Category Archives: Graduate Students Blog Posts

The Global Engagement Center

I spent this summer working in the newly established, Global Engagement Center (GEC – “The Center”) housed at the U.S. Department of State. The GEC is an interagency entity with the mission to coordinate, integrate, and synchronize Government-wide communications activities directed at foreign audiences in order to counter the messaging and diminish the influence of international terrorist organizations. The Center serves an increasing key role in U.S. government strategies to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al Qaeda messaging as well as other international terrorist organizations.

On March 14, 2016, President Obama signed Executive Order 13721 establishing the GEC as a replacement for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC). The Center is led by Special Envoy and Coordinator Michael Lumpkin, a former Navy SEAL with over 20 years of active duty military service and who served previously as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.

Created to be an agile and innovative organization, the revamped effort brings new cutting-edge technology, talent, and tools from the private sector and across the U.S. government. For example, the GEC leverages private-sector technology to characterize extremist groups’ propaganda, radicalization and recruitment efforts in social media and traditional media, and to develop new narrative frames based on this emerging data. Using this technology, the GEC was able to assess a 45% decline in pro-ISIL postings on Twitter since June 2014, thanks to a combination of stronger anti-ISIL voices online and accounts suspensions.

The Center focuses on four core areas including building and empowering foreign partnerships, acquiring and using data analytics, developing, procuring, and distributing unbranded content, and building a network of US. Government interagency actors involved in the counterterrorism/countering violent extremism information space. The Center develops and empowers a global network of credible voices from foreign governments, NGO’s, and civil society organizations to effectively counter violent extremist messages in their local communities.

I served in a variety of roles at the GEC this summer including creating and editing strategic documents, preparing leadership for Congressional testimony, and liaising with senior U.S. government officials across agencies and departments for GEC operations and campaigns. Working in the GEC provided an exceptional opportunity to learn about the challenges associated with countering violent extremist messaging and the efforts the U.S. government are making with partners around the world in support of broader counterterrorism strategies.

 

Disclaimer: The Department of Defense and the Department of State does not necessarily endorse, support, verify or agree with the comments, opinions, or statements posted on this post. Any information or material placed online, including advice and opinions, are the views and responsibility of those making the comments and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, or the United States Government.

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But Isn’t Diplomacy the Opposite of National Defense?

Before embarking on my summer internship, I received a few puzzled looks. “Why are you interning at the State Department if you are interested in National Security? Shouldn’t you be going to the Pentagon?” Well, considering that I just left the active duty military, going back to where I just came seemed too safe for a summer internship. I wanted another perspective into our country’s national security apparatus, so I picked the State Department.

Political-Military Affairs, the bureau where I worked during my internship, just happened to be the interagency link between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State (DoS). As stated in their mission statement, “The Mission of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau (PM) is to build enduring security partnerships to advance U.S. national security objectives.” PM specifically provides policy guidance on areas of international security, security assistance, military operations, defense strategy and plans, and defense trade.

Taking a lunch break in front of the Harry S Truman building
Taking a lunch break in front of the Harry S Truman building

While I did not travel overseas to negotiate grand foreign policy agreements, my scope was within the office of foreign policy advisors (POLAD) in Washington, DC. The POLAD office manages a large group of Foreign Service Officers (FSO) embedded within major military commands, all over the world, to provide foreign policy expertise; true influencers within the interagency continuum. My summer internship corresponded with the timing of provocative topics about the relationship between DoD and DoS, so it was insightful and a unique privilege to discuss these issues with senior staff members like the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Ambassador, Tina Kaidanow, and Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Rose Gottemoeller.

Throughout the summer, I worked on office policy and procedures, redesigned the office website, and coordinated one of the big events of the office, the POLAD Orientation. This is where we prepare FSOs for their new posts by giving a brief introduction to internal processes to the military such as military planning and briefing. Everyone that has been around the military knows our affinity towards PowerPoint. While many of these FSOs have worked alongside the military, this posting requires a true internal perspective and understanding of what the DoD does. POLAD Orientation is not, however, military charm school!

