Friday, August 30, 2013

The Dupont Experience: Mastering the 4 Ps at the Middle East Institute (MEI)

By Yumna Rathore, MID-DPES, 2014
When I was accepted as an intern at the Middle East Institute (MEI), I was ecstatic. The thought of being in Dupont Circle, next door to Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Brookings Institute, walking distance from Atlantic Council, and a metro stop away from the World Bank and Chemonics International, was thrilling. Moreover, MEI was an organization solely focused on Middle East. The definition included Pakistan and Afghanistan, two countries I was invested in. My experience at MEI can be summarized in 4 Ps:
  1. Professional Relationships: After substantial internship experiences in NGOs, international organizations, and government, I dived into the DC think tank world hoping to build professional relationships in DC. At the Middle East Institute, I was working with Dr. Andrea Rugh who was a technical advisor for USAID development projects in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. She was a Research Associate at the Harvard Institute of International Development (1987-1994), and worked for Save the Children and UNICEF in Pakistan and Afghanistan (1998-2002).  With over 40 years of residence and work experience in the field of international education, Dr. Rugh was a great mentor. Her guidance was a key resource to a handful of connections at the UN, World Back, and other smaller organizations.
  2. Projects: The next three months starting from April were busy. My tasks varied from building a database to conducting research!
    • Compile and create a website database of 80 materials called “Primary Education Support” from 3 projects (a) a Pakistan education project funded by USAID (b) an Afghanistan education project funded by UNICEF and Save the Children, and (c) an Egypt life skills project funded by a group of international organizations.
    • Review, analyze, and summarize project materials including study reports, program evaluations, case study analyses, and practitioners’ books for UNESCO library in Geneva, libraries in Kabul, and other interested international organizations such as Global Partnerships in Education.
    • Promote and outreach website to 40+ individual professionals interested in post-Taliban education models.
    • Collect and synthesize articles in chronological order on Muslim-Coptic relations in Egypt after the Egyptian Revolution from the Washington Post, New York Times, LA Times, Al-Ahram, Beirut Daily Star, Egyptian Independent, and other secondary sources.
    • Research and report on sources of funding for Christian-supported TV and radio programming in Egypt.
    • Assist in two inter-departmental projects (a) generating a list of Yemeni, Syrian, Tunisian, and Egyptian writers for the Political Islam project (b) researching on transitional justice in Asia-Pacific countries mainly, Cambodia, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, East Timor, South Korea, and Taiwan for the Middle East-Asia Project (MAP)
  3. Preparatory Skills: Along with the work I was assigned to by Dr. Rugh, I was also a participant of the MEI Intern Development Series (IDS). The IDS provided all interns with excellent opportunities to speak with professionals from all facets of the job market. The group of 20 or so interns would meet weekly with individuals and groups such as POMED, UNDP, Ambassador Marisa Lino, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain, and Mehreen Farooq. Interns were also fortunate enough to have extensive resume, cover letter, and networking workshops conducted by hiring officials at MEI. Also, the flexibility of the internship enabled me to go to daily events and networking meetings in more than 15 think tanks in the course of my internship.
  4. Practical Skills: Another component of the MEI internship program that I was so grateful for were the language classes. Interns could take up to two courses, one free and another at a discounted price. At MEI, I took Egyptian Arabic classes twice a week for two months. Going abroad to get language experience was not an option for me and so this was one of the best assets from interning at MEI! The institute also offers excellent Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Dari, Urdu, and Pashto classes.
To conclude, my experiences at Dupont Circle were all-encompassing! There is much to learn from being in a city that has a stronghold on policy-making! If you have any questions about interning in DC or the Middle East Institute, feel free to contact me at Thank you!




Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #8

Last Day!

