Tag Archives: Public Policy

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Hallo, Deutschland!

Hi! My name is Heather Durham and I am a rising senior interning at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin, Germany this summer. Though I have only been here for one week, I am already so thrilled with my internship and excited for the 9 weeks ahead!

 GPPi is an independent, non-profit think tank with a mission “to develop innovative strategies for effective and accountable governance and to achieve lasting impact at the interface of the public sector, business and civil society through research, consulting and debate.” GPPi is composed of five thematic programs: Rising Powers and Global Governance, Innovation in Development, Peace and Security, Human Rights, and Global Internet Politics. This summer, I will be interning for the human rights program and contributing to the project on political prisoners and human rights compliance. More specifically, the project aims to understand the circumstances under which 1) external actors (such as the U.S. State Department or Amnesty International) choose the cases of political imprisonment in which they advocate for release; 2) external actors can facilitate the early release of political prisoners; and, 3) the release of political prisoners leads to an increase of pressure on the government responsible for imprisonment. While the project also consists of qualitative case study analysis, I will be assisting with the quantitative component by compiling a database of U.S. State Department public mentions of political prisoners. I’ve only had prior experience with qualitative analysis, so I am excited to gain experience collecting and working with data—an important aspect of policy research and a chance (for better or worse) to apply some of what I learned in Stat 101.

For now, I just want to share a few initial thoughts about this past week and how I ended up at GPPi in the first place. One of the first questions I was asked during each new introduction in the GPPi office was: ‘How did you find this internship?’ So how did I end up at an unpaid internship (thank you Sanford donors and Career Center grants!) at a relatively small think tank in Germany? It is easy to get stuck in the mindset that you must work in D.C. or New York City for your policy internship—after all, these are where the jobs, connections, and, as Diego pointed out in the post below, a ton of Duke students are. While these are fantastic places, I’ve learned that it’s important not to limit one’s options and, thus, limit opportunities. Really love a city that you visited, studied abroad in, or did Duke Engage in?  Research it, Google it. I was abroad in Berlin during the fall semester of my junior year and loved everything about it. While the Career Link has many great options, I was hoping to find an opportunity that would allow me to return to Berlin in the summer. So I hopped on Google, typed ‘public policy’ and ‘Berlin,’ and GPPi was the second or third link to pop up. As silly as it sounds, that is how I found my internship.

What I was most afraid of when I committed to this internship was the loneliness (and inevitable fear of missing out) when all of my friends are together in D.C. this summer and I am here attempting to make friends with my sub-par German skills. However, the Duke network is EVERYWHERE. I have been lucky enough to meet up with students on the Duke in Berlin summer program, students still finishing the Duke in Berlin spring program, and random Duke friends passing through on Euro trips.  Regardless, Berlin is such a lively city with so many events to entertain myself with—in the past week alone, the ‘Carnival of Cultures’ filled an entire section of the city with food and dancing from around the world, and the Whit Monday holiday gave me a day off to enjoy the sunshine, take tourist pictures, and read in Tiergarten.

Carnival of Cultures celebrating cultural diversity in Berlin
Carnival of Cultures celebrating cultural diversity in Berlin
Brandenburger Tor
Brandenburger Tor

Additionally, my co-workers have been more than welcoming in my adjustment to GPPi. GPPi really is a vibrant think tank environment— everyone is extremely friendly, we frequently go out to lunch together, and everyone dresses in a cool, Berlin style that I’ll never be hip enough to pull off. However, beyond that, this is a group of professionals doing the type of work that I hope to pursue after I finish my Duke career. I’m amazed and inspired by the accomplishments and experiences of every single person that I’ve met – from UN agencies to think tanks, NGOs, teaching positions, research around the world, publications, and current Ph.D. projects. I look forward to learning more from them in the coming weeks!


Please note for this and future posts: these comments are my personal thoughts and do not represent the views of GPPi: for full information on GPPi, visit: http://www.gppi.net/


An Eventful Start to the Summer

I didn’t entirely know what to expect this summer — my second in Washington, D.C. in three years. I knew I was going to intern at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, but had no idea of the opportunities that would present themselves to me as soon as I moved up to the nation’s capital May 25. In less than three weeks, I have gone to the White House to hear President Obama talk about student loan debt, attended an Economic Policy Institute event at which Labor Secretary Tom Perez spoke, raced other interns whenever an e-mail was sent out informing us about free food and run into fellow Duke students seemingly everywhere I have turned.





I immediately realized how many Duke students were interning in the District of Columbia. I have met classmates at the George Washington University gym, in my own residence hall at GW, on my way to work or on the metro. Moreover, two other Duke students are interning with me at CAP. The familiarity of fellow Duke students has undoubtedly helped me adjust to the hustle-and-bustle of Washington, a city I was somewhat accustomed to thanks to my six-week internship with David Price’s office after my first year at Duke. This summer has a decidedly different feel than the 2012 internship; I had not taken a single public policy studies course before I interned for Representative Price, but now I know and recognize several students from Sanford courses. The pervasiveness of Duke certainly has its benefits; it has allowed me to arrange meals and get-togethers with friends during the week and on weekends.



At CAP, I work with the immigration team. Lately a lot of my work has centered on the humanitarian crisis of child migrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border without their parents. My favorite part of the internship (aside from my trip to the White House, of course) are the immigration planning meetings I attend at which all the people talk about what they are working on and strategize for future projects. It’s clear that CAP has people researching on several issues meticulously and attempting to pressure actors to create action. I have found a welcoming environment that appreciates my work at CAP; I couldn’t ask for anything more. I cannot wait to find out what awaits me the rest of this summer.