So, in some ways I could relate. While I did not work here in an official military capacity, my perspective going into this internship was similar. I saw DoS in action while in Iraq and thought I had a pretty good grasp on what “the people in civilian clothes” were doing over there. Yet, actually working inside State gave me a true appreciation for the vast, political scope that State must examine when dealing with security issues.

Additionally, when operating in areas of conflict abroad, there are more than just state actors to keep in mind. That is why, in addition to my State Department internship, I took the opportunity to engage in a one-week intensive course on Humanitarian Action in Geneva, Switzerland. We discussed humanitarian principles and the provocative issue of neutrality. I was afforded the ability to re-evaluate my stance on these issues when engaging with major leaders of the global, international governmental organization (IGO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) communities.

A warm Geneva welcome to the Sanford School by the International Committee of the Red Cross!
A warm Geneva welcome to the Sanford School by the International Committee of the Red Cross!
About to head into UNICEF with my HA cohort
About to head into UNICEF with my HA cohort

Foreign policy is not easy. It is not black and white. Sometimes we overcomplicate things and forget that it is ultimately about relationships with people that come from different places, so of course perspectives on policy will differ. While we can’t and shouldn’t control what others bring to the table abroad, shouldn’t we have a better understanding of our own institutional culture and motivations before we reach across the pond?

Disclaimer: The Department of Defense and the Department of State does not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with the comments, opinions, or statements posted on this post. Any information or material placed online, including advice and opinions, are the views and responsibility of those making the comments and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense, Department of State, or the United States Government or its third party service providers.

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The cost of managing money and how the spring consulting project prepared me for cost modelling

How much does the Department of Defense (DoD) spend on financial management? That’s probably not a question that many people ask themselves. I certainly had not entertained this thought prior to my summer experience working with the DoD Comptroller. However, when dealing with an organization in charge of a yearly budget over $500B, small percentages turn into large quantities of money.

 

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I spent the first half of my summer thrown into the deep end of the budgeting/accounting/finance world; a nebulous area that is quite foreign to me. As a public policy undergraduate, military veteran, and public policy graduate student, it doesn’t come as a surprise that my background in these disciplines is limited. Getting up to speed and learning the terminology was a steep learning curve.

Even given my discomfort, I was able to work with my team to quickly provide value and be a contributing member. This is absolutely a skill developed during the first year at Sanford. Assignments such as the 48 hour memo and the spring consulting project were an exercise in just this. Through these projects, we were able to show ourselves just how much we can learn in a compressed timeline. For me, that was the greatest takeaway and provided me with the confidence to enter into areas that were foreign to me.

 

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From Durham to India: My journey in Rajasthan

This summer I joined my fellow Blue Devils in Udaipur, India as part of Duke’s India Program for International Development Leaders. While I was initially hesitant to commit to a program that was not directly related to my Master’s national security concentration, my interest in national security policy and its relation to U.S. international development initiatives led me to embark on a six-week journey to Rajasthan, India.

I stayed in Udaipur, India, which is one of the smaller cities in Rajasthan surrounded by three lakes, adorned with winding streets, alluring scents, luxurious hotels, breathtaking palaces, and vibrant colors on every corner. Our group stayed at the Indian Institute of Management where we engaged in Management and Development classes, as well as multiple local village stays. The purpose of the program was to introduce us to field research in rural India where we had the opportunity to provide a needs assessment to a local NGO. Along with one Indian graduate student and one Indian business professional, I was paired up with Jatan Sanasthan, a local NGO that focused on integrated development of villages in the area. The NGO had four main initiatives: awareness campaigns and advocacy for improvement in maternal health and social accountability; capacity building and empowerment of elected women representatives; dissemination of quality education for adolescent youth; and integrated village advancement.

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Sunset over Udaipur, India.

