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It was the journalist Edward R. Murrow who observed that in promoting international understandings, what matters most is “the last three feet.” Incomplete perceptions and attitudes about foreign people are best dispelled by actual personal contact, with individuals engaged in conversation with one another. And so it was with my Fulbright experience.
I arrived in Medford, Massachusetts in the fall of 2012, to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. My place of study was the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which is situated 15 minutes from Boston proper. I was very excited about this unique opportunity to specialize in the fields of study that interest me the most, namely U.S. foreign policy, security studies, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Fletcher offered an incredible range, depth, and freedom of study that I tried to take advantage of to the fullest. This involved, for example, a highly meticulous process of deciding which courses to take in a given semester. The task was not made easier by the fact that Fletcher students can cross-register for graduate courses at Harvard University, which significantly widened the list of available courses. I was not complaining about the degree of choice, however. For someone hungry to further his studies it was pure bliss.
For my comprehension of world issues, as important as the courses themselves were my fellow peers. Fletcher attracts a pool of students, both from the United States and abroad, with an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. This meant that for basically every classroom discussion someone would say something like “I was there when that happened” or “I have been working on that for my government.” This made the talks so much richer, and my understanding of the issues so much deeper. Having had the opportunity to discuss world issues with people from around the globe, in the pressure cooker of ideas and perspectives that is Fletcher, was a truly invaluable experience.
I also greatly appreciated the Fletcher faculty’s approach of mixing theory and practice in their teaching. The school prides itself on being a professional school of international affairs, and the professors place great emphasis on training students to be ready to tackle real-world issues. A skill I particularly valued training for was the ability to express myself concisely. I had many opportunities to practice this in writing terse two-page memos, where I had to summarize a problem and propose solutions. One of my professors’ favorite word was actually “pith,” a topic on which he gave a talk every year.
Beyond the classroom my cultural experience in the United States was greatly enhanced by being a part of the Fulbright network. I attended various Boston Fulbright mixers, meeting many engaging students from around America and the world. One of my favorite experiences, though, was the Fulbright enrichment seminar I attended in St. Louis, Missouri. I went there to learn about America’s westward expansion, but came away with much more.
I fondly remember spending time at a local daycare center in the outskirts of St. Louis. It was a part of Head Start, a U.S. federal program intended to promote the school readiness for young children from lower-income families. After being questioned by a little girl on “why I talked so funny,” I tried to explain that I was not from the United States. I attempted to demonstrate this by using Play-Doh to create two blobs representing North America and Europe. The lesson might only have been partially successful, but I left with a greater appreciation for how inquisitive young minds are, and how important programs like Head Start are in helping all children reach their full potential.
The Fulbright Program has allowed me to attain an education that I know will help me in my professional and personal life. But, and perhaps more importantly, Fulbright also gave me the opportunity to walk those last three feet and meet so many people that have expanded my understanding of the world, its issues, and its people. I would strongly encourage anyone considering becoming a part of this program to do so, the last steps toward someone might be the most important ones you ever take.
Though our 2014 alumni graduated more than a year ago, I will continuing highlighting their work until the 2015 grads find theirs. Today, Eirik Torsvoll tells us about his return to Norway and the start of his job. Note that Eirik wrote his post earlier in the spring.
Although I never would have believed it, time during my first year after graduation seems to have moved even faster than when I was a MALD student at Fletcher. I was therefore a little taken aback when Jessica reminded me in November that it had been six months since graduation, and that she hoped I would still be able to write a blog post in the spring. Things have now finally settled with moving back to Norway and starting work-life, so this is a good point in time to reflect on the initial post-Fletcher period.
The first few months after graduation were characterized by excitement and a little frustration. It was exciting because I was eager to start a new chapter in my life and pursue various work opportunities in Norway, and frustrating because there was little actual activity in the job market during the summer months. However, I took to heart the ever-helpful advice of the Fletcher Office of Career Services and used this time to reach out to interesting people and employers for so-called informational interviews.
Through these interviews I met some fascinating people with plenty of helpful advice and insights. Something I found particularly valuable was the recommendation to write and publish whenever I could. I was told that being able to display an ability to write and communicate would always be appreciated wherever I applied for work, something I have found to be true. During this period I therefore wrote a couple of op-eds for Norwegian newspapers (here and here), and I also published an article in the Fletcher Forum.
