Taking in a Moment for Me

I was invited to speak at an event for my school, called the “Best of Lecture series, which happened tonight, as part of the Alumni Chapter of my School. They wanted me to speak about my experience in my doctorate studies, my research, and my future plans in the near term and more broadly. Some of what I prepared in the 10 minute talk may not have been directly relevant to the audience that was there. I did not deviate too much from what I wrote, but I wrote out the transcript because I was given short notice, I would not be able to perform without a script for guidance (at least for now). Additionally, some of what I shared was something I have had in my mind for some time, so it came naturally to me at the event. And even though it may not have been the right audience, I am glad I took the opportunity to share it.

I was listening to Katy Perry’s “Roar” and “Firework” today, my “survival” songs, so I guess I was ready to blow the roof off, and for my standards, I felt I did. And I was not nervous at all. I had very limited anxiety (which is great progress) and I really had a great time presenting it. So although the main event did not make it tonight, it was a good experience overall.  And, I think I might have some ideas for future speeches or potential Ted talks…

So here is the transcript of my talk in case you are interested in reading (please don’t mind the excessive bold words throughout the document, it was just to help me during the talk):

 

“Thank you to the Alumni Chapter of the Schar School for organizing this event. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all tonight.

I want to also take a moment to thank the Schar School of Policy and Government for this opportunity to embark on this incredible journey of research through the public policy PhD program.

During my proposal defense this summer, I noted that this journey is a personal and professional dream. And I am grateful to have another opportunity tonight to share what this dream and humbling experience has meant for me and where I intend on going from here.

Six years ago, in Fall of 2011, I came to this school, as a part-time student, while starting my entry-level position in the Afghanistan and Pakistan Division at Chemonics International, (a top development contractor of USAID).

I chose this school for several reasons: being able to study while gaining work experience, the opportunity to pursue a public policy degree, the possibility of working with certain professors, the interdisciplinary nature of the degree program, faculty, and school in general, the flexibility in the kind of research I wished to partake in, and lastly, what a lot of people love about being at Schar and GMU, that proximity to DC… the policymaking space.

Everyone’s trajectory in a PhD program is unique and different, and I would eventually have to make a choice between my work and my degree. I am certain I would have a better idea if I made the right decision, when I finish my degree, hopefully within a timeline of two years, but for now, I think I made the right choice with continuing on this journey.

And I have been fully immersed in my studies since then, allowing me to reach candidacy this past June.

This experience, even thus far, has opened up a myriad of different opportunities for research and academic conferences, taking me to Miami, to London, to Singapore, to Ottawa, Canada, to name a few, and hopefully, in the coming months, to Pakistan for my qualitative fieldwork….

MY RESEARCH focuses broadly on the fields of international development policy and aid-effectiveness in fragile and conflict-affected states, through the lens of network theory and social capital.

I take a two-step mixed methods research design involving original data collection (which includes a content analysis of archival research and qualitative interviews) and a (two-step) data analysis plan of social network analysis and a qualitative comparative analysis.

This will be completed for a multiple embedded case study design analyzing stakeholder relationships within prominent rural development interventions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I want to understand under what conditions do global development policy networks successfully impact, vulnerable, rural and conflict areas in these countries….

While working within the development sector, I gained direct experience on managing projects for international development work. It was valuable, but it also gave me some exposure to the challenges and limitations in development project implementation (especially in difficult environments), {for example in communications and logical frameworks}.

That in part inspired me to explore those limitations further…

…Through my research, tapping into my passion for qualitative methods, to capture those contextual influences, incorporating mixed methods that include both qualitative and quantitative techniques and analysis.

Being exposed to a variety of different methods during my doctorate studies, I naturally gravitated towards this fascinating world of Network Science that helped me “connect the dots” (pun intended), to address the aid-web complexity, {involving multiple actors entangled in a web of transactions and exchanges,} and realize it’s immense benefit to understanding development and global governance.

Now, being immersed in this literature for some time, I see Networks everywhere.

The application of “networked governance” has been an emerging phenomenon in the international development work. It has the potential to bring some promising insights to a complex, age-old dilemma of assessing aid-effectiveness. ….

So far… the doctorate degree has brought me to present my initial findings at some important academic and professional conferences.

Most recently, this summer, it took me to present at the International Public Policy Association’s International Conference in Singapore, hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, where I shared my research with Asian Development Bank practitioners, a different type of audience than the usual, which helped me obtain the practitioner’s input on the research.

I learned, that although I am critical of the work of development organizations in my research, I should probably not use the phrase “Aid Industry” among ADB practitioners (or the like), as they may not want to characterize their work as a business. However, it is important to remain critical if the goal is to optimize development aid-impact and more importantly local influence and ownership of the processes and outcomes.

It’s been a long road, which is sometimes the case for a social science PHD, but these experiences have prepared me to execute my dissertation data collection plans in my upcoming fieldwork in Pakistan and also for what I intend to do with my doctorate degree going forward……..

When I first came to DC for job hunting in 2009, exactly eight years ago, a couple months later, my former boss, Pakistani Ambassador Hussein Haqqani, who I worked with a year before at the DC Embassy, invited me to attend a dinner for Journalists, at the Embassy of Pakistan Residence in DC.

There, the Ambassador introduced me to the Wolf Blitzer, and told him that I was exploring career and graduate school options.

At that moment, The Wolf asked me The Question: What is your dream job?

I froze. Because for one, it was Wolf Blitzer. And two, no one ever asked me that question before in those exact words, and it happened to be the Wolf.

The Ambassador, recognizing that I was a little star struck and stumped by the Wolf, answered the question for me, saying that I have a passion for research. And he was right.

But, If I had a second chance, to answer to Wolf Blitzer, that critical question (we all think about) what is my dream job?…..after 8 years of a variety of professional and academic experiences in DC, which included 6 years of my Doctorate, I would consider telling him….

I see myself taking on a role of “bridging”, (which is an important network analysis concept).

To that end, I sometimes like to call myself a Diplomat in Training. And find a responsibility alongside the research and scholarship, to take on an Ambassadorial type role.

As a Pakistani Indian American Muslim Woman, embracing all the intersections of my identity, I have grown to critically understand the value of bridging communities (in general). And this includes, communities of people, communities of organizations and institutions… and through my research, communities of academic disciplines, and communities of methods.

Exploring these intersections over time has allowed me to see where my skills can add some value in public service.  Primarily, for helping build the necessary “bridging social capital” among vulnerable and marginalized communities in difficult and challenging environments.

More specifically, As someone who has always had one foot in one world and another foot another world {or many different worlds), I find myself in a unique position (and with a responsibility) to potentially be a “bridge” to a region of the world that is geo-strategically and geopolitically significant to international security and the stability of the international community (that is Pakistan and Afghanistan and South Asia in general)…to help contribute a more critical understanding of regions that have been historically misunderstood.

Adding a little extra flavor from network science, can also make the contribution unique to the context of fragility and conflict, an area requiring further exploration.

I have learned there is a clear gap, and some tensions, in research and practice {within the public policy realm}, but specifically in the world of international development policy. The development industry can be highly mechanical, lacking the necessary critical thinking, and often times it is these structures that can create constraints, requiring greater flexibility {in certain environments}.

And I believe that this public policy PHD will prepare me for the skills to bridge that gap, as a researcher and practitioner of International Development.

“Network evaluation” can not only inform on the power and relational dynamics of the global development policy interventions, but also help stakeholders generate greater understanding, to re-conceptualize and transform interventions into more localized, socially inclusive, and hence, sustainable structures, helping countries become less aid-dependent.

The goal of putting people like me out of business, is an ideal.

And I know I may have a different perspective when I obtain the PhD, and when I am a bit more immersed in my work (whether it be a think tank or an NGO…).  …

If I am honored to be asked back to speak a few years from now, I can fill in some new insights.

For now, I am eager to join the conversation {generally, and also specifically on how network science can help us increase our understanding of context-specific aid-impact.}

And If I am able to make just a small contribution to the fields of human security and international development, I know that (what some people view as) a monstrous, daunting feat of this Doctoral degree (PHD), would have been all worthwhile.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from Professor La Porte and from all of you tonight.”

 

Although it did not incite much discussion in this particular audience, one Alum told me afterwards, that I did an “awesome job,” another adjunct professor informed me that I was on the right trajectory, although he was critical of some of my insights, but it was overall very reassuring to hear.

It is pretty amazing when you take a step back and realize how far you have come. I needed my moment tonight.  The Crescent moon was out too, and I wore my favorite color purple. So it was nice to allow 10 minutes for a Warrior Queen to  shine.

Peace, Warmth, and Blessings,

Elsa,

Warrior KQueen

 

 

 

 

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