Our Duke group stayed at the institute’s dorms (or what they locally call “hostels”) where we had communal showers with no cold water, no air conditioning, poor internet connection, and where lizards frequented our rooms. However, the Duke group quickly adapted, became close friends with our Indian counterparts, and each night ended up having mini-social events in each other’s rooms while getting ready for next day’s class. We had a chance to explore the city under the scorching sun and even get caught in the first monsoon of the season. We trekked through forts, got lost in the winding streets, and occasionally got sick (as expected!) from eating the alluring street food from the city’s vendors. We took countless rides in auto rickshaws while watching everyday life in Udaipur flash before us. We learned how to bargain efficiently after paying too much for tunics (or kurtas), get the best rate for taxis, and even joined an Instagram photo walk with other eager photographers from across India. Almost like the scenes out of Best Exotic Merigold Hotel, Udaipur and its surrounding areas were nothing short of breathtaking and it is only when you truly immerse yourself in a new culture and let nothing faze you that you can truly appreciate it.

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Exploring, exploring, and more exploring the temples outside Udaipur!

I was fortunate to experience India not just by visiting tourist sites and frequenting heritage tours. The India Program enabled me to immerse myself in the rural culture and understand how Indian society works on a local and tribal level. The village where my team and I conducted field research was located on the foothills of a mining facility. With unregulated mining for nearly 16 years in proximity of Sindesar Khurd village, the local population currently faces many issues, including environmental degradation, threat to life due to mining blasts, unregulated toxic dumping, qualitative-quantitative decimation of water resources (groundwater and traditional water harvesting structures), and depletion of air and soil quality. During my three village visits that ranged from 3 days to 7 days, I interacted with residents, who despite their troubles, opened their homes to us and offered what very little they had in hopes to gain support from the local NGO. During our visit, we even witnessed a protest that was organized by the local residents employed in the mine, demanding work and freer access to public infrastructure.

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Local children in Sindesar Khurd 

Despite the accumulating issues observed in Sindesar Khurd, our assessment of the village’s needs did not line up with Jatan’s resources. The solutions that the residents requested were not easily and quickly solved. After submitting our final report to the program and to the local NGO, my team and I could only recommend a solution that aimed to resolve the high educational dropout rate of the village’s youth. Despite the many issues we observed, we could not solve the most pressing ones. However, Jatan’s emerging presence in Sindesar Khurd could lead to the emergence of new solutions and developments in the near future. Becoming a part of such process was an invaluable and humbling lesson. India teaches you to expect anything, especially kindness, hospitality, and curiosity. If you are to return the favor, get ready for an experience like no other.

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Karina Ibrahim is a second-year Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Sanford School concentrating in National Security. 

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Policy, Analysis, and Research: Thoughts from the City by the Bay

I’m wrapping up my last week as a Research Intern at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a think tank that produces research to inform policy-making in California in non-partisan way. I spent the summer in San Francisco looking at California’s new school funding system. Specifically, we were assessing whether the county offices of education are ready to fulfill their new roles in this system.

During the past three months I worked directly with the principal researcher, but I also had many opportunities to interact with faculty members of universities in California, state policy-makers, and policy-implementers. In a very short time, I got to see California’s policy-making process from the angles of those who analyze and inform it, those who need to decide which initiatives to pass, and those who actually run the policies at the smaller scale.

Here are three of my takeaways from this summer experience:

1. Thorough policy design needs to be informed by those who implement it on the field. Scientific research and political analysis is vital, but policy analysis is not complete without the input of those running the school districts, the health programs, or implementing any other policy.

I spent the first few weeks of my internship getting familiar with California’s school system, reading related bills, and navigating through reports and websites. It wasn’t until we went out to talk to those who run the education programs that we got a full picture of how the system actually works. Without this input, even well-designed policies can fail to work because of small administrative issues that are out of sight unless you go to the field.

2. As an aspiring policy-maker/researcher/analyst, don’t miss any opportunity to get first-hand insight about the distinctions between policy research, policy analysis, and other roles in the policy world. I learned this while listening to policy-makers, who would like policy researchers to produce policy recommendations that they [researchers] think policy analysts do with the research pieces… Yes, that was not a memo-type-of-sentence at all, but it reflects the spirit of the discussion.

I got first-had perspectives from different actors in the policy world and how they use each other’s work. Specifically, how policy-makers make use of research and analysis pieces. Some of the questions discussed were, for example, can researchers provide policy recommendations when this implies developing and weighing criteria for their alternatives? How can analysts weight research evidence that points in different directions? These were questions worth hearing as I plan my classes for the second year of the MPP and re-think how I picture my role in the policy world.

3. Mark Twain was right; San Francisco’s summer is pretty cold, especially for NC-summer standards. I refused to believe that and didn’t pack accordingly!

Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me (m.guzman@duke.edu) if you have any questions or would like to hear more about any of the above.

My fellow interns in our final presentation day.
My fellow interns in our final presentation day.
Perks of interning in San Francisco...Sitting in this spot after a day in the office
Perks of interning in San Francisco…Sitting in this spot after a day in the office
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Lobbying Isn’t Always A Dirty Word

The profession of lobbying is usually associated with extravagant dinners, backdoor dealings, and briefcases of cold hard cash. Although I cannot make conclusions about the lobbying profession in its entirety, I had a very different experience this summer in the nation’s capital.

US Capitol Building

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization that supports legislation in areas including climate change, water, public lands, and clean energy. As a policy and lobbying intern for LCV, I was not only able to gain a policy expertise in assigned issue areas, but learned how to put that expertise into action when concerning federal legislation.

There was a whole lot of work to do this summer for LCV. Three major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on climate change, water, and ozone were being finalized, permitting for arctic oil drilling by Shell was still on the table and anti-environmental bills were floating through Congress. To rally support for pro-environmental legislation and gather opposition for anti-environment bills, I was involved in writing blogs, letters to the editor and an opposition letter, as well as calling legislative staff to sign letters going to the White House.

Interns were also heavily involved in the preparation for LCV’s annual lobby day, in which representatives from state LCV leagues fly to Washington DC to speak with their representatives and senators on legislative priorities. This year’s lobby day was the largest ever, with participation from over 25 state leagues and over 100 scheduled legislative meetings. Interns were in charge of creating factsheets and compiling customized information packets for all participants and Senate and House offices.

During lobby day, interns also participated with lobbying in the congressional meetings. It was especially an honor to speak with Senators Boxer and Feinstein from my home state of California. Being environmental champions, it was great to hear about the work they were achieving both on the state and federal level. It was also interesting to hear what roadblocks they were encountering and strategizing on how to overcome them. I learned that lobbying is just as much about listening as it is about talking. It is vital to know the priorities, perspectives, and obstacles of legislators, as well as their constituencies, to bridge information gaps.

Following this exciting day on Capitol Hill was a Capital Dinner event for LCV’s education fund that included prominent environmental champions Senators Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Brian Schatz. EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, gave the keynote speech and passionately voiced the importance of environmental action for public health and economic vitality. She was even kind enough to come say hi to the interns after her speech.

interns with EPA Administrator McCarthy

LCV interns with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Lobbying at its core is about relationship building, and not the type you see on House of Cards involving blackmail and bribes. It’s about finding the positions and priorities of others that overlap with your own; it’s about leveraging constituency support, the media, and coalitions; and it’s about cultivating a give-and-take relationship to further mutually beneficial goals. Being in Washington DC and interning at LCV gave me the opportunity to learn new skill sets, meet interesting people and contribute to causes I believe in. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.

Supreme Court building

Elizabeth Hirsch is a Masters of Public Policy degree candidate in the Sanford School’s Class of 2016.

 

 

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From London to Lahore: Putting Theory into Practice

Have you ever had a moment when you questioned the stuff you learn in class? Not the kind of questions you want to ask your professor – like why do we need to do clustering in the randomized-controlled trial or what discount rate should we use in the cost-benefit analysis, but deeper questions like why do we need to learn any of this theory at all? This summer, I encountered moments of epiphany that gave me more insight to answer this last question.

For my summer internship, I had the opportunity to work for Delivery Associates, a government-consulting firm founded by Sir Michael Barber, the former head of Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit during Tony Blair’s second term. My work in the firm brought me to London, where the main office is located, and to Lahore, where the firm is assisting the Government of Punjab in their reform initiatives. In addition, I had the chance to visit Geneva for a one-week course on Global Social Innovation track, as part of the Duke Geneva Program.

As a big enthusiast in social innovation, I always find the term “social innovation” a big buzzword in the development world. The bureaucratic nature of big development agencies, such as the United Nations agencies, makes innovation in development perceived as an oxymoron. During my course-week in Geneva, I found some evidence to counter this perception. For instance, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been working together with Ikea Foundation to create housing units or transitional shelters that provide better living conditions to the refugees. The innovation was developed through a human-centered design approach by a multi-stakeholders collaboration. In addition, UNHCR is also setting up innovation labs, innovation fellows, and an innovation fund to encourage more of this innovation. Unfortunately, this kind of work is rare and uncommon in other UN agencies.

One of the classrooms in the Geneva course week: Palais des Nations
One of the classrooms in the Geneva course week: Palais des Nations

I had the chance to learn more about innovation in government during the first half of my internship in London, as one of my main tasks was to write a study case about the application of science of delivery, or deliverology, in Indonesia. For this work, I had to research  the essential steps to enable program delivery by the government to its citizens, about which you can learn more in Barber’s new book “How to Run a Government: So That Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy”. If you want to learn practical guidance on policy strategy and implementation, I highly recommend this book.

Meeting Sir Michael Barber in his old office at 10 Downing Street
Meeting Sir Michael Barber in his old office at 10 Downing Street

Barber constructed the framework on delivery in his 57 Rules. Most of these steps are straightforward: Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, Time-bound) targets that can be cascaded through the delivery chain; continuously tracking implementation using data, trajectory, and routine stocktaking; and solving problems and crises as they arise. I found these theories an important complement to other theories that I learnt in class.

The opportunity to see how all of these theories can be applied in the real world arose when I arrived in Lahore during the second-half of my internship. I am tasked to assist the Special Monitoring Unit of the Punjab Chief Minister’s Office to develop a solid waste management strategy. As the biggest province in Pakistan, where more than 100 million people live and produce waste everyday, Punjab needs to improve its capacity for waste collection and disposal. The urban areas alone produce 12,300 tons of solid waste each day.

Working with colleagues in the Special Monitoring Unit at Lahore
Working with colleagues in the Special Monitoring Unit at Lahore

During my 4 weeks assignment, I am using the theoretical framework that I learnt in class, such as the cost-benefit analysis from Prof “Sunny” Ladd’s class and the sustainable project management from Prof Lethem. I now realize the long, hard work in spreadsheets exercises and statistical analysis was an important training ground for number-crunching data processing work in a real consulting job. Most importantly, I found the writing skills that I learnt from the courses to be highly valuable in communicating my results.

If I had to give another title for my experience this summer, I would do a cheesy attempt to copy Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book titled “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia”. The reason is that I cannot help myself but to think that my summer internship experience in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Pakistan has been as much life changing as Julia Roberts’ in the movie. My story, however, is not much an adventure to rediscover myself, but more of a journey to rediscover how to put policy theory into practice.

Adi writes from Lahore where he is working with the Punjab Chief Minister’s Office. He is a 2016 candidate for the Master in Public Policy at Sanford and is focusing on social innovation and international development policy.

