September 8, 2021
Q1. You have been at the United Nations for several years and served across development, political affairs, and peacekeeping. What brought you to the United Nations?
My desire to make a positive impact motivates my career and brought me to the United Nations (UN). While I have long admired the values of the UN, my journey to working for the organization was quite serendipitous. In 2010, I traveled to Sudan to serve as an International Observer with The Carter Center to witness the voter registration process for the Referendum on Southern Sudan Self-Determination. I anticipated a stay of several weeks and ended up working and living there for four years. After serving as a Democracy and Governance Advisor to the US Agency for International Development (at a critical juncture when the mission transitioned from a US Consulate to an Embassy in a newly independent nation), I returned to The Carter Center to serve as Director in Juba and Khartoum. It was during this period that I became aware of an opportunity to initiate and lead the Democratic Participation portfolio on behalf of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The position focused on South Sudan’s nascent political processes of elections and constitutional review, and provided a unique role to apply my political analysis, experience, and relationships with donors, government, and civil society. Rooted in motivation for further impact, I accepted the position to design and lead UNDP’s new program.
Q2. You were appointed by President Obama to serve as a White House Fellow. Can you tell us more about this position? What did you learn from it?
The White House Fellowship offers a first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the US federal government. Fellows typically spend a year working as full-time staff to senior White House officials, Cabinet Secretaries, and other top-ranking members of government. They also participate in an education program consisting of roundtable discussions with leaders from the private and public sectors as well as domestic and international policy trips. As a White House Fellow, I was assigned to the US Mission to the UN’s Washington, DC office based at the US Department of State. I arrived in DC from South Sudan to serve as a White House Fellow just as the Ebola epidemic was intensifying and the US was preparing for negotiations of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I also closely followed events surrounding the kidnapping of several hundred schoolgirls in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. In my role as a White House Fellow and Policy Advisor to Ambassador Samantha Power, I regularly attended National Security Council meetings at the White House to coordinate with interagency colleagues on these issues and beyond.
Q3. What motivated you to work in your chosen field? What are some of highlights and/more moments you are most proud of in your career to date?
Growing up in San Diego as the granddaughter of an Irish political prisoner, I am intrigued by personal stories and what compels people to move across borders. A common thread in my cross-sectoral career is a desire to help others gain access to resources and opportunities that they may not otherwise have to claim their own power.
In reflecting on my professional journey, I am particularly grateful for two chapters. First, in serving as Director of the US-based Carter Center and representing President Jimmy Carter’s organization, particularly as a woman during a historic (and volatile) time after the separation of Sudan when democracy-building organizations had been forced to leave Khartoum. For me, it was an honor to represent a democratic institution during the Bashir regime. The second experience is initiating the Scholars at Risk network in Canada. As a Sauvé Scholar in Montreal, I brought my expertise managing Harvard University’s Scholars at Risk Program to start SAR chapters at McGill University and Concordia University.
Q4. You are an alumna of the French-American Foundation’s 2018 class of Young Leaders and are among the first to become a member of our Transatlantic Forum. What drew you to the program, and why do you think it’s important to strengthen international ties?
Opportunities for greater partnership and Transatlantic ties drew me to the French-American Foundation. When I first became involved, I was leading the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ partnerships team and continue to believe that the complex challenges facing our world require ever-increasing interconnectedness and interdependence. I often think of the “Ubuntu” philosophy which I learned as a teenage international exchange student in South Africa, i.e.: “I am because we are.” The complexities of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic bring this reality to light more than ever. No one is safe unless we are all safe.
Q5. Do you have any advice for future classes of Young Leaders or those who might be interested in applying to the program?
My advice is to definitely apply and not be afraid of reapplying, if necessary. Be sure to convey your professional commitment in your application. Clearly communicate your motivations and what matters to you. If you are fortunate to be selected, be authentic, present, engaged, and humble. Remember our interconnectedness and vital Transatlantic partnership.