All posts by Isaac Olson

Vahid Khatami, Monitoring & Evaluation at IRD

Vahid Khatami is a joint MPA/MAIR student who spent his Summer Semester taking part in the Maxwell-in-Washington program where he interned at IRD during the day while taking Maxwell courses at night. Vahid is currently still in Washington, DC interning at IRD and at Microfinance Opportunities.

Based on the Global Humanitarian Assistance report, at least 42% of people with extreme poverty – around 677 million people – are estimated to live in countries that are politically fragile. Many international organizations have been established to address such conflict and post-conflict environments, including International Relief and Development (IRD). With their headquarters in Arlington, Virginia and 18 years of experience, IRD currently operates in more than 15 counties across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. The international programs address relief, stabilization, and development needs in the areas of health, agriculture, infrastructure, emergency response, and governance.

Vahid Khatami at IRD headquarters in Washington, DC
Vahid Khatami at IRD headquarters in Washington, DC

As an intern in the applied learning unit of IRD, I reviewed mostly current performance reports of the projects to pull out the critical lessons learned and build a database to improve the quality of data-driven policies in the organization. To improve the accuracy of the contents, I did several interviews with program managers to reflect their viewpoints on the most important lessons learned from the programs. Such interviews helped me to improve my work relations with other staff.

I have also performed more technical jobs such as building a database of all the consultants’ historical records who have worked with IRD. For this purpose, I wrote several text-mining codes to extract the relevant information from a mass of documents which resulted in more than a thousand records. Writing the codes to automatically extract data, made a huge difference in my work rather than doing the same job manually. In the end, I suggested developing a managerial dashboard for databases including the lessons learned and consultants and indicators. This was all implemented by the M&E interns’ team and accepted by the office director.

As my career track is focused on international economics and development, I found my internship a good step to leverage my knowledge in the field. I better understand some of the development challenges in the real world and the culture of a non-profit organizations working in international development. I expanded my communication skills through the tasks and applied my technical skills in a professional environment. I hope to find my next professional position in the same career track based on this experience to improve my portfolio.

Learn more about the Maxwell-in-Washington program

Emily Hoerner Finds Great Rewards Working for IOM Ghana

Emily Hoerner used her previous experience in the non-profit sector to contribute to IOM Ghana’s mission through the Survey of Current Issues in African Migration global program. This program gives students experience doing field work for a UN agency.

As a joint-degree MPA/MAIR, my first year at Maxwell has been a whirlwind. Without a doubt, the most rewarding part of my Maxwell experience so far has been the two months I spent interning with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Accra, Ghana this summer.

I was drawn to IOM’s Ghana program because it offered me the opportunity to work on the ground with a respected international organization. I wasn’t disappointed. After a week of cultural and professional orientation to Ghana and IOM, I spent four weeks working with IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return & Reintegration (AVRR) team. The AVRR program aims to help migrants who have left Ghana and wish to return, providing them with reintegration assistance like accommodation or support if they wish to start micro-businesses.

My time with the AVRR team was spent primarily working on their reintegration database. I looked at trends and best practices from other IOM missions’ AVRR databases, and suggested improvements to the system the Ghanaian AVRR team was currently using. I then worked with a member of the AVRR team to re-build their database from the ground up, in the hope that this new framework would allow them to capture, input, and report out on migration and reintegration data more effectively and efficiently. When the database was complete, I also performed some trend analysis for the team on their migration data from the past five years, creating charts and graphs from the data that the team could use for informational one-pagers about the AVRR program.

Me with Reintegration Assistant Emmanual Oppong, working on the AVRR database.
Me with Reintegration Assistant Emmanual Oppong, working on the AVRR database.

The final two weeks of my internship were spent doing a bit more fieldwork: traveling in and around the greater Accra region to speak with beneficiaries of the AVRR program. This was, by far, my favorite part of the internship. Though I knew the database work I completed was important, having the opportunity to speak one-on-one with AVRR beneficiaries put a truly human face on the program. Some of the beneficiaries I spoke with were quieter or more reserved than others, but I loved having the chance to speak with these people and hear their stories of hardship, perseverance, and sometimes triumph.

Overall, my internship with IOM Ghana’s AVRR team was a fantastic introduction into the world of international development, and what it is like to work in a country office of a complex international organization. My time with IOM was replete with frustrations, challenges, and opportunities for both personal and professional growth. Above all, my internship solidified my desire to work in the complicated, frustrating, and rewarding field of international development.

