Why did you choose this particular country and internship?
I choose an internship with a development organization because I am interested in the intersection between development and traditional conceptions of security. In my SSP courses, we’ve learned how to approach international security issues from a theoretical perspective and a militarized security perspective, and I wanted to gain experience working on an international security issue from the development side to see how each approach can support one other. Furthermore, I wanted to learn more about the United Nations system, and it has been a goal of mine to work in it at some point.
I am interested in the Middle East and wanted to practice my Arabic and gain work experience in the region I am specializing in, which is why I choose Jordan. Jordan has been relatively stable so far, despite the immense strain it has endured from the influx of Syrian refugees. Despite its own stability, it does contribute the highest number of foreign fighters per capita to Syria, and, as such, the government took militarized approaches to counter this. However, it has recently decided to pursue other avenues to CVE, and in May—the week before I arrived—the Ministry of Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding to partner with UNDP to establish a national CVE strategy (to my surprise, it did not have one yet.)
If you are working on a unique project, what impact will it have on both you and others?
I am currently balancing my time at UNDP between two projects. The first is an article I am working on with my supervisor and another intern on the role of female, religious leaders in CVE and PVE. I have always been interesting in women’s role in security matters and the debates surrounding that topic. Through this project, I am gaining a deeper understanding of Jordan’s context and whether or not best practices from other cases of women’s involvement in CVE—Tunisia and Bangladesh—can be applied to Jordan. In the next couple weeks, we’ll have the opportunity to interview female religious leaders in Jordan and will develop policy recommendations to international actors.
The second project is a countering and preventing violent extremism through media and messaging campaigns. UNDP recently hired a contractor to conduct research, to identify media stakeholