1. Luwam, tell me a little about yourself/your background/what you were doing before becoming a Research Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard.
I grew up in Eritrea, East Africa and moved to the United States to pursue further education at Cornell Law School after receiving my degree from Asmara University. Though, I pushed off higher education for some time, the pursuit for higher education is always something that I wanted to pursue, in order to make a change and difference in my community.
2. Tell me about your current work? What does it mean to be a research associate?
My ultimate goal is to maintain a stance and advocate against oppression in its academic, political, and social form. With that in mind I am supporting this struggle for women and people in general by choosing a more academic approach. My profession has developed my role as a theoretician or someone who is trying to solve problems on a more theoretical level. Also, I am hopeful that policy makers will look into my work and other works like it when engaging in peacemaking efforts.
As for my work most recently I am working as a Research Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. At the Weatherhead Center I am currently working to develop my JSD dissertation to publishable journal articles. Though I am affiliated with the institute, but my research project is my own, and I have full autonomy over my intellectual work.
3. What is the most fulfilling thing about your work?
What I find really fulfilling is working with young diaspora who are interested in my field, pursuing further education or more generally interested in starting a career in international development.
4. Your international background speaks for itself – how has your cross-cultural experience been in general? And how does that speak for the international development community of the Greater Boston Area?
I have built my international background by living and studying in different parts of the world. My international experience gives me a better perspective of the world that I live in and the work that I do. Furthermore, my experiences inform my decision-making, as I have a unique outlook of the world around me, and in understanding the flaws in this world.
Compared to the developing world, in general one of the luxuries we have in the US is that we get better access to research databases and are free to think about bigger world issues. And having international perspectives informs you of a simple and pragmatic way to have empathy and understanding towards the struggles of people. Based on this there is a notion that Africa needs to be saved, African women need to be saved and thus, “civilized” but this excludes and discounts the African experiences and knowledge.
The international development community in Boston is very progressive. There are so many students and schools and many great ideas. There are two aspects to the development community in Boston; one is producing amazing students that are future policy makers, theoreticians and practitioners, and the other aspect is the knowledge production, which is regarded as the highest form of industrialization.
In the future we need to see more initiatives that link cities and encourage city-to-city cooperation, as Boston is a utopia in the sense of international development collaboration.
5. How do you recommend young professionals (undergraduates and recent graduates) get involved the international development arena in the Greater Boston Area?
One resource that I see as being very useful is the Boston Network for International Development. Through this resource you can see what is available in the Greater Boston Area. Other things to think about are reaching out to organizations and writing emails and make sure that you have someone to go over the email and edit it, as first impressions really matter. In my opinion, you do not need to know a larger network; you just need someone who can give you advice and direction.
For undergraduate students I recommend that you do a senior thesis, go and do field work and truly grapple with interdisciplinary issues affecting the Greater Boston Area and the world in general.
6. What are some words of advice for this next generation of global leaders?
A piece of advice is to learn a foreign language, which gives you a chance to open up to a larger group of a people of a different background and language capabilities.
Additionally, I suggest taking advantage of volunteer opportunities, fellowships and study abroad opportunities. Look at, for instance, the UN volunteer program, Teach for America, Peace Corps, American Association of University Women, the Mandela Institute in South Africa among other organizations. Several institutions give fellowships or some sort of stipend support, which helps ease the financial hardship. These work experiences can give you the opportunity to gain experience and develop international perspective, which is both a tool in understanding the discipline of development and a highly coveted knowledge base in achieving global understanding.
Interview Conducted by Dahlia Rawji
Wellesley College Class of 2016
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