SU students (from L-R) Francis Morency, Hatou Camara, Sam Conners, and Alison Rivera at Black Star Gate, in downtown Accra. This picture was taken on a weekend when we explored landmarks around the city.
SU students (from L-R) Francis Morency, Hatou Camara, Sam Conners, and Alison Rivera at Black Star Gate, in downtown Accra. This picture was taken on a weekend when we explored landmarks around the city.
During a long weekend, I had the chance to visit Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, both of which played a pivotal role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is me in front of Elmina after a tour of the castle, including the horrifying slave dungeons and the haunting ‘door of no return.’
During a long weekend, I had the chance to visit Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, both of which played a pivotal role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is me in front of Elmina after a tour of the castle, including the horrifying slave dungeons and the haunting ‘door of no return.’
Me with AVRR beneficiary Marvin Aidoo, who currently runs an agricultural NGO meant to employ Ghanaian youth. Having the chance to speak with AVRR beneficiaries like Mr. Aidoo was one of the most rewarding aspects of my internship with IOM.
Me with AVRR beneficiary Marvin Aidoo, who currently runs an agricultural NGO meant to employ Ghanaian youth. Having the chance to speak with AVRR beneficiaries like Mr. Aidoo was one of the most rewarding aspects of my internship with IOM.
Me with IOM Ghana’s AVRR team (from left to right, Doris Ohene-Kankam, Emmanuel Oppong, and Nuria Vidal-Fernandez).
Me with IOM Ghana’s AVRR team (from left to right, Doris Ohene-Kankam, Emmanuel Oppong, and Nuria Vidal-Fernandez).
SU students (from L-R) Francis Morency, Jinpu Wang, Sam Connors, Hatou Camara, Emily Hoerner, and Alison Rivera with EMPA alum Erika at her home near the University of Ghana.
SU students (from L-R) Francis Morency, Jinpu Wang, Sam Connors, Hatou Camara, Emily Hoerner, and Alison Rivera with EMPA alum Erika at her home near the University of Ghana.
SU students (from L-R) Francis Morency, Hatou Camara, and Emily Hoerner with IOM Reintegration Assistant Doris Ohene-Kankam and IOM AVRR (Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration) beneficiary Nelson Amtwi. This photo was taken after an interview with Amtwi at his convenience store in Spintex, just outside Accra.
SU students (from L-R) Francis Morency, Hatou Camara, and Emily Hoerner with IOM Reintegration Assistant Doris Ohene-Kankam and IOM AVRR (Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration) beneficiary Nelson Amtwi. This photo was taken after an interview with Amtwi at his convenience store in Spintex, just outside Accra.

Learn more about Survey of Current Issues In African Migration: A Fieldwork Practicum

More Global Programs

Maxwell African Scholars Union

James Murray Does Impactful Work at UNDP

James Murray is a MAIR student who obtained his internship at UNDP with the help of Emily Fredenberg, a former participant in the Graduate Internships in Geneva program. He wrote this post in August 2016.

For the past three months, I’ve been living in Geneva, Switzerland while working for the United Nations Development Programme as an intern. In less than two weeks time, I’ll be heading back to Syracuse to complete my last semester as a graduate student. The experience I’ve had this summer has provided me with working knowledge of how the international humanitarian and development systems function, and provided me with the opportunity to develop and sharpen the tools necessary to be an effective contributor in such an environment. Also, living in Geneva, a city with incredible natural beauty and wonderful history, has been a dream come true.

Before I started my work with UNDP this summer, I was slightly apprehensive that I would be given limited job responsibilities and relegated to a position with little ability to make a meaningful contribution to the organization. This assumption turned out to be completely incorrect. My two supervisors at UNDP gave me the structure necessary to ensure that my work would be impactful, while granting me the freedom to take on assignments that were of particular interest. My work was primarily focused in the health sector, specifically on reducing the global burden of non-communicable diseases, and working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

The sheer scope of this work allowed me a wide range of options when considering possible project opportunities. In my time with UNDP, I feel that my work made a positive impact while also further developing my abilities.

While the internship with UNDP may have been the most rewarding experience of the summer, living in the beautiful city of Geneva has enriched my day-to-day life for several reasons. First, while Geneva is quite a small city, there is always a festival or celebration going on each weekend. For example, this past weekend was the Fete de Genève, which was celebrated by great music, delicious food, and the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen. It lasted nearly an hour! Second, there is a tangible and exciting sense of international community that can be felt throughout the city. While being one of the most international cities in the world, it is only slightly larger than Syracuse. Lastly, Geneva has more natural beauty than any place I’ve ever lived. I consider myself an avid outdoor enthusiast, and I’ve been able to find a great hike with extraordinary views each and every weekend.

This summer has been a great opportunity for personal growth, while also being exciting and fun.

James Murray in Geneva, Switzerland
James Murray in Geneva, Switzerland

Learn more about the Graduate Internships in Geneva Program

More Global Programs

Ana Monzon, Indonesia Happens All Around You When Doing M&E for MCC

Ana Monzon is a Robertson Fellow and a joint MPA/MAIR student who will take part in the Maxwell-in-Washington program for her Fall 2016 semester. While in Washington, DC, she will begin an internship at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Office of the Millennium Challenge Account, Indonesia- implementing entity of the MCC Compact- in Jakarta, Indonesia
Office of the Millennium Challenge Account, Indonesia- implementing entity of the MCC Compact- in Jakarta, Indonesia

“Indonesia happens all around you” was the motto of my Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Internship at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) this Summer. My first days here indeed were wild. On my second week, I set out on trip to what was supposed to be a field visit with MCA-I staff from the Green Prosperity (GP) project, the biggest of three projects encompassing the 600 million USD MCC Compact in Indonesia, to monitor cocoa sustainability projects. I never made it, and instead, I was stranded in a layover island for three days (mainly due to an airplane’s broken window and the airport’s remote location). It was a first introduction of all that can go wrong, but also a first wonderful experience in the remoteness of rural Indonesia. As excited as I was to begin my third week of work in Jakarta, my laptop died on the first day back in the office. After many exasperating trips to IT centers, due to the infamous Jakarta traffic, I learned that Indonesia does not carry my laptop for which reason I flew to Singapore on the last week of Ramadan, a week-long holiday!

Once my ordeal was over, almost a month later, I quickly began working on looking at the proposals/ implementation plans of the 8 grantees (e.g., Rainforest Alliance and WWF) of the GP project’s resource management activities, “Window 1”. I was charged with identifying targeted indicators tracked by the MCC’s Indicator Tracking Table, from the grantees’ proposals and developing a thematic roadmap of each; strengthening the link between indicators and the GP Theory of Change in the master M&E plan. These tasks will help support and hold grantees accountable in the coming months and as the MCC Compact comes to an end in 2018.

Excitingly so, and to get contextual background on tasks realized in the office, I also partook in field site visits (unlike in the first attempt, all ensuing visits were a SUCCESS; no broken airplane windows!) for three different purposes; monitoring grantees’ projects, in support of a high-level management delegation from the MCC headquarters in Washington D.C., and to inform a policy paper I will spearhead on another of GP’s activity, Participatory Land Use Planning, for the World Bank’s Conference on Land and Poverty 2017. In every field visit I was marveled by the diversity in Indonesia; each region’s distinct and unique languages, foods, religions, landscapes, and customs (working in MCA-I, staffed by all Indonesians, made this discovering all the more “local”). Underlying commonalities, most characteristically the friendliness and warmth of Indonesians, persisted everywhere I went.

Indeed, Indonesia happened all around me, way too quick and with much intensity, contributing to both my professional and personal growth in ways I never fathomed. This was a dream come true for an international development aspiring professional as myself, and I owe it to all the generosity of all who financially and otherwise made it happen: Terima kasih Maxwell, Robertson Foundation, Clements and Global Awards, MCC, and MCA-I!

Kupang, Indonesia- Visit to the home of smallholder family diversifying income generation through local instrument making/ selling (role of men in the picture below) and hand weaving (as assigned to women)
Kupang, Indonesia- Visit to the home of smallholder family diversifying income generation through local instrument making/ selling (role of men in the picture above) and hand weaving (as assigned to women)
Bandung, Indonesia- Field site visit to verify the progress of project from Window 1 grantee, Consortium HIVOS, and identify lessons learned on utilization of biodigesters, bioslurry and lemna (mixture of cassava flour and grass, fed to cows for extra protein, held in picture below) in West Java.
Bandung, Indonesia- Field site visit to verify the progress of project from Window 1 grantee, Consortium HIVOS, and identify lessons learned on utilization of biodigesters, bioslurry and lemna (mixture of cassava flour and grass, fed to cows for extra protein, held in picture above) in West Java
Subang, West Java- Taking notes during a site visit to Micro-hydro Power House and Cooperative PLTMH Cinta Mekar, realized by Washington D.C. MCC delegation to discuss with IBEKA, GP Window 2 grantee, and cooperative members regarding community-based renewable energy implementation
Subang, West Java- Taking notes during a site visit to Micro-hydro Power House and Cooperative PLTMH Cinta Mekar, realized by Washington D.C. MCC delegation to discuss with IBEKA, GP Window 2 grantee, and cooperative members regarding community-based renewable energy implementation
Bandung, Indonesia- Meeting of MCC and MCA-I country directors and MCC’s Washington D.C. delegation with Mayor of Sukabumi (in the middle) to discuss achievement in procurement of MCC Compact project
Bandung, Indonesia- Meeting of MCC and MCA-I country directors and MCC’s Washington D.C. delegation with Mayor of Sukabumi (in the middle) to discuss achievement in procurement of MCC Compact project
Visit to women’s traditional hand weaving cooperative, Patuh Cooperative, during field site visit in island of Lombok, Indonesia; wearing a traditional wedding dress
Visit to women’s traditional hand weaving cooperative, Patuh Cooperative, during field site visit in island of Lombok, Indonesia; wearing a traditional wedding dress
Learning how to hand-weave at Patuh Cooperative
Learning how to hand-weave at Patuh Cooperative
Selong Belanak Beach, South Lombok- Alongside staff from the GP Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP) project activity on a remote rural beach on the way to a project site
Selong Belanak Beach, South Lombok- Alongside staff from the GP Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP) project activity on a remote rural beach on the way to a project site

Mark Temnycky, Greeting from Ukraine

Mark Temnycky is currently taking part in the Maxwell-in-Washington program while simultaneously interning at the United States Department of Defense working on NATO policy. He also had an article published in Forbes. Check out his Forbes article>>

My name is Mark Temnycky. I am a Ukrainian-American pursuing a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations. I am also seeking a Certificate of Advanced Study in the European Union and Contemporary Europe, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in National Security Studies.

This summer I was fortunate to intern at the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] of Ukraine, where the duration of the internship lasted 9 weeks. During this period I wrote various reports for the committee on world events and how they affected Ukraine. For example, I provided analyses on what ‘Brexit’ might mean for Ukraine’s EU membership bid; how the developments of the NATO Warsaw Summit might shape the future of national security in Eastern Europe; and the EU’s current strategies on Russian sanctions. In addition, I translated government documents from Ukrainian into English, and translated international documents, such as news reports, from English into Ukrainian.

During my days off, I was able to explore Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine, such as Lviv, to learn more about the history, culture, and traditions of Ukraine. For example, I visited the grand churches of Kyiv; the old memorials to the Soviet soldiers who had fallen during World War II; the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, which recently started its own Master of Public Administration Program; and visited longtime friends from the Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization. Moreover, given my particular interest in Eastern European affairs, I was fortunate to have traveled to various Eastern European countries during my time abroad. Through these trips I was able to build a stronger appreciation for Eastern European history and culture; further strengthened my Ukrainian and German language skills; developed rudimentary Russian language ability; and learned what it meant to be a citizen of Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Overall I am very blessed and thankful for this experience. I learned more about the various administrative processes of the Verkhovna Rada and its parliamentary system, the various issues that Ukraine faces during the twenty first century, and the strength that the Ukrainian people have in order to overcome these issues. The experience was simply surreal. Thank you Ukraine!

Mark Temnycky in Ukraine
Mark Temnycky in Ukraine

Camila Urbina Escobar, Stopping Malnutrition with World Food Programme in Timor-Leste

Map of Timor-Leste & location on the globe
Map of Timor-Leste & location on the globe

Camila Urbina is a joint MPA/MAIR student who secured her internship at WFP by writing directly to country offices and looking outside well known locations. For her Fall 2016 Semester, she plans to study at Sciences Po in Paris through one of SU’s World Partner Programs.