When things finally heated up in the job market I found that a Fletcher education certainly made me competitive. Particularly, I think it was the breadth and depth of my education that made me stand out in the job market, as I could offer both relevant skills (such as memo writing) and a familiarity with pertinent issues (for example Asia-Pacific affairs).
Sometimes I would be astonished by which aspects of my Fletcher education proved useful. For example, during one of my job interviews I was asked about how I would relate Carl von Clausewitz’s teachings with the practice of my prospective employer. Having taken Prof. William Martel’s course on the evolution of grand strategy, I felt I could answer this challenging question adequately. I obviously had to tell Prof. Martel about this afterwards, and his response — that he was pleased to hear that Clausewitz and grand strategy remained relevant — was the last I heard from him before his truly tragic passing this January. (For those interested, Jessica wrote a beautiful post about Professor Martel after his departure.)
In the end, though, I ended up in a research position at PluriCourts, an Oslo-based research center for the study of the legitimate roles of the judiciary in the global order. Much like Fletcher, PluriCourts employs an interdisciplinary approach, using political science, law, and philosophy to study the legitimacy of international courts and tribunals. Since starting, I have been very thankful for the breadth requirements of my Fletcher education, as this was a field I originally had not expected to work in. The ILO course on International Organizations, with its focus on the interaction between international law and politics, has been incredibly helpful in understanding the work PluriCourts does.
At PluriCourts, I work closely with our researchers on their various projects, assist in the many workshops and seminars we organize, and everything in between. The work also involves a bit of traveling, and soon I attended a workshop in Barcelona on the normative aspects of the legitimacy of international courts. The research project I’m currently working on involves looking at the independence of international courts from states, and this requires a thorough assessment of the various courts based on a series of indicators. It’s still in the preliminary stages of data collection and coding, and it’s really exciting to be a part of a research project from the very beginning. This way, I’m able to both witness and be a part of how the project progresses.
All in all, the transition back to work life has been both fun and exciting. I’m confident that Fletcher has prepared me well for the future challenges ahead, whichever way my career path takes me.
I admit: It’s a little late to be wrapping up Five-Year Updates from the Class of 2009. But when I published the most recent post, I realized that every one of the 2009ers were women. Surely there were men in that class! So I reached out to Zack, an Admissions pal from back in the day, and he zapped his post to me in a jiffy. With no further ado, the final Five-Year Update from the Class of 2009, from Zack Gold.
This is really a six-year update, written from Tel Aviv, where I’m a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). My research focuses on the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, Egyptian political development, and Egyptian-Israeli-U.S. relations. I’m also an Adjunct Fellow at the American Security Project, which recently hosted me at a conference on Eastern Mediterranean energy security in Washington.
My path to Fletcher developed at the University of Delaware. I was an undergraduate student when the Palestinians launched the Second Intifada against Israel, during the 9/11 attacks, and in the lead up to and start of the Iraq war. Over those years my background in Middle Eastern history and interfaith relations developed into an awareness of and interest in international affairs.
After graduating I worked in Washington for two years at Meridian International Center, where I helped administer the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program. In between writing itineraries and booking flights, I tagged along with foreign delegations to meetings at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon. I unselfishly escorted one visitor to see the Baltimore Orioles host the Boston Red Sox: a public diplomacy win for Red Sox Nation!
Before graduate school I wanted to gain a better understanding of the Middle East, so I spent 14 months living, working, and studying languages in Egypt and Israel, while also traveling to Jordan, Morocco, and Turkey. My on-ground experiences over that time have informed my work ever since.
This international worldview made The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy an obvious choice. I was extremely impressed with the individuals who made up the Fletcher community, and I took advantage of the flexibility in courses and coursework. In classes on decision-making, statecraft, and public diplomacy, I had the opportunity to develop projects that fit my interests: writing policy briefs, op-eds, and papers; and conducting simulations on politics in Egypt and Pakistan and on the Iranian nuclear program.
I greatly enjoyed the research and writing, not all of which was ground-breaking analysis. The Fletcher School has wisely removed the student-run blog from that time. My most worthwhile contribution probably centered on the best place to get ice cream in the area.
