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Maha Yahya: An Architect Turned Scholar Focuses on People

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“I was trying to understand how this place came about, the politics of war that fragmented the city, and the survival strategies of people in such a context,” Yahya said. “In short, how to navigate an urban space torn apart by conflicts.”

“I’ve never designed a building,” she added. “I found that my passion was more about the connections between politics and design, politics and space, and the impact it has on people.”

An Eye-Opening Experience

Before joining the Carnegie center, Yahya led work on sustainable development and social justice at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, known as ESCWA, where she was also regional adviser on social and urban policies.

She worked in the private sector as a consultant on projects related to socioeconomic policy analysis, development policies, cultural heritage, poverty reduction, housing and community development, and post-conflict reconstruction in various countries, including Lebanon, Oman, Egypt and Iran.

She also served on a number of advisory boards, including the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan Arab Region and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. She is currently on Unesco’s international advisory group on the futures of education.

Recalling her time at ESCWA, Yahya says, “it opened my eyes to the Arab region.”

“I am a child of the Lebanese civil war. I had spent a good bit of my life in and out of Lebanon and did not know much about the Arab region,” she said. “ESCWA opened my eyes to a broader region and broader Arab culture. I engaged with people at all levels of Arab societies, and that was very enriching.”

Achievements Close to Her Heart

Among the many achievements in Yahya’s career so far, two remain closest to her heart.

One is “The National Human Development Report 2008-2009: Toward a Citizen’s State,” on which she served as project director and principal author. The report, completed in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program in Lebanon, looked at political, socio-economic and cultural citizenship as well as education and civic initiatives in public life in Lebanon.

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