Amongst the amazing opportunities the Maxwell School has provided me during my joint degree, this summer was certainly the most life-changing. I could have never imagined the incredible professional and personal experiences and growth that awaited me while working for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste is one of the newest countries in the world, the proud and resilient Timorese gained their independence from Indonesia after a terrifying war only 16 years ago. With one million inhabitants and a young government, Timor is navigating post-conflict, much like my native Colombia, with the help of the UN.

The country has the world’s worst stunting in the world and some of the worst malnutrition numbers in Asia; this is why the World Food Programme is supporting the Timorese Ministry of Heath to conduct a mother and child nutrition programme. The programme provides nutrition screenings, education and supplementary foods for pregnant and lactating mothers and malnourished children under two years old in 6 of the most critically malnourish municipalities in the island nation. WFP is also providing technical assistance and capacity building to the Timorese so that they may eventually take full control of the program.

My three months were divided into working in the main office in the capital Dili, supporting the monitoring and evaluation department, and working in the field, providing food and nutrition education for the country’s most remote and malnourished communities in the mountains of enclave province of Oecusse.

The WFP country office in Timor is aiming at creating a social accountability mechanism to include in their nutrition program. During my time in Dili, I was tasked with creating a benchmark of the mechanisms and strategies used by those other UN agencies and NGOs in Timor to get feedback from communities and help put together a proposal to create the country office’s own social accountability system. Furthermore I was in charge of creating a gender action plan for the office, based on the guidelines provided by WFP headquarters in Rome, in order to help materialize WFP’s commitment to women empowerment and gender balance in all aspect of their work. I also supported various communication needs, writing stories, interviews and particularly covering the work in the field during international Breastfeeding week.

It was a profoundly enriching experience to be a part of the country’s learning process in matters of nutrition and social resilience and to experience not only the challenge of working with government in a different culture but more importantly the joy of serving in the remote and beautiful villages. This summer was an incredible experience, serving the resilient and loving Timorese and living amongst the wild and the unbridled beauty of their island-home has provided me with new perspectives on humanitarian work and given me the opportunity to practice all the theory provided by the Maxwell School to the benefit of the most vulnerable.

Camila Urbina in Maquelab, Timor-Leste screening a child for malnutrition on June 22, 2016
Camila Urbina in Maquelab, Timor-Leste screening a child for malnutrition on June 22, 2016
Camila Urbina celebrating Breastfeeding Week with mothers in Oecilo, Timor-Leste on August 3, 2016
Camila Urbina celebrating Breastfeeding Week with mothers in Oecilo, Timor-Leste on August 3, 2016
Camila Urbina in a nutrition screening with the community in Oecusse, Timor Leste on June 22 2016
Camila Urbina in a nutrition screening with the community in Oecusse, Timor Leste on June 22 2016

Deborah Baldwin Does Coms for The Brookings Institution

Deborah Baldwin is a recent graduate of the Public Diplomacy program. She earned a joint Master of Arts in International Relations and a Master of Science in Public Relations from the prestigious Maxwell and Newhouse schools.

From introducing me to new tools and software, giving me opportunities to perform and learn more about research, and allowing me to gain hands-on experience in engaging with their target audience, The Brookings Institution’s communications department provided me with an unforgettable internship experience. I interned this past spring semester with the organization’s social media team, which was a great experience for me being a Public Diplomacy student with an interest in research. I got to not only read much of the great research published by the institution, but I also had the opportunity to learn how to best market it to their online public audiences through tweets, Facebook posts and Medium. I would then gauge how the audience interacted to it. In addition to learning how to market others’ research, I got to perform some of my own, writing reports to help determine the direction of the department’s iTunes U channel and giving recommendations on whether and how they should engage with their public over Snapchat.

The communications department was also open to letting interns get involved in other areas and meet people working outside of their own teams. When the events intern took a new job and left, I filled in for him, checking in guests at the events, helping facilitate discussions with panelists (one of whom was Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken), and learning to use attendance tracking tools to add to my resume. I also made some really great friends with whom to try out the local restaurants.