In 2011, two years after earning my MALD, the uprising in Egypt brought two areas of my Fletcher studies back into focus: U.S. democratization policy (about which I wrote a seminar paper) and the Muslim Brotherhood (my thesis: “The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Moderate Islamists, Moderate Democrats”). I began publishing about U.S.-Egyptian relations as an independent analyst, and in May of that year I started a research term at The Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy (since renamed the Center for Middle East Policy).
My Brookings position was a dream job. For three years I worked directly with the very scholars and practitioners whose books and articles I read at Fletcher. I learned from their experiences and guidance, and I had access to incredible leaders and thinkers around Washington and the Middle East. At the same time, I developed my own subject-matter expertise: looking closely at security in Sinai, where a jihadist insurgency threatens both Egypt and Israel.
In addition to work-related and research travel to the Middle East, and a number of independent publications, I had the privilege of authoring a Brookings analysis paper: “Sinai Security: Opportunities for Unlikely Cooperation Among Egypt, Israel, and Hamas.” That paper made its way to the director of INSS, who — in time for the fifth anniversary of my Fletcher graduation — invited me continue my research under the auspices of his institute. I’ve been here since October 2014.
Last Thursday, we hosted our Admissions interns for an end-of-year lunch. For two, it’s only farewell until September. For three of the interns, it was a more final goodbye. We’ll see them at Commencement, of course, but after that they are all off to do good things in the world.
This week, the pace of farewells accelerates. When not busy having a great time with classmates, students will stop in to say goodbye. One first-year dropped off plants that I will be plant-sitting for the summer. Others just want to touch base before they leave. Honestly, while I’m always proud to have played the tiniest of roles in launching students in their new careers, the dominant emotion is wistfulness. And not only because it’s a little lonely for us staffers in the summer.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of recruiting writers for the Five-Year Updates and First-Year Alumni posts has been reconnecting with old pals. It was so nice to correspond with Jelana and Ivette, for example — friends from when they spent lots of time in the Admissions Office. And I recently received an invitation to an alum’s wedding in Tunisia. That is, once students leave the campus, we can still create opportunities to remain in touch. I can feel happy about their graduation, knowing that it isn’t the end of our contact with each other.
We’re almost at the end of the Five-Year Updates from the Class of 2009, especially as they have nearly reached six years since graduating. Today’s update comes from Ivette Tarrida-Soler, who was a favorite member of the student-intern team in Admissions during her two Fletcher years. Let’s hear what she’s been up to.
Five years after Fletcher, I am now what you would call a “Eurocrat” – and proud of it! I became an official of the European Union in 2011, two years after finishing my MALD at Fletcher. Public service has always been my main objective, but I have been lucky to get experience in a variety of sectors. So today I feel like I am only beginning what I hope will be a long career in the European institutions, serving European citizens and representing the EU on the global stage.
I grew up in Igualada, near Barcelona, but got my BA at Bryn Mawr College, a women’s liberal arts college near Philadelphia. There are so many aspects of this experience that opened my mind to the world, that the B.A. in Political Science seems only an afterthought. My early professional experience at the end of university was in human rights law. During my last summer of college, I conducted research for cases related to human rights violations in Nigeria, and afterwards I worked for two years at the law firm Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C., in central Philadelphia, as a paralegal for cases related to the violation of human rights during the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, and to the international financing of terrorism.
This pre-Fletcher experience opened a path into a career in “something international.” My understanding of what that was, exactly, was very immature, and probably still is — but let’s just call it a good dose of “curiosity.” In any case, professional experience was key to understanding what I wanted from graduate school — which is why I gave up law school for Fletcher!
Being at Fletcher felt like academic luxury, and yet put me so close to practitioners from around the world. I was able to explore various disciplines: I focused on international security and designed my own focus on energy security, but also took courses on humanitarian aid and nutrition, economics, law, and in-depth studies into Iran and China. During the summer, I traveled to Jordan with a group of civil-military students from Tufts University and the U.S. military academies, to do research into the impacts that the Iraq war was having on that country. I wrote my thesis on nuclear proliferation while being a research associate with the nearby Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Both in 2007 and 2008, I participated in the SIMULEX crisis management exercises organized by the International Security Studies Program. Some of my fondest memories, however, are of the wonderful staff at the Fletcher’s Admissions Office, where I worked part-time, and of the prospective students who visited the school or contacted us with questions.