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Federal Service – Change the World

When I considered graduate school, public policy appealed to me because it felt like a place to channel my desire to make the world a better place and do it with more than simply good intentions.  Rather, I was looking for an environment that would be challenging, would put me in touch with subjects that would make me question my assumptions, and enable me to interact with policy as it was being made.  The experience at Sanford has been more than I could have hoped for – and has enabled me to land the internship of a lifetime.

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This summer, I have been honored and privileged to work for a Federal agency in Washington, DC. The U.S. Federal Government has more than two million employees – some work in offices, some at parks, some deep in mines, and some developing the next manned mission to space.  At my agency, we are one very small part of that immense machine – in fact the world’s largest organization.  We pilot this machine and ensure that the machine is as effective at supporting the American people as it can be.  The machine is unwieldy and frequently breaks down.  It is also expensive to operate – so expensive that every man, woman, and child would be out tens of thousands of dollars each year if a flat tax was imposed on the public.  Yes, the Federal Government is, in many ways, a rusty old contraption constantly in need of an overhaul.  But, for all its faults, it is also a remarkable and worthy endeavor – an endeavor full of dedicated and bright public servants – folks with whom I have been proud to work alongside for the past few months.

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For me, this all rings true now, but if six months ago you asked me to tell you my perceptions of working for the Federal Government, I wouldn’t have been nearly as effusive.  To tell you the truth, despite having family members who have worked in public service for decades, my assumptions regarding a career in the Federal Government were decidedly mixed.  On the one hand, I figured it would be great to be a part of change on a large scale.  But, on the other hand, being a part of such a large bureaucracy made Federal Service seem a bit less attractive.  Nonetheless, when I got a call this Spring asking me to come up for an interview, I jumped at the chance and every step I have taken since then has reaffirmed my faith in our public sector institutions and the capacity of the lone individual to make meaningful change – even among a crowd of 2.2 million colleagues.

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As an intern with the Federal Government, you are truly a valued member of the team and, depending on your agency and division, are given real responsibility and significant assignments.  In this short 10 weeks, I have had direct influence on policies that will affect tens, if not hundreds of millions of people and have made meaningful connections with some of the most influential and brilliant policymakers in the country. My supervisors have given me both autonomy and have been willing to guide me through thorny patches – have pushed me to test my boundaries and the boundaries of policymaking and have advised me when to pull back – they have given me the opportunity to put economic reasoning to work solving real, intractable policy problems, and have shown me kindness when I felt overwhelmed.

All in all, the biggest lesson I have learned, and one I hope to instill in others, is the capacity of the Federal Bureaucracy to make enormous and beneficial impacts for the American people.  Laws passed out of Congress are really only blueprints for the policies that touch our lives.  In fact, the rubber meets the road in the rulemaking process, where agencies spell out how they will implement Congress’ will and make other discretionary decisions, within the limits of the law, to further the goals of the Administration.  Ensuring the best policies make it down the pipeline are armies of civil servants, political officials, and, yes, even interns, who pour over the fine print to ensure, to the extent humanly possible, the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs.

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As I wrap up my experience here, I really have no idea what comes next.  Depending on where my life takes me, I may end up back in DC or doing something very different in a city a thousand miles away.  But, what I know now is that the experience of working for 10 weeks in the Federal Government has been one that I would not have traded for the world.  Rock on.

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Geoffrey Hamlyn is a Master of Public Policy Candidate (2016) at Duke University, Sanford School of Public Policy. 

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Migrating Perspectives in India

“No internet?!” I anxiously shouted. Three weeks without internet is a long time for a technology addicted student such as myself. Well, I made it, and to my surprise I learned a lot without technology. In fact, I would say the most memorable aspect of my internship was this opportunity to disconnect myself from my iPhone and simply explore my environment without being arrested by my daily routine.

My marriage experience!
My marriage experience!

