Mohamed Abdel-Kader ’01
Mohamed Abdel-Kader was the new kid.
The time was the early ’90s, and the place was R.C. Edwards Middle School in Central, South Carolina. Abdel-Kader had just spent the last year and a half living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before his physicist parents decided to relocate and continue their research at Clemson University. Suddenly, he found himself bridging gaps between his peers and his international experience.
“I was multilingual and grew up Muslim,” he says. “For better or worse, I was in this position to often have to explain to my friends what was happening in other parts of the world.”
Born in New York City to an Egyptian family, Abdel-Kader spent much of his childhood surrounded by myriad cultures and languages. And thanks to positions in student government, both in high school and as an undergraduate at Clemson, he saw the way education afforded students the same types of experiences he’d had in his youth: transformative travel, language education and cultural exposure.
Abdel-Kader graduated from Clemson with a double major in political science and communications. After grad school at Vanderbilt for higher education administration, he landed at Georgetown University as the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service’s director of development. In 2014, he was appointed by the White House to lead the U.S. Department of Education’s international and foreign language education team.
“I was overseeing the grant-making for international education,” Abdel-Kader says, “and that includes world area studies, like Latin American, African, Middle Eastern and Asian studies, and also the languages of those regions. Awesome, awesome job.”
Abdel-Kader has recently joined the U.S. Agency for International Development as its chief innovation officer and executive director of the Innovation, Technology and Research Hub.
USAID is the development arm of the U.S. government that offers humanitarian aid and stability worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In his new role, Abdel-Kader supports the agency’s innovation, technology and research divisions and its GeoCenter, all of which contribute to USAID’s global endeavor to improve lives.
For example, Abdel-Kader’s teams are supporting an e-government app to enable war-affected Ukrainians to access vital services online, from applying for benefits to paying taxes. They’re also introducing digital finance solutions in rural Colombia, helping small businesses operate remotely. And the GeoCenter is mapping communities in sub-Saharan Africa with satellite imagery to target mosquito spraying and improve malaria prevention.
Abdel-Kader is the self-proclaimed cheerleader of these solutions, there to make connections between USAID’s work and the world beyond.
“I have to be able to communicate very clearly about the work that’s being done within my unit,” he says. “I need to be able to say, ‘This innovation is going to be really valuable. We’ve tested it. We see the evidence. Let’s give it a shot.’”
In some ways, not much has changed since Abdel-Kader’s middle school years. If there’s a divide to narrow or a voice to be heard, he’s there — this time on a much larger scale.