On April 16th, Global Public Affairs (GPA) at UCLA Luskin hosted a virtual informational interview with Stacy Edgar, a UCLA alum and current international development practitioner. The Zoom call consisted of a small group of Luskin students with Stacy, and took the form of an interesting discussion about career paths, lifestyle choices, and taking advantage of the resources available at UCLA.
The Zoom call began with a short monologue from Stacy in which she detailed her path in detail. She studied at UCLA as an undergraduate and took courses on international politics and development with the likes of Dr. Stephen Commins. From UCLA, Stacy matriculated straight into a master’s program at the London School of Economics, reading for a degree in Global Politics. Like many young professionals in the 21st century, Stacy recounted the plethora of disparate professional experiences she had before landing at Chemonics where she worked for ten years. Stacy enjoyed stints doing everything from teaching English in China to policy research for MSF and the UNDP, to even working in congress for a short period of time.
These experiences ultimately led her to Chemonics where Stacy had connected with a Luskin MPP alumnus, ultimately securing an interview. Chemonics serves as USAID’s largest contractor in fulfilling international development contracts across the global south. Stacy spent most of her decade at Chemonics focusing on programming in southern Asia, in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. To that end, Stacy lived in Kabul for 6 months while working to implement an economic opportunity to Afghan women and other vulnerable groups.
Beyond the sheer logistics of getting on the ground floor of a high quality career in international practice, much of the conversation revolved around the lifestyle and tough choices of a practitioner.
Some of the key takeaways:
90% of the development career field is based in Washington DC. It’s not unreasonable for students to consider moving to DC to get one foot-in-the-door and building one’s rolodex.
Life as an international development practitioner can be terribly taxing for individuals pursuing a serious romantic (or even with family & friends) relationships. Global travel is constant and sometimes in war torn countries.
The work can be unbelievably rewarding. Stacy recounted multiple projects in which her work had a real impact on the lives of others.
There are so many niches with international development as an industry. For example, working for the U.S. government (typically World Bank or USAID) is drastically different from working from NGO firms. Furthermore, within NGOs, there are a plethora of unique aspects about working for a for-profit contractor versus the nonprofit NGO sector. All types can lead to fulfilling, meaningful work. They often differ, however, in terms of work environment and the like.
Leverage the UCLA Luskin & GPA networks. We have alums working in incredible organizations.
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In the fall quarter, Global Public Affairs (GPA) at UCLA Luskin hosted Ssembatya Fred, a grassroots activist from Kampala, Uganda, to discuss a movement he is enthralled in: Dembe Ku Kubo (Freedom in the Streets). Fred was at UCLA working with Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, on “Violence Against Street-Connected Children in Uganda,” a participatory action research initiative. He returned home at the end of October to continue pursuing freedom from state violence for all people in Kampala and beyond. John Danly, GPA staff member, recently chatted with Fred to get an update and see how he was getting on, especially in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
John: Fred, It’s great to reconnect. How is everything going now that you are back home?
Fred: Since I came back, I managed to get my own place to stay with my nephew, Robert, so I don’t have to sleep on the street any more. I appreciate this so much. I also don’t have to worry about food like I used to. I used to steal or lie to get the food I needed in order to survive. My whole mindset has changed now that I have discovered my freedom. I am more positive knowing that I have set up a good foundation of justice and love for our Kisenyi community (Kampala’s largest slum).
John: Where do things stand with Dembe Ku Kubo?
Fred: I’m currently trying to accumulate some money to officially register the organization. I’m blessed to have great friends with which our outreach continues, leading on drugs and violence. My bro Bruce leads games after we get food and also helps with medical issues. We do outreach Tuesdays and Thursdays 10 AM to 1 PM.
Fred: I recently took a trip to Kenya with a friend from the UK. We were able to give away many shoes to the children there.
John: When you were back in the USA, UCLA helped connect you with Namati, an organization that is also fighting for global justice and freedom with a global community paralegals. Have you been able to talk with them yet?
Fred: Yes, I met with Namati members called “barefoot law”. They told me the first step is to find at least 3 members of the organization and they can help me register Dembe Ku Kubo. I had to spend time with my leaders to train and learn with them. I hope we don’t have to pay for registration because I don’t have money left. I don’t have any legal documents but my effort to seek justice grows every day because there are so many reasons to fight. Two days ago, my friend Ivan was beaten to death because he was stealing to support his family of 2 children and his wife. I’m fighting for him.
John: Where do you see Dembe Ku Kubo in five years?
Fred: In five years I see Dembe Ku Kubo officially registered and as a place where people of Kampala can come to rest, be safe, and also help people with trauma. It will be a place of freedom for all of us.
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“It’s more than just a game.” Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin hosted the staff of iACT, a Los Angeles-based NGO, and players from the soccer team the organization co-created with Sudanese refugees, Darfur United. Souleyman Jassir, the cultural ambassador and goalkeeper for the team, told his story at the March 5 event. It’s one of struggle, perseverance and hope, as Souleyman was forced to flee Darfur as a young child out of fear of genocide and settled in a refugee camp in eastern Chad. “When I was a boy, all I did was run. Run away. It’s probably why I was good at soccer,” he only half-joked. Souleyman talked about losing family members and being separated from his mother for weeks, thinking he wouldn’t see her again. He was happily mistaken. Souleyman now lives in Concordia, Kansas, with his family after being relocated there through the U.S. State Department Refugee Resettlement Program and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Despite this new life and all of the challenges and opportunities brought with it, Souleyman thinks that Darfur United has never been more important. “There are people all over, from the USA to Sweden. When we can all come together to play, it represents hope and a better future for Sudan,” he explained. Darfur United is currently hosting a training camp in Los Angeles in preparation for the CONIFA World Football Cup 2020 in North Macedonia, where stateless teams from around the world will compete.
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Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin hosted representatives from the State Department and Peace Corps to discuss careers in U.S. foreign service and diplomacy. At the Feb. 13 event, UCLA’s diplomat-in-residence, Cecilia Choi of the U.S. State Department, and the Peace Corps’ Jeffrey Janis recounted their paths to foreign service and shared stories with students in attendance. The enduring theme of the discussion was the need for international public servants to remain adaptable and open-minded. Janis recounted his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine for over two years. “You need to be a proactive self-starter. You’ll show up to your site and might be told they don’t need you for two or three weeks. Things like that happen all the time.” He advised those considering a foreign service career, “Take what you’re given and make something from it. I was planning on working with nonprofits in Ukraine. Never did I think I would be teaching sign language, but an opportunity presented itself and I took full advantage.” Choi said the diversity of opportunities in the foreign service not only demands adaptability but also makes it hard to leave because there are so many interesting types of work. “I go into every post thinking it may be my last but always commit to one more because an interesting opportunity presents itself,” she said. “After concluding my time here and finishing language training, I’m headed to Beijing to represent the U.S. on trade. Maybe that’ll be my last post…”
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