GW Students Make Global Impact through UNESCO Fellowship

The UNESCO Fellows program places graduate students in intensive internships at UNESCO field offices and institutes around the world.

April 16, 2024

Maha Malik

Maha Malik has spent the past year and a half working in Paris, France, where she started as a GW Fellow at UNESCO.

George Washington University alumna Maha Malik, M.A.’22, has spent the past year and a half working in Paris after a four-month fellowship turned into a full-time role. 

Malik began her fellowship with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) office in Paris in October 2022. She said that opportunity forever changed the trajectory of her life, and she couldn’t be happier for it. 

“I think in the past year and a half, I have grown so much more than I could have ever expected,” Malik said. “If I hadn’t pursued UNESCO’s fellowship program, my life would look so much different right now. It really did change my life for the better.” 

After graduating in the spring of 2022 with her master’s degree in international education from GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Malik was searching for programs that would allow her to use her background in education to tackle complex global issues like advocating for sustainable development and health equity. It would be a bonus if the program included an opportunity to be abroad, Malik said. 

She found everything she was looking for when she was accepted to work at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in the Global Citizenship and Peace Education Section. During the fellowship, Malik’s work allowed her to collaborate with most of the section on their projects which ranged from applying education to deal with pressing issues including addressing violent pasts and hate speech, and the promotion of peace and human rights with education.

Her primary focus during her fellowship was helping with a project to revise the 1974 recommendation concerning education for international understanding, cooperation, peace and education relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

The revised recommendation (now titled the Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Sustainable Development) ended up being adopted by all 194 UNESCO Member States in November 2023. 

Her work on the project led to her current role as a consultant for UNESCO’s Division of Peace and Sustainable Development. Malik said her work reflects not only her passions but also exactly what she studied during her master’s program at GW. 

“What I studied while getting my master’s was bringing together concepts of global citizenship, education and education for sustainable development,” Malik said. “I was looking specifically at climate change education, applying those principles, trying to tie together how climate change is going to affect our health, what our education system needs to prepare for climate change and consider our health. And then this recommendation that I am supporting directly relates to this within its umbrella, bringing together all of UNESCO’s sectors to improve education at the global level.” 

She said the entire experience has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and she’s extremely grateful to have been given this chance. 

Laura Engel, a professor of international education and international affairs and the UNESCO Chair in International Education for Development, said GW students have gotten the chance to work on amazing and impactful projects through the UNESCO fellows program. 

“The UNESCO fellows program at GW is a signature program of the UNESCO Chair, which we launched in 2014,” Engel said. “We place anywhere from five to eight students every year in a UNESCO field office or affiliated institute, and they contribute to UNESCO's mission and work.” 

GW students have been placed all over the globe through the program and worked on important global issues including gender equality and sustainable development. To date, the program has placed 44 GW students in UNESCO offices in 13 locations.  

Engel said the program is open to graduate students who show a strong interest and passion in tackling global issues and furthering UNESCO’s mission while leveraging the opportunity to advance their career goals in international development and education.

“UNESCO is an organization that is working globally toward cultivating peace, human rights, international understanding, and social and educational advancement,” Engel said. “Students are often interested in this unique opportunity to work in a major international organization. They also are driven by this opportunity to contribute to a particular social issue or initiative, such as climate change education or reducing violent extremism.” 

Engel said the fellowship offers students a truly unparalleled experience that leads to immense personal and career growth. 

The fellowships last between three to six months but many GW students have extended their stay because they build strong connections with the work they are doing at the sites. Engel said what’s made the program such a success is the dedication the students have demonstrated throughout their fellowship assignments.

“GW students are phenomenal and they are a big reason why this program is so successful. GW’s amazingly talented students make the program what it is,” Engel said.

To learn more about the program, visit the GW UNESCO Fellows Blog or contact [email protected].