American University Alumni Human Rights Panel

On Thursday, November 10th I was a panelist for an alumni panel at American University.  I was joined Maryanne Yerkes who is a Democracy Officer at USAID.  We spoke about our respective careers, how they are related to the field of human rights, how our American University experience helped prepare us professionally, and any advice or tips for students interested in pursuing similar professions.

I felt that the work I do at ICNC and Maryanne’s work at USAID had a lot of similar components, which turned the conversation into an interesting look at nonviolent civil resistance as a method to demand and win rights, freedom, and democratic self-rule.

A couple interesting topics that came up were the development of the turn-based, strategy computer game ICNC developed, People Power: The Game of Civil Resistance.  Gaming was viewed as an emerging method for learning about movement building, organizing, and political processes.  Another was the importance of linking theory with practice and how marketing one’s self to go into this kind of work requires not just knowing the theories and concepts that make up the field, but having a certain level of experience working with various populations in exploring those theories and concepts through education, training, and facilitation.

I also recommended that students start chronicling and reflecting on their experiences and, if they are comfortable, sharing those thoughts through a professional resume blog, much like this one.  The reason for this is that going into he fields of peacebuilding, human rights, conflict resolution, or nonviolent action is not only exciting and worthy of self-reflection, but also difficult for some people to understand if examples and stories of one’s work are not chronicled.

I still struggle at times to accurately explain to friends and family what it is that I actually do.  In some instances they may not particularly care, but in those occasions where there is a genuine interest I am much more capable of recalling specific events at which I have presented, workshops I have facilitated, seminars I have helped coordinate, resources I have developed, and experience I have gained thanks to the time I have spent journaling these moments.

I also think reflecting one one’s practice is essential for professional growth.  When I take the time to think about what I have done well, what I could improve, and how that thought process challenges me to further develop a craft, then I more inclined and ready to learn new methods, skills, and try out new things.  Secondly, I think blogging about one’s professional pursuits can keep them motivated.  I once heard someone say at a tech conference that if you can’t think of two things in your life to blog about every month (moments worthy of reflection, chronicling, and sharing) then blogging is not the problem, your life is the problem.  This has stuck with me and keeps me searching for opportunities that I know will excite me, engage me, and expose me to new learnings.   If I get to the end of a month and I do not feel inspired to reflect on the experiences I have had that month, I know I have to start being more intentional and aggressive in seeking those experiences out the following month.

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