In an effort to not derail on a philosophical tangent so quickly, I’ll get specific. This summer, I spent six weeks in India where I studied development and conducted research in a rural village in Rajasthan. I traveled…a lot. I sat in our village center and watched the locals herd the malnourished water buffalo for literally hours. I laid on the roof and studied the galaxy with my teammates Kriti and Ekta. I played cricket, football, and climbed a ton of forts and mango trees. I shared my drinking water with a water buffalo, I unofficially married two women, saw the Taj Mahal, and built a rather noteworthy tolerance to spicy food.

For those that haven’t been, India is India. Everything you have heard about it is true. It is hot, crowded, and I spent a large portion of my days fighting off whatever stomach virus my last meal awarded me. All things considered, India is an AWESOME country with a culture deeper and stronger than any place I’ve ever been.

India 4

Every time I travel, I heavily assess my experience in the country by the kindness of the people. In the “Chris Burnett ranking of the world’s nicest people,” India ties for first (right next to Costa Rica [I find Costa Ricans just delightful]). Everyone was extremely welcoming, trusting, and generous. In the village I studied, people seemed to share a committed or accepted sense of poverty, even though the status quo appeared gravely insufficient. 

My team! Ekta (left) Kriti (right)
My team! Ekta (left) Kriti (right)

So why was I there? Well, I worked with a local NGO that supports migrant workers. Migration is a major issue that commonly results in poor labor conditions but essential to the Indian economy. I’ll skip over the details here but at a high level, the organization’s mission is to provide a more dignified life for migrant workers. I am still not quite sure what “dignified” really means to them though: more money, stronger security, better heath, all of the above? Regardless, my group chose to educate and empower the wives of migrant laborers (If you want to learn more about the project, reach out and we can chat over coffee).

Our team conducting research in the village of Royada
Our team conducting research in the village of Royada

Will my internship lead to a subsequent job opportunity? Doubtfully. Do I care? Not at all. To me, graduate school isn’t purely about classes and irrationally competitive job prospects post-graduation. It is about experiences and becoming more self-aware. India made me more self-aware. This internship forced me to just chill and feel the wind or watch the sunset, commonly uncherished pleasures many of us have illogically deemed too time-consuming.

The group at the ancient fort of Kumbhalgarh - (The Great Wall of India)
The group at the ancient fort of Kumbhalgarh – (The Great Wall of India)

Even though I plan to concentrate in national security at Duke, my internship wasn’t completely misaligned with my professional goals. One day I hope to leverage what I learned to build the international development capabilities of DoD and support some sort of post-conflict reconstruction effort. I learned a lot about development during my coursework as well (many thanks to Professor Krishna for building and offering such a fantastic program) and I am confident these skills will translate quite well later in life.

Hiking at Mount Abu
Hiking at Mount Abu

To sum it up, India can terrify even the most experienced but uninitiated traveler. Nothing can prepare you for the aggressive line cutting, “ambitious” driving, or the obstacles of littered cow dung. However, I would encourage everyone to overlook these minor challenges, for buried within all of this madness lies rich culture, breathtaking sights, unimaginable architecture, and fantastic people.

Chris Burnett is a 2016 Master’s in Public Policy Candidate at the Sanford School of Public Policy and specializes in National Security.

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Primates and Policy Briefs from Borneo

Take a deep breath. We are going halfway around the world to Indonesia. Let me start with a rundown on the country before I take you to the office. I will show you some of the work I’m doing in environmental policy and what the “intern life” looks like out here.

Does Indonesia not sound familiar? The country is made up of Java, Sumatra, Bali, most of Borneo, half of New Guinea, and more or less 17,000 other islands scattered across Southeast Asia. It is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, the second longest coastline, and the third largest democracy. For centuries, locals and foreigners have made their fortunes here trading commodities like spices, tea, and textiles. Today Indonesia exports petroleum products, palm oil, rubber, and precious metals. These last few bring us to the province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo—the place I have called home since May.

People here call Borneo the “Earth’s lungs” and, sadly, they are in poor shape. Indonesia has burned through much of its generous endowment of natural resources; only about a quarter of its primary rainforests remain. Aside from being economically unsustainable, this consumption pattern contributes to climate change.