After graduating from Fletcher in 2009, I moved back to Europe to do a one-year traineeship at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Italy. I was part of a project that looked into the link between the exploitation of natural resources and armed conflict through Geographical Information System (GIS) analysis. I worked alongside engineers as the rare social scientist in the team, and learned a lot about the potential uses of mapping and geo-location analysis to study and respond to conflicts, forced migration, and humanitarian emergencies.
Then I went on to work as a political risk analyst at Maplecroft, a UK consultancy, where I carried out research and analysis of political, economic, regulatory and societal events worldwide, interpreting trends and evaluating the ensuing risks and implications for businesses operating internationally.
In 2011, I became a public official of the European Union. I first worked at the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, which looks into possible breaches of EU law around Europe and which is the only committee that directly communicates with European residents, receiving their petitions and inviting them to attend committee meetings in order to present and to discuss issues with Members of the European Parliament. Most petitions relate to infringements of environmental laws, the right to move freely around Europe, and to violations of other fundamental rights.
Since late 2013, I have been working at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, in the Terrorism and Crisis Management Unit. I work mostly on the European policies that aim to increase protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats, and in particular on the implementation of Regulation (EU) 98/2013, which restricts the public’s access to chemical substances that can be used towards the illicit manufacturing of home-made explosives.
Brussels is, believe it or not, a wonderful city. And it is also home to many Flectherites, so I continue to enjoy the Fletcher spirit and dynamism after all these years.
Tagged with: Five-Year Updates
While I regret that I don’t have a way to capture all of the achievements of and honors received by our students and alumni, a few nice ones have recently passed by me. First, Anna McCallie, second-year MALD (which, at this time of year, means soon to graduate and leave us), received the University’s Presidential Award for Citizenship. In the type of supportive message I love to see, her friend and classmate Ali shared news of Anna’s award with the community, writing:
This award recognizes outstanding community service and leadership achievements. This should come as no surprise to those of us who have benefited from her dedication in putting together this year’s Tufts Energy Conference, her virtuosity in making the Culture Nights what we’ve all enjoyed, and her beaming presence around campus.
Nice! Over the weekend, I received a note from alumna Margot Shorey, informing me (and others included on the message) that she has recently published an article.
I would like to share this article Chad: a Precarious Counterterrorism Partner that I co-wrote with my colleague Dr. Benjamin Nickels, which has been published in the April edition of the CTC Sentinel. I thought you might find the subject and our analysis interesting.
Although the title says most of it, here’s a teaser: Chad has been building a reputation as a strong and reliable counterterrorism partner in an increasingly difficult region of Africa. International partners are funding Chad’s military to fight high profile non-state actors such as Boko Haram and AQIM, but there are multiple internal and external vulnerabilities that could render this regional power broker a broken power. On the edge of your seat to find out what these vulnerabilities are…..? Read more here.
If you have comments, you can reach Margot via Twitter at @margots02.
And then, I learned that one of our first-year MALD students, Katherine Trujillo, is one of the 2015-16 recipients of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Others at Fletcher had already heard the news, but I’m not sorry that I first found out about it when I saw her smiling in the announcement in The New York Times.
Our next post from the Class of 2009 comes from Jelena Lukic. While at Fletcher, Jelena served as a member of the Admissions Committee, and I remember well how much I enjoyed working with her. I’m so pleased that she agreed to provide an update on her post-Fletcher life.
My journey to Fletcher started while I was working on governance and youth programs in Iraq. As a native of Serbia, prior to Iraq I had spent most of my early career working with civil society organizations in the Balkans on youth leadership and reconciliation issues. Working in a complex environment such as Iraq helped me realize that I needed to augment my degree in psychology with graduate studies in international affairs.
I chose Fletcher because its multidisciplinary and flexible curriculum enabled me to design an educational experience that would strengthen my existing technical skills and, at the same time, build a new set of professional competencies that I needed to make a career change. To marry my background in non-profit work and my growing interest in the role that the private sector can play in fragile environments, I decided to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues during my time at Fletcher.
