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Alumna Profile: Catherine Herrold PhD'13

May 29, 2014

Research In The Midst Of A Revolution

By Becky Richards

When Catherine Herrold PhD’13 traveled to Cairo, Egypt, to conduct her dissertation research on philanthropy, she could not have anticipated finding herself in the midst of the political unrest of the Arab Spring.

Picture of Catherin Herrold in Cairo

"I just happened to be studying philanthropy in Egypt when the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution occurred,”  Herrold said. “I was lucky: I was in the right place at the right time,” she explained.

Herrold’s dissertation, titled Bankrolling the Arab Spring: The Role of Philanthropy in Egypt’s Political Transition, explored how philanthropic foundations responded to thepolitical upheaval. Her research was based on 75 interviews she conducted while in Egypt.

“The biggest challenge was researching an event as it was happening in real time. Everything was evolving so quickly and drastically. Political, economic and social contexts were rapidly changing and institutions were responding on the fly.  It was difficult for interviewees to make decisions related to the political transition because it was just happening and the future was uncertain,” Herrold said. “When it came to the analysis, I lacked the benefit of hindsight.”

“But at the same time, it was also fascinating to have an insider’s view of such an historic period. It was amazing to witness history being made, to hear how people really struggled to make decisions,” she added.

Through her research, Herrold realized the roles of foundations are not always as clearly defined as people like to think.

“We tend to celebrate foundations’ role in building democracy and supporting social change. There are many other ways of promoting democracy through philanthropy that we may not think of,” she said.

A Balancing Act of Research, Teaching and Service

Herrold is currently an assistant professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the first school of philanthropy in the world. Calling her current job a balancing act of research, teaching and service, Herrold continues to research the role of patrons – government aid agencies and private foundations – in Egypt’s political transition. In addition to her teaching obligations, Herrold shares the responsibility of defining many of the new school’s initial plans and shaping its ultimate goals.

“It’s been incredibly intellectually stimulating. I’m surrounded by historians, public policy experts and economists who all study philanthropy. It’s a great environment, working with others who are all as excited about philanthropy as I am,” said Herrold.

Herrold teaches a graduate course on grant-making and the role of foundations.

“Philanthropy is a very interdisciplinary field. In my course we explore legitimacy, effectiveness and accountability of nonprofit organizations and philanthropic foundations from domestic and global perspectives.”

Before attaining her doctorate in public policy from Sanford in 2013, Herrold studied economics at Mount Holyoke College and earned two master’s degrees in voluntary sector organization and business administration.

She worked as a financial consultant in Boston, then switched to the nonprofit sector and moved to Washington, D.C., where she was a research assistant at the Urban Institute, a think tank that focuses on economic and social policy research. Herrold studied how foundations approach their work and define success.  Later, she was a Fellow at The George Gund Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I fell in love with the topic of philanthropy and have pursued it ever since. I also found that I preferred to study philanthropy than to work as a foundation program officer,” she said. “This desire to explore philanthropy from a comparative perspective brought me to Duke.”

While at Duke, Herrold focused her doctoral research in the discipline of political science with an area specialty in the Middle East and North Africa. She is extremely grateful for the support she received from her dissertation committee: Guillermo Trejo, former assistant professor of political science; Mbaye Lo, assistant professor of the practice of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; and Kristin Goss, associate professor of public policy and political science.

Picture of Catherine Herrold at graduation with faculty advisor, both in robes

“Guillermo Trejo introduced me to the concept of liberalized autocracies–states that have partly liberalized their political and economic systems but are still under tight control by an autocratic leader–and also encouraged me to study philanthropy from a comparative perspective. His course on collective action and social movements was crucial to my research, and his mentorship was equally critical.  Mbaye Lo also enthusiastically supported my idea to study philanthropy in the Middle East,” Herrold said.

“But I owe the most to my dissertation committee chair Kristin Goss. Conducting a major research project and writing a dissertation are challenging undertakings, and Kristin was with me every step of the way. She encouraged me to think and act independently, but she was always there with advice and support.”

Despite the turmoil and often violent protests that occurred while she was living in Cairo, Herrold never felt she was in real danger.

“That was a tense time, but I felt taken care of by my Egyptian friends and interviewees who looked out for my well-being,” said Herrold. “Egyptian life goes on; normal life must continue. Also, for better or worse I have a high tolerance for risk.”

The Influence of Athletics

Research wasn’t the only endeavor that occupied Herrold’s time while in Egypt. She is also an accomplished swimmer who counts among her awards NCAA All-American honors, the prestigious Massachusetts Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Achievement Award and a gold medal at the Egyptian Masters National Championship in 2012.

“I’m a swimmer; I swim every day. In Egypt, I joined the masters team at the Gezira Sporting Club and competed in the Egyptian national swimming championship,” she said. “That meet stands out among all other swim meets that I’ve competed in.”

Herrold’s extensive swimming career has influenced her professional experiences.

“I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and there was a sign over the time clock that read ‘Self-Discipline Breeds Excellence.’  I’m still working on the ‘excellence’ part, but any successes I’ve had so far wouldn’t have been achieved without self-discipline and hard work,” said Herrold.