Brookings has some awesome perks, including a great cafeteria with a specialty coffee machine, a library that not only allows interns to check out an unlimited number of books for up to four weeks, but is also staffed with the sweetest librarians you’ll ever meet and a bookshelf of giveaway books, and events that are free and open to the public. I frequented all of these things, especially the coffee machine. Not only did I see Anthony Blinken at a Brookings event, but I also got to see Gayle Smith, executive director of USAID, along with Justice Stephen Breyer, Turkish President Erdogan, and Sen. John McCain. I even got to see what may have been the largest protest in the history of The Brookings Institution, conducted by Amnesty International when President Erdogan came. From a public relations perspective, it was a good experience to see how an audience might react to a decision made by your organization with which they might not agree, so I got to take advantage of a learning opportunity by going outside and talking to protestors.

This internship allowed me to gain experience in digital communications and relationship building with organizational public audiences while also giving me insight into writing research and helping me to make new contacts in the policy sector. I especially enjoyed getting to know the faces behind the Brookings social media accounts, the YouTube channels and the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast, as well as some of the researchers of the number one research institution in the world.

Deborah Baldwin at The Brookings Institution.
Deborah Baldwin at The Brookings Institution.

Learn more about the Maxwell-in-Washington program

Public Diplomacy Program Allows Alex Jorgensen to Stand Out

Alex Jorgensen was a Public Diplomacy (PD) Student who completed a joint MAIR/MSPR. He finished his degree in the spring of 2016. PD students combine an MA in International Relations from the Maxwell School with a MS in Public Relations from the Newhouse School.

PD Alumni Alex Jorgensen
PD Alumni Alex Jorgensen

This semester I had the privilege of working as an Account Executive at JM Strategic Communications Group in Manhattan. JMSC’s mission is to supply a high-level strategic consultancy to public and private companies in their investor relations and public relations practices. Our mission is to combine business objectives with strategy to communicate effectively to shareholders and stakeholders a company’s story and performance.

JMSC logo

My daily activities consist of:

  • Drafting press/earnings releases
  • Media monitoring clients and peers
  • Developing investor presentations for clients
  • Fully develop & launched our company’s new website (jmscgroup.com, launched in February 2016)
  • Listen to and analyze quarterly earnings calls
  • Assist in running earnings conference call
  • Learn the fundamentals surrounding investor communication and initial public offerings
  • Gain knowledge of capital markets, the buy and sell side of wall street, and communicating a company’s story effectively both qualitatively and quantitatively

As I developed the basic skills to establish myself in the firm I felt that the Public Diplomacy program puts practitioners in a unique position to differentiate themselves. Students from the Public Diplomacy program have the skills to differentiate themselves through traditional public relations experience from practical PR curriculum, digital marketing, social media strategy, and an understanding of working with government officials while being a non-state actor. Through developing public relations strategies for particular clients, developing a network of Search Engine Optimization colleagues who bolster my digital media knowledge, and delivering on social media operations for in-house accounts and client accounts; I saw firsthand how lessons from the PD program applied directly to my daily routine.

Some key lessons from my practicum were that I learned the foundations of building marketing strategies for communicating the value of a start-up to new business and the general public, through the research and development of our company’s website. Possibly the most impactful lesson was in the balance between quality and timeliness. To become an expert in any field one must learn how to prioritize which tasks need to be treated with extensive detail, and which need to be turned at a speed that combines quality with timeliness. I do not think I have mastered this skill, but think that I am further than I imagined I could be in one semester’s time.

Another key application from Maxwell was knowledge about how the government functions, specifically with non-state actors. The government plays an important role in our operations. The sweeping regulations that came with Sarbanes-Oaxley, and the 2009 financial crisis have produced an environment in which public companies need to constantly be vigilant of the information they disclose in ensuring an equal playing field for all investors. Whether or not that playing field has been established is not up to the practitioners themselves, but taking accountability of their own day-to-day operations should produce a synergistic effect that ensures that playing field is intact. This experience was an incredible way to apply lessons from Maxwell and Newhouse to the beginning of my professional career in investor relations.

Tosca Bruno Gives Advice on Working in International Relief & Development

Suhyeon Lee (MAIR candidate) interviewed Director of the Transnational NGO Initiative in the Moynihan Institute, Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken. Tosca continually  brings a wealth of international resources to the PAIA Department and has assisted  innumerable students.

Nice to meet you, Ms. Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken. Could you introduce yourself?

