness of the faculty I met and enjoyed meeting the students. I liked the program content and the linkage with all the other Columbia graduate schools, especially the Law School and the Business School. In fact, SIPA was the only master’s program I applied to.
Which courses would you recommend to current SIPA students?
One course which I enjoyed a lot was a course on Project Finance in Emerging Markets. It connected all my interests of finance, development, policy, and impact in one. Plus, the professor was amazing. I got a C, I think, in that class, but I learned the most and enjoyed it a lot. I would recommend students to take at least one class at the other grad schools to expand horizons and make the best of Columbia.
How was your experience working on your Capstone project at SIPA? What did you work on?
I did equity research at JPMorgan. It was a good experience, since I worked with people I did not know and was given a real firm to analyze and present views on their global expansion strategy for remittances.
What made you choose to work at the World Bank? What does your average day of work at the organization look like?
It was actually quite random. The MPA-EPM program had a student going to the World Bank for an internship, but at the last minute she couldn’t do it. I already had a job offer in New York at an investment bank, and the director of the program suggested I go in that student’s place since I might enjoy the work. I trusted him and, since I knew very little about the World Bank, I took a chance and went down to D.C. for an internship. That was over 18 years ago and clearly I’m glad about that nudge from the director.
On an average day I might be talking to central banks about the financial-sector safety nets in place, to the technology agency for start-up support programs, spending time balancing budgets, slogging through endless VC calls or meetings. Pre-COVID, I’m either unpacking a bag after a mission or packing a bag for one.
Do you have any parting advice for Columbia SIPA students that are currently looking for internships and full-time positions?
Be open to possibilities and be persistent in follow-up. People are very willing to help, but have limited time. Make it easier for them to hire you by researching what they do and making your pitch relevant to them. In the event you are able to connect with someone, always aim to ask for more contacts from them so that possibilities open up. Focus on the field you want to be involved in and not the job itself. You have a good degree from a name school so at times being patient helps.