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Spotlight on Commerce: Ibrahim Baig, Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations, International Trade Administration

Ibrahim Baig, Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations, International Trade Administration

My name is Ibrahim Baig. However, colleagues and friends like call me “Ibby.” I often tell people “it’s like Libby minus the L” to help familiarize, but who am I kidding? There’s nothing normal about my name, and that has everything to do with the honor and privilege of working for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA). Why? Because in a name is a history, and in that history are individual stories woven together as a collective experience. It’s that collective experience that binds us together often through challenging circumstances for opportunity--mine being a chance to serve alongside my fellow Americans, equally and equitably, for one cause: Our nation.

The opportunities I have been afforded lay on the shoulders of men and women to whom I am forever indebted. It is of utmost importance to me that whatever I do in life, I pay those acts of charity forward.

I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. My grandfather came here in the 1950s to serve as a diplomat. My father owned a local taxi company that he later sold. I grew up around the staunchness of an old-school Washington diplomat and the rugged, hard labor of cabbies, sometimes visiting my late father’s auto shop out by the former Bolling Air Force Base now known as the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. My family later moved from their Adams Morgan home to the nearby suburbs together as one, large communal unit. Being of Kashmiri, Pashtun, Farsi-wan, and Northern Indian descent, and having been raised around Chilean and Ethiopian aunts who married into our traditional and very Muslim family, you may find it surprising that the only friend I was allowed to have over and to visit was my childhood best friend because of his wonderful family and Jewish faith.   

I earned my Master’s in Integral Economic Development Management from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C, a management degree focused on conducting quantitative evaluations for largescale economic interventions. I particularly focused on value chains and women’s entrepreneurship. In quite the cultural contrast, I earned my bachelor’s with dual majors in Globalization, Welfare, and Inequality, and International Development from Roskilde University, just outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. The degree embedded foundational teachings of social scientific research methods and philosophy of social science. Unlike traditional universities where one would take a final exam per subject, at Roskilde we conducted a group thesis each semester and defended it individually in front of external and internal examiners.

In 2012, while living in Copenhagen I became a senior fellow for Humanity in Action, an international human rights organization that focuses on connecting and educating young professionals and academics on various issues related to minority rights. The platform uses the Holocaust as a fundamental framework for teaching on modern day issues. My fellowship focused on state and civil society relations in Denmark. The commencement of the month-long educational program took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. We then traveled to the former United Nations compound to mark the 20th anniversary of the Siege of Sarajevo. During the opening speech via Skype, President Bill Clinton spoke movingly about his presidency and of the deep remorse for not acting sooner to help prevent what would later be known as the Srebrenica Massacre, which took place at that same compound.

Years later I moved back home to Washington in search of opportunity after completing my studies abroad. I had no money in the bank and no other security net I could easily fall back on, so I reached out to a friend in the local food industry who immediately told me to come and apply for a job. I started working as food runner at the local tavern due to the fundamental belief that any economic opportunity, regardless of its pay and nature, is an honest opportunity. From there I moved to a waiting position at a different restaurant where I learned the basics for serving tables, Italian wine, and creating certain cocktails. However, earning an income and applying for jobs did not relinquish me from my responsibility to give back. That’s why I simultaneously volunteered at a local LGBT refugee organization that provides Washington-based refugees and asylum seekers with legal, economic, and housing assistance. These are people from torn backgrounds who have carried the emotional, psychological, physical weight of abuse endured in their homelands in search of a better life here in our nation’s capital.

While volunteering in 2015, I put together and moderated a panel discussion with speakers from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Hebrew International Aid Society, and the Council for Global Equality to highlight the plight of Syrian LGBT men displayed across international media outlets as they were shockingly pushed off cliffs by extremists. As I continued to apply for jobs in my own field of economics and trade, I knew that I had a platform I could use to help give back in some shape or form to others as well.

In 2016, I was awarded a Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration where I started as an analyst. Today, I now carry out the responsibilities of assisting with one of the Department’s top issues of trade enforcement. I work as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Operations. Antidumping and countervailing duties enforce laws and agreements to protect U.S. businesses from unfair competition within the United States, resulting from unfair pricing by foreign companies and unfair subsidies to foreign companies by their governments.

In addition, I work closely with a team of two senior advisors and the amazing lead administrative specialist for all offices to assist the DAS and the Associate DAS to meet our extensive responsibilities. These responsibilities include assisting a very hardworking force of eight offices as well as the Customs and Liaison Unit and Training and Developing Unit, all here at Department of Commerce headquarters.  My current responsibilities for the office include proofreading our Federal Register notices and memorandums, compiling our office’s key activities and initiatives for the Commerce Secretary’s weekly report, managing the detailed tasks of all of our public announcement, and providing customer service to all our offices and colleagues across the board including senior management. I must admit I absolutely love working here. These are some of the most down-to-earth folks you will ever come across. They are hardworking and highly intelligent, and yet when you need a good laugh, they provide a great place to let your hair down.

This opportunity would not have been made possible without my former PMF mentor who continues to give me sincere, honest wisdom, as well as our former Acting Assistant Secretary who believed in me and gave me an opportunity at a time where I had very little experience compared to other candidate. I also thank our current DAS and Associate DAS who gave me the chance to demonstrate my efforts to help them meet the strenuous and often daunting tasks of the front office. 

But again, this opportunity does not relinquish me from giving forward to others the same fighting chances I have been given. I know what it feels like to need a helping hand in tough times and it would be antithetical to everything I’ve been taught in life to not give back. That’s why I serve as the Vice President of the Commerce Pride Executive Board, a new employee resource group at Commerce. Our mission is that we “shall strive to be a strategic partner with the Department to promote a cultural awareness and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees through continual learning, networking and developmental opportunities, advocacy efforts, and knowledge sharing among its members.” At Commerce, we have an impeccably supportive leadership that believes in opportunity for all of its employees. My small act of serving on the board of Commerce Pride is a personal way of giving back to  our fellow colleagues regardless of their background.

Public service to me doesn’t start with the government, it starts at home. The opportunities that one is afforded in life must be paid forward in charity and servitude to others. I’m reminded of my late grandmother who devoted to life with her family by raising her seven sons and one daughter and then literally raising her many grandchildren. And as one may imagine, a lot happens in a large family, but my generation of cousins have remained committed to each other over the because of the earnest efforts of our grandmother. She hails from an esteemed family herself from Kabul, Afghanistan, yet you’d have no idea because she spent most of her life committed to her Kashmiri husband, his family, his career, and the troves of friends from across diverse backgrounds who sought motherly wisdom in her. She taught me that opportunity itself was a manifestation of the charity one received and to always pay that gratitude forward. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up around the staunchness of a diplomat and the rugged, hard labor of running a taxi company. In reflection, the actual statesman was really my grandmother who through her convictions to provide love and care for her entire family and community of friends, made the convictions of my grandfather and late father possible.

So, it is here I leave you with a quote from my recent tribute to my grandmother’s passing away. I hope you ponder these words as much as I have, especially regarding of what public service means to you.

Live up to an admirable life through sincere devotions to others; I have a hunch it will pay off.

Editorial Note: This post is part of a series in honor of Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), showcasing the vast and diverse work of Commerce employees collectively working together to deliver important services that are helping the American economy grow.