I chose International Negotiations and Conflict Resolution and International Business Relations as my Fields of Study. The diversity and flexibility of the Fletcher curriculum allowed me to explore a broad range of CSR issues, such as through Prof. Everett’s petroleum industry class and a clean energy course with Prof. Moomaw. Knowing that the CSR efforts of many companies include health initiatives, I took a global health course. I also benefited from the opportunity to take a CSR course at Harvard Business School. In my work, I still use the analytical approaches I learned in the negotiations course with Prof. Babbitt. Appreciating that two years at Fletcher was a precious time to explore personal interests, I took courses on Iran with Prof. Nasr and oceanic history with Prof. Perry.
At the end of the day, it’s not the classes that made my Fletcher experience so special, but the lifelong friendships I developed. Step practice for the Africa Culture Night was a great getaway from number-crunching lessons. Being a student member of the Admissions Committee was one of the best jobs I ever had, and memories of the weekend on Cape Cod during “Dis-Orientation” week still make me laugh.
My Fletcher experiences led me to develop a clear goal to work on community engagement issues in the oil, gas, and mining industries. My thesis, which analyzed why the relationships with local communities are often tense, despite the many investments that oil, gas, and mining companies make in local development, helped me land a job with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group that is devoted to the private sector in developing countries.
At IFC I worked for more than three years as a Social Investment Specialist, helping oil, gas, and mining companies develop strategic community investments to enhance benefits to local communities. I was a member of the team that developed the Financial Valuation Tool for Sustainability Investments, an innovative tool that quantifies the financial return back to the company from community investments, and helps build a business case for investing in local development and communities. I also worked on developing the Water, Mining, and Communities Framework, which guides mining companies in how to effectively address social risk around water and deliver positive development outcomes.
Working at IFC, I strengthened my expertise in social sustainability. As a next career step, I wanted to experience how the public sector tackles sustainability issues. So, for the past two years, I have been working as a Social Development Specialist at the World Bank, focusing on the application of environmental and social standards in investment lending projects.
Despite having an interesting career, I don’t let my job define me. Through a Fletcher classmate, I discovered sailing as a passion in my life. Obtaining a boat-cruising certificate is one of my biggest accomplishments since graduating from Fletcher. And, of course, the Fletcher crowd joins me in annual sailing trips in the Mediterranean.
One of our 2014 graduates, Jennifer Ambrose, contributed a post to WhyDev, a blog she edits that focuses on improving development and international aid. In the post, she answers the question on many of our minds — how we can help Nepal. Her key point:
Do not go volunteer in a crisis. Do not send stuff (pillowcase dresses, ski jackets, stuffed animals, old medical equipment, notebooks, yoga mats…) to a disaster zone. DO donate money! Choose an established professional organization, one that works in disaster response and has experience in Nepal — the likes of CARE, Mercy Corps, the Red Cross or MSF.
Her post includes a Storify, compiling Twitter posts of advice from development experts on how to help. And how not to.
We’re rapidly approaching the one-year post-Fletcher mark for the graduates in the Class of 2014. Today we meet Julia Leis, whose path from pre-Fletcher to her current location involved several countries on three continents. Julia used her time at Fletcher to develop her interests and explore new areas, resulting in the perfect job that weaves everything together.
While working at an agricultural school for Burmese youth in northern Thailand in March 2011, I confronted two major decisions: 1) which career/life path to choose; and 2) whether to return to the U.S. that August. I knew I wanted to continue my education and, while my undergraduate studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service had prepared me well in international relations, picking the right graduate program was a challenge.
The decision was complicated because I felt I had too many interests. Urban planning, social enterprise, natural resource management, and public policy all fascinated me, as each area incorporated my previous work experience and passions. In addition to these interests, I knew I wanted a graduate school with an international focus on development. Thanks to mentors and supportive family back home in Chicago — and a Fletcher student, who I found through the Fletcher Admissions Blog and who Skyped with me while I was in Thailand — I found the ideal place, where I would have the flexibility and support to pursue multiple avenues of interest: The Fletcher School.
Now, four years after I considered my future plans, I can happily report that enrolling at Fletcher was the best decision I ever could have made. Not only did I find an incredible group of friends and peers at Fletcher, but I was able to pursue all of my interests in various capacities through courses, by organizing conferences, and in research assistant positions.