Deep in Central Kalimantan, changing land use is contributing to deforestation.
Deep in Central Kalimantan, changing land use is contributing to deforestation and climate change.

About half of Indonesia’s forest fires occur on big palm oil and logging plantations, meant to clear land for the profitable commodities. These fires contribute to a giant “brown cloud” of air pollution hovering over Southeast Asia, which causes billions of dollars in damage annually due to its effects on health, agriculture, and business. The fires also strip forests of their ability to provide clean air and water, fertile soil, service floods, control droughts, and regulate for climatic stability. Further, the fires burn up peatland releasing greenhouse gasses, thus contributing to the increase of the global average temperature. The World Resources Institute calls stabilizing the global climate “the greatest challenge of the 21st century.”

Restoring the Earth’s lungs is no small task. It requires a multilateral approach that includes civil society, government, and the private sector. I intend to see how this partnership works during my summer internship with—get ready for the acronyms—the United Nations Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia, or UNORCID. The Office is the UN System’s national hub for its climate change mitigation program known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or the UN-REDD Programme. UNORCID provides the Government of Indonesia and its counterparts from UN agencies, funds and programs, and all stakeholders, with technical expertise and assistance in formulating domestic policies that align with economic and environmental goals.

UNORCID's pilot province staff pose in front of a map of Central Kalimantan.
UNORCID’s pilot province staff pose in front of a giant map of Central Kalimantan.

My first experience with environmental problems comes from a jungle trek on Java a few years back. I was working as a teacher with the Peace Corps at the time. As the trail ended, the ferns and banana leaves gave way to an ominous view of a whole mountainside razed to the ground. An acquaintance explained that the timber had been sold on the black market and that this would disrupt the local village’s economy. Before this, I had never imagined the extent of climate change’s reach, the complexity of social and economic factors at play, or how policy makers might even begin to address these problems.

My time with UNORCID has immersed me in this new policy world. As an intern at one of UNORCID’s pilot provinces, I get to see first-hand how Indonesia is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving forest management. One of the new initiatives we are preparing is the Sustainable Bioenergy Programme. Through this program, Indonesia will reduce its dependence on oil for energy. To replace oil, it will develop renewable energy from agricultural byproducts like sugarcane and coconut husks. At this stage, I am contributing research to a feasibility study. The program will be replicated in other provinces after the pilot phase. Another project we are working on is the Seasonal Fire Early Warning System. It is a web-hosted service that district governments can use to anticipate fires and mitigate negative impacts. UNORCID co-hosted a launch event for the program and training sessions earlier this month. In addition to these projects, I have written policy briefs on international climate finance and renewable energy.

Here I am on a visit to Indonesia's State Energy Company to collect data for the feasibility study.
Here I am on a visit to Indonesia’s State Energy Company to collect data for the feasibility study.

Perhaps like many other interns, I have spent most of my summer at a desk. I share an office with two other interns and a few UN staff. It’s a small, collegial environment. When not at work, we meet for coffee and meals. During the month of Ramadan, we met after work to break the fast with our Muslim colleagues.

I have been fortunate to travel during most weekends. Recently, I visited a primate rescue center where I saw orangutans—a dream in the making for years. As the rainforest’s keystone species, they play a relatively large role in maintaining the ecosystem and thereby epitomize the landscape’s well-being. The Bornean orangutan is currently endangered and some researchers estimate that they may be wiped out in as soon as 20 years. The cause? Their natural habitat, the rainforest, is burning up.

A group of orangutans chow down on bananas and corn at the Nyaru Menteng Primate Rescue Center.
A group of orangutans chow down on bananas and corn at the Nyaru Menteng Primate Rescue Center.

Matthew writes from Central Kalimantan where he is interning with the UN Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia. He is a 2016 candidate for the Master in Public Policy at Sanford and he is  focusing on environmental and development policy.

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