Chris P. Lara participated in the intensive-course only program of the Duke Global Policy Program in Geneva, in Summer 2018. Chris is a Mid-Career Graduate MIDP Fellow and Rotary Peace Fellow at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. This credit-course class in Geneva was part of his Summer Applied Field Experience (AFE). Chris also spent time in Washington DC consulting for the PAHO-World Health Organization Office for the Americas, and in New York consulting for the International Peace Institute (IPI). During the summer Chris also kick-started the SH4 (Sustainable Healthy Habitats and Healthy Humans) project which is a proud member of The Hague Humanity Hub –an innovation ecosystem focused on Peace, Justice and Humanitarian Action.
Linking the past to the future
Becoming a DGPP in Geneva fellow has been a rewarding professional experience. The course allowed me to revisit the basics of the practice while also offering me an intensive academic immersion at the epicenter of humanitarian policy decision-making in the world.
Nine years ago when I started my career with the United Nations in Geneva, it was impossible to imagine the forthcoming dramatic and rapid transformations on my field of work.
I worked for the UN for about a decade and I had the opportunity to participate in events that shaped the humanitarian sector: from earthquakes in Haiti and Chile to floods in Pakistan to the international diplomatic advocacy efforts to ban antipersonnel mines. Right before traveling to Durham I was part of the response to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa and South Sudan.
These events, among others, altered the way we understand human capacities and capabilities to respond to challenging circumstances in a rapidly changing world; what was settled as doctrine ten years ago can today be questioned. This awareness determined my decision to embark on an academic journey at Duke, and it was also a key consideration for joining the DGP fellowship program in Geneva.
Academic rigor from a pragmatic angle
I did the humanitarian track, and in addition to two main case studies/simulations, the backbone of the class included practice-oriented academic debates guided by faculty. We also had discussions with experienced professionals in the field of the humanitarian affairs. Dialogue with those high-level experts helped me gain an insider’s view of the UN and other international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, NGOs, think tanks, and diplomatic representations in Geneva.
One of the case-simulations was a multi-track contest (joint Humanitarian Action and Global Health tracks), in which interdisciplinary teams developed health policy for a Syrian refugee camp to be established in Lebanon. The hypothetical case study was an opportunity to apply a multi-sectoral approach to solve a complex problem in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous scenario. Our plan included both policy and operational considerations. The plan was presented to government counterparts who acted as the judges.
Work of this nature in the real world requires practitioners to figure out how to do more with less; practitioners must exhibit a seamless match of communications skills, leadership, ability to adapt in challenging situations and self-sufficiency in fast-paced environments –often under pressure and extreme circumstances. The case-simulations were a perfect opportunity to develop and exercise these key competencies.
‘New way of working’ – A way forward
One important insight I gained from the course is a better understanding of the humanitarian, development and peace/security nexus, and how strategic policy regarding action-oriented frameworks is changing: the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, the Agenda for Humanity and the World Humanitarian Summit outcomes are defining a new way of working and the current trends and policy process are driving the change.
My final deliverable for the course was a summer consultancy. I worked with the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York City. IPI is working on a two-year project -commissioned by the United Nations Secretariat, on the Protection of Civilians policy reform. My research paper and policy memo focused on the United Nations integrated approach policy and its implications for humanitarian affairs.
Rachel participated in the Duke Global Policy Program in Geneva during Summer 2016. As a part of the program, she interned for the the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Systems and Innovation Department, which assists Member States in creating resilient health systems and moving towards universal health coverage. She was invited back to Geneva a year after her internship to work at the WHO.
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DGP Program Participant Bio
Name: Rachel Key
Master of Public Health
Master of Public Administration
Essential Medicines and Health Products Department (EMP) Consultant
Track selected for the Geneva Program:
The World Health Organization
Health Systems and Innovation Intern -- R&D Blueprint
"My most meaningful professional experience during my internship in Geneva came in the form of my working relationship with my direct supervisor. We established open lines of communication early on in my time at WHO. Specifically, we discussed what her goals and objectives for my work were, and what I was hoping to accomplish and learn over the summer. These frank conversations proved invaluable over the course of my internship and are ultimately what brought me back here as a consultant. I was not afraid to ask questions when I did not understand something, but was also confident that my previous experiences in the field and during my graduate studies had sufficiently prepared me to offer my own opinions and rely on my judgement. Being able to produce work and incorporate constructive feedback is essential, and that is the direct result of clear communication with your boss and your team."
How did your internship in Geneva contribute to your overall career goals and influence where you are today?
"Returning to WHO as a consultant has been a dream come true. I find the work extremely interesting and the more I invest in my time here, the more I learn and grow in return. If it weren't for the relationships I cultivated while in Geneva, I most likely wouldn't be here today. More specifically, being here as an intern provided an invaluable opportunity to observe the culture of the organization. Observing the way ideas are presented, negotiated and finally agreed upon has served me well and I believe "reading the room" is a skill I will be able to use in all my global health work moving forward. This internship provided innumerable learning experiences, and I would advise future interns to absorb everything- even the seemingly trivial details, like how to book a conference room or who to contact for IT questions- because being able to help out in all types of situations makes you a contributing, valuable member of the team."
Advice for incoming participants? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
"I have lots of advice for incoming interns! First, break out of the "intern bubble"! You'll have plenty of time to hang out with fellow interns, but be sure to make the effort to meet with consultants, staff and people outside your respective organizations. This really helped me adapt quickly when I returned to Geneva, as I had friends and colleagues waiting to welcome me back. Second, be sure to set up a mid-term and final review session with your supervisor. Be proactive about seeking feedback and be sure to have some kind of recommendation letter or performance evaluation in your hands or on record before you leave Geneva. If you do plan on coming back one day as either a consultant or staff, that will be the first document HR looks for when processing your application. And finally, always, always be mature. In every interaction you have, with every person you meet, maintain a level of professionalism and maturity. These organizations are smaller than they seem, and first impressions mean a lot. Showing that you are mature, responsible and ready to work goes a long way and those are the first people most advisers think of when seeking assistance on future projects."
Recommendations for future students?
"For me, the "wine and cheese" market behind Cornavin station on Thursday evenings is a MUST!! Geneva is an amazing city! In the summer, you'll become well acquainted with Lac Lehman (the principal lake in Geneva) and will have many picnics, open air cinema nights and excellent outdoor concerts. Be sure to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and visit the vineyards of Lavaux, the jazz festival in Montreux, and perhaps the hiking in Chamonix. It's impossible to run out of things to do here!"