I am the director of the Transnational NGO (TNGO) Initiative. I engage both in academic work and do a lot of works with NGO practitioners. I have worked on international development and civil society issues for over 25 years. Some people call people like me a ‘pracademic’ and I call myself sometimes jokingly an ‘accidental pracademic’, which means a practitioner who accidently ended up in academia. I didn’t plan to end up in academia, but it happened by chance, and I started enjoying playing a bridge building role between the theory and research around transnational NGOs and the practice of the NGO practitioners who lead and manage these organizations.

Could you explain what you teach at Maxwell School?

I teach Global Governance and Civil Society and in addition to that, I advise a couple of MPA Workshop projects each year. Sometimes, I am an advisor for independent study projects. We also offer opportunities for students to volunteer in our research and practitioner work through the TNGO Initiative.

Can you tell me more about the Global Governance and Civil Society course?

Global Governance and Civil Society is a survey course on the role of civil society in how the world is governed.  It is neither a theoretical course nor a management course; it is somewhere in between. We focus on what civil society organizations do and what civil society as a concept stands for. And then we unpack a couple of different sectors: human rights, environment, and conflict resolution, and look at the functions NGOs play. We also look at a number of challenges facing organizations (governance, effectiveness, leadership, coordination, accountability, evaluation and assessment, capacity building issues, etc.).

How did you start your career?

These things, as I sometimes say to students here, are often a mixture of planning, pure coincidence, luck, and unplanned events. I started out working for a year in a small management consulting company in the Netherlands. It was internationally-oriented and focused on small business promotion in developing countries.  I was not happy with it, so I moved to a think-tank called the European Center for Development Policies Management (ECDPM). I worked there for four years as a program officer. We focused on governance issues in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. And then I wanted to get more field experience which is typically what most young international development practitioners need. I found an opportunity as a UN Volunteer for the UN peacekeeping operations under United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).  I was in charge of the preparation for and holding of free and fair elections in one remote district. I also worked for the headquarters of the World Bank for two and a half years, and for four years I was at the World Bank in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those were my sixteen years of international development experience.

As you said, field experience is what most international development young practitioners really need. I also want to have field experience before graduating from Maxwell. Did you have memorable experiences while working in the field in Cambodia?

I think the most memorable experience was that during the year of preparing for the elections, both the Khmer Rouge and bandits engaged in attacks on some foreigners who were in Cambodia as part of the peace keeping operation. Within our large contingent of district electoral supervisors, one person was murdered and four were kidnapped in the last couple of months before elections when political tensions were high.  A significant number of Cambodians also died during this tense period. During the elections, when I changed my role from preparation for elections in my district to independent monitoring of polling stations, I found myself for the first time needing a bodyguard because of these political tensions and violence. This was a very new experience for me and it will stay with me since I came from a country (The Netherlands) where governance is not a matter of the power of the gun.

Tosca Bruno & Cambodian Translator
Tosca and former translator in Cambodia, Sokhany Prak, whom she worked with from 1992-1993. In 2014, Prak was able to attend the TNGO Leadership Institute. “Quite a wonderful and miraculous reunion.” according to Tosca.

What is the role of NGOs in the development sector in the 21st century?

There will likely always remain a role for TNGOs in humanitarian relief, although government, the private sector and national NGOs are stepping up their roles. And there will continue to be a contingent of small TNGOs that have a classical charity model. Generally speaking, most mid to large size TNGOs still play some roles in direct delivery of services, though this is generally declining, and nowadays often complemented by advocacy and capacity building. Some are evolving their role to that of being a broker and convener between government, the private sector and national NGOs; sometimes, their role evolves to that of knowledge provider. Western TNGOs increasingly work on strengthening their domestic legitimacy as well as playing a stronger role in domestic policy advocacy as well as service delivery work in the countries where they were founded. Because many NGOs by now have been set up by citizens in the countries where formerly primarily western NGOs used to work, these NGOs in the ‘Global South are now able to play the roles that Western or ‘Northern NGOs’ used to, with considerably lower cost models. There is thus more and more pressure on the northern NGOs to get out of the business of delivering services except for humanitarian relief which as I said will always be needed. Therefore, most analysts are foreseeing a big role change in the 21st century.

I’ve seen that you are on the board of InterAction. What is this organization?

InterAction is a membership organization of US international development and relief NGOs and thus plays the role of national platform here in the US. We, as the TNGO initiative, are an associate member, and I am on the board of InterAction as an independent ‘person of stature’.  The board position gives me a bird’s eye view of the sector, which is interesting from a research as well as a networking perspective.

What advice you want to give Maxwell students?

I think it is increasingly difficult to find a job in the international NGO sector. In terms of ‘Northern’ NGOs, it’s increasingly hard for American and other western students to find a job because there are more people with a high level of education in the international development sector than there are NGO jobs. In addition, donor levels in certain countries in the ‘North’ are decreasing while there is an increasing supply of students from ‘Global South and East’ countries who also come from good universities. To some extent it is therefore an increasingly crowded and very competitive market for finding a job. You should therefore definitely not put all your eggs in one or two baskets in terms of finding a job. Also, some students tend to come to Maxwell thinking that they want a job at the World Bank, where I used to work, or the UN, and I actually try to make them less single minded about that. Big organizations are not only extremely competitive to get into but also very bureaucratic. If you enter as a junior person, you may find the organization to be very internally oriented – a lot of navel gazing. You also may experience a lot of ‘paper pushing’.  It’s not necessarily that interesting to work in such a large, bureaucratic organization at a junior level. If you can work in a small or medium sized organization like an NGO, think rank, social enterprise or impact investor company, I would argue that this will offer you a better job experience with more hands-on work. Later on, you can then be considered for a mid-level job at one of these large organizations. Also, having field experience at the country level continues to be indispensable –without it you will not compete very well in the job market — but at the same time it is increasingly hard to come by.

Overall, something that I want to encourage you to do is to intern in development organizations or complete field work or volunteer experience. And then, do research about a sector you want to work in, look at what organizations and why you want to work for them, and then reach out to them for informational interviews. This will show that you really understand that organization well.

One more thing, keep your eyes on job opportunities in other cities other than Washington, DC and New York because the competition is harsh in these cities and not as many people would apply to jobs in other cities. Power is so distributed in the world that NYC and DC should not be the only choice.  Also, don’t just look at NGOs, government, and think tanks.  Look at social enterprises, which are corporations that are set up to make profits but invest that profit into social goods, impact investments, and digitally operating campaigns. There are various types of agencies in international development. Look at them in terms of looking for internships and looking for a job.

Tosca Bruno
Tosca listening at the June 2016 Leadership Institute.

A previous version of this article stated that Tosca was a “Professor of Practice”, which is inaccurate. This was an oversight on the part of the Editor.

Kimberly Hatcher Uses Award to Partake in DC Opportunities

Kimberly Hatcher is a graduate of the Public Diplomacy (PD) program, where students earn a joint Master of Arts in International Relations and a Master of Science in Public relations from Syracuse Universities two most prestigious schools, the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School. All PD students are required to spend their final Spring Semester in Washington, DC.

My Global Programs Award funded three D.C.-centric endeavors: a research consultancy with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), a fellowship in the State Department, and an unintentional internship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  At the conclusion of the Public Diplomacy degree program (M.A. International Relations, Maxwell School/M.S. Public Relations, Newhouse School of Public Communications), being able to study and work in D.C. for the final semester was not only a key factor in my SU enrollment decision, but additionally a vital maneuver in my career development.

Security clearances take (too much!) time, therefore much of my semester was spent attending South Asia events and networking with like-minded individuals at various think tanks and government institutions.  Through these interactions, I began my research consultancy with the South Asia department of CIPE, for which I am (still) slowly building an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the youth of Pakistan, currently comprising over 60% of their 200 million populace. However, as the conclusion of the semester loomed, and my internship requirement was yet to be fulfilled, I utilized the Maxwell-CSIS partnership to procure a part-time research position with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies.

Just prior to the conclusion of my masters course of study, my clearance was approved and I began my fellowship at the Department of State. Originally a member of the India Desk, because of staffing shortages and my years of communications experience, I was transferred to the Press Office for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.  Currently I am the point for Central Asian press guidance, in addition to contributing to the Bureau’s social media, Indo-Pak, and Indian economic directions.  I am also press lead for this year’s U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference, and am very fortunate to be able to say that I am doing exactly what I had hoped for upon entering Maxwell two years ago. Without the support of Maxwell’s Global Program Award, it would have been very difficult for me to pursue my career aspirations, and I am very grateful for every afforded opportunity.

Asma Jahangir, founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and Kimberly Hatcher

Learn more about the Maxwell-in-Washington program