I'm writing this right now in part to keep awake: I need to be at Kotoka International Airport at 3:30 AM to catch my flight back to Europe. I can't believe it is already time to go back home...these past 2 months have gone by like a blur! It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the plane in the dead of night to begin my Accra adventure, and yet here I am yet again (in the dead of night) ready to speed away to Geneva before heading back to Pittsburgh. Why does Royal Air Maroc have such super weird schedules in Accra??

I was sent off with nothing less than a bang. This Friday the entire office organized a going-away party complete with pizza, and I even received a present from the entire WANEP crew: a razor-sharp dress shirt with a Ghanaian motif, talk about style! I have to say though, the staff really made my relatively short stay a memorable one! Today, which turned out to be my final day of work, I witnessed a conference of the zonal coordinators and NEWS directors from WANEP offices from all across West Africa: Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Gambia,Mali, Senegal,and Cote d'Ivoire to just name a few of the represented countries whose representatives I was able to meet with
My going away party!
My going away party!
The specific theme was the combat for greater gender equality in peacebuilding activities across West Africa. The organization has a program, WIPNET, entirely designed to address the lack of women in civil society organizations dealing with conflict resolution and the roles that they can play. The conference also focused on the "early warning indicators", which I have been working on all summer, that were developed by each country and that are specifically tailored to their own national issues. For example, countries like Mali and Niger had a lot of indicators pertaining to religious extremism and the threat posed by AQIM and its affiliated militias in the Sahel. As it is a conference that spans 2 days, my one regret is that I won't be able to assist the whole thing, it definitely wasn't the stereotypical huge conference where people doze off. I'm glad the end of my internship ended on a high note though!

Yes, I definitely could have fared a lot worse when it came to finding an internship! I genuinely enjoyed my day-to-day activities, and really feel as if I come away having learned a lot about what takes to work in an international NGO. Living in Accra itself was an amazing experience as well, once you get used to its little quirks (as all major cities possess) it becomes a really fun place to discover. Don't get me wrong, Ghana definitely has its issues, most of them regarding the screaming inequalities between the rich and powerful vs. the poor, but to call the people here "welcoming" is a massive understatement. I'll kind of miss being woken up by the squadrons of insane roosters that run around the city screaming like banshees. I hope this blog conveyed some of what I felt while being here, and gave you somewhat of a picture of life and work in Accra, Ghana.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #7

Election Monitoring

This week was my birthday, which the WANEP staff very kindly celebrated with a large office pizza and a lot of well wishes. One thing I will definitely take away from here is the very welcoming atmosphere of the office, it can really make a world of difference between just working and collecting enough hours to fulfill your internship requirement and actually enjoying the work you do. This is especially true here, as members of WANEP have not only taught me some tools of the trade but also showed me around town and the countryside. I also went that day to see "White House Down" in an Accra movie theater, which was really similar to US multiplexes, including the obnoxious food prices! The day afterwards I went out with my immediate supervisor, Edwige Mensah and her family, as well as Regional Program Coordinator Queeneth Tawo and her children. We went to this very inconspicuous beach resort which served a great kebab. I also had some guinea fowl, which I thought was pretty tough game meat, a lot tougher than chicken or anything similar. But it was great to have some fun outside of the office.

In work-related news, this was the first time that we at the Peace Monitoring Center monitored up-close the events related to an ongoing election, rather than reporting on unexpected events that had suddenly occurred. In this case we followed the unfolding legislative elections in Togo, seen as a critical step towards real democracy after 40-plus years of iron-fisted rule by the Gnassingbe family (first by Gnassingbe Eyadema, then after his death his son). Our main task was looking for and reporting the location and scale of potential conflict indicators and their capacity to disrupt the process. As of now, results are still slow to come in, although estimates are indicating a majority for the ruling party. However, the opposition may accept the results as there were relatively few disruptions reported across the country. The next few days will really tell whether this election was yet another "doped" result or one accepted by all parties. And of course, this week-end will see the first round of Mali's presidential election. After a coup d'etat, an invasion of Al-Qaeda affiliated militias and the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force, it will be interesting to say the least to watch how this one will unfold.