The sense of community that I found at Fletcher from the first day was unparalleled. The first weeks of school were both exciting and overwhelming, as I struggled to find the right balance between building off my previous background and exploring new subject areas. By the end of my first year, while I knew I wanted to pursue a career abroad, I did not know in what capacity.
In between my first and my second year at Fletcher, I was able to pursue an internship with Millennium Challenge Corporation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, working on agricultural development, M&E, and land tenure reform projects, which allowed me to broaden my development skill set while working in a French-speaking context.
In my second year at Fletcher, I cross-registered for a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, under Visiting Professor David Sanderson, called Design for Urban Disaster. This course, along with Field Studies in Global Consulting with Prof. Rusty Tunnard, reignited my interests in complex urban issues, resilience, and human-centered design, and I considered more seriously pursuing a career in humanitarian response. With the support of Prof. Tunnard, I also self-designed a Field of Study in international urban planning and development. In January 2014, I joined a graduate school field trip with Prof. Sanderson to Léogâne, Haiti, to conduct a participatory evaluation on transitional shelters.
In preparing for life post-Fletcher, I attended an Office of Career Services information session with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the fall semester of my second year, and I decided to apply to their International Development Fellows Program (IDFP). My interest in the IDFP was further solidified by courses such as Essentials of Humanitarian Action and Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies with Prof. Dyan Mazurana and Prof. Elizabeth Stites.
CRS selects approximately 20 IDFP fellows each year, and places them across CRS country programs in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, and Central America. I discovered that at least one Fletcher student had done the IDFP each year prior to me in places such as Haiti, Kenya, and Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza. I was able to connect with these talented alumni, who highlighted what an excellent opportunity the IDFP offered to pursue a humanitarian career abroad, as a majority of fellows will, after nine to ten months, transition to program manager positions within CRS. I knew that the IDFP would allow me the chance to work closely with communities and partners at the local level, and with an organization I deeply respected. I was fortunate to be selected and offered a position with the CRS Philippines country program in early May, and my posting was scheduled to begin in September 2014.
As I graduated in May 2014, I needed to find summer employment to get me through to September. Again, Fletcher provided me and other students with an excellent opportunity to conduct field research related to topics that interested us. I joined my phenomenally talented research partner Anisha Baghudana (MIB ’15) in Nairobi, Kenya as Junior Research Fellows with the Institute for Business in the Global Context and MasterCard Worldwide. We completed a qualitative study on how digital innovation is improving urban mobility in Nairobi. Connecting with Nairobi’s tech and start-up community provided an exciting glimpse into how entrepreneurs are creating solutions to solve some of Nairobi’s biggest urban transport challenges, including traffic congestion, poor road quality, and safety and security for passengers and pedestrians.
In my current position as a CRS fellow in the Philippines, where CRS has been working since 1945, I have worked with exceptionally talented Filipino and international colleagues in Manila, Davao, and Tacloban City. In Eastern Leyte and Samar, CRS is responding with Shelter, WASH, and Livelihoods programming after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the area in November 2013. I’ve supported multiple projects, including an urban disaster risk reduction program called SUCCESS (Strengthening Urban Communities Capacity to Endure Severe Shocks) in Metro Manila, and the December 2014 Typhoon Hagupit emergency response in Eastern Samar. My training from the class on Essentials of Humanitarian Action proved extremely useful and applicable, as I helped with shelter and WASH kit distribution in affected communities, wrote situation reports, and attended coordination meetings with local government agencies and UNOCHA.
Like Hanneke, while I dearly miss my family back in Chicago and my Fletcher family, I never cease to be amazed at how close we remain. Despite being in vastly distant locations now, such as South Sudan, Washington, DC, Uganda, Nepal, Guatemala, and Boston, we support each other in any way we can, especially as the transition after grad school is not always a smooth one. They have supported me through countless Skype calls, and even with a month-long visit to the Philippines. It is this unique network of support that so attracted me to Fletcher in the first place, and I know that it will remain with me for years to come.
Today, let’s meet another graduate from Fletcher’s Class of 2009, Yanina Seltzer.
I was born in Argentina, raised in Costa Rica and finalized my higher education in the United States. From a very early age, I developed a global perspective, especially regarding culture, economic issues, and social realities. I was exposed to harsh economic injustices and social inequalities that sparked my passion for influencing issues surrounding poverty. In college, I focused my studies on politics, economics, and Latin American studies, in line with my upbringing. During this time, I interned at Habitat for Humanity, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
After graduation, I served as an economic analyst at Nathan Associates and as a research analyst at the Inter-American Development Bank. My academic background and professional experience prepared me for Fletcher. It was clear to me that, through my graduate studies, I could maintain my goal of decreasing poverty and inequality by continuing to focus on international development, but also could broaden my regional scope and my understanding of the role of business and the private sector.
When I arrived at The Fletcher School my academic focus was development economics and international business. Yet I also took time for establishing and enjoying community with my peers, which included dancing at nearly every Culture Night. Exploring the business and finance world would bring an important perspective to the work I had already been doing. There were two specific classes, both from my first year, that had a uniquely profound influence on my professional and personal development. The first was Microfinance: Issues and Breakthroughs with Prof. Kim Wilson, which really broadened my understanding of development. I learned that increasing economic opportunities for the poor involves an active role from the private sector, entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology as a central catalyst. The second influential class was Prof. Rusty Tunnard’s class in International Consulting. Our project with Sun Microsystems crystallized for me the role that technology plays in poverty alleviation. Creating an engagement strategy for a large technology company in order to bring technology to the Base-of-the-Pyramid (BOP) merged my previous concepts of finance and technology with the necessary role of social innovation.
I then spent my summer in Rio de Janeiro, interning with Mobile Metrix, a social enterprise that does market research at the BOP. When I returned to Fletcher in the fall, in addition to my Fletcher classes, I cross-registered at the business and medical schools at Harvard. Through those additional classes, I learned how innovative solutions are applied around the world to solve social problems. And as I neared the end of my time at Fletcher, I knew exactly where I would land in the global economics landscape: Financial Inclusion.
After graduating, I completed a summer internship at CGAP/ World Bank. I admired the work of CGAP from afar as a graduate student. It wasn’t long before CGAP asked me to continue beyond my internship experience. My initial focus involved regulatory issues in branchless banking. My work then evolved to market-level analyses and projects centered on mobile-financial services.
In 2011, I relocated to Brazil for nine months, where I spearheaded CGAP’s Brazil strategy in financial inclusion. During this time, I solidified partnerships with some of the largest banks, such as Bradesco and Caixa. I initiated innovative projects with these actors and the private sector, facilitated regulatory discussions with the Central Bank, led workshops with banking associations and Ministries, and interacted with leading stakeholders in financial inclusion. I also led our research agenda, where I got to engage directly with hundreds of low-income customers and understand the reality of their ever-complicated needs and behaviors around financial services.
It was during this time in Brazil that I met hundreds of people living in Rio’s slums, in low-income communities in Sao Paulo, and in peri-urban towns in Recife. This direct interaction gave me long-lasting and unforgettable insights into designing products and services that empowered them and made sense for their lives. In an effort to truly support them in their economic lifestyles, hopes, needs and possibilities, it became clear that face-to-face connection would be the greatest influence in efforts to design inclusive products, services, and experiences.
Two years post-graduation, I was invited to deliver a TEDx talk in my home country of Costa Rica, which was particularly powerful for me. My talk centered on the role of technology in international development and I continue to advocate for that perspective in my current role, which includes leading CGAP’s work-stream in Human-Centered Design and Financial Inclusion and customer-centricity. It came as no surprise that the concepts behind human-centered design center on the influence that direct conversation, observation, and customer-centricity have on innovation. I have been deeply involved with a total of seven financial service providers and several world-class design firms in order to understand low-income customers and better design and deliver products and services to them.
Five years post-Fletcher I remain at CGAP, devoted to topics and concepts that are a true reflection of Fletcher’s nature. My education and my professional experience are the epitome of an interdisciplinary experience: a combination of research methods, creative thought, and business strategy that consistently anchors on the fact that real individuals and communities are the heart of everything we seek to design for and understand. I am recently married and know that my time at Fletcher prepared me for success professionally and personally! Each day, I am full of gratitude for my Fletcher experience and its extended community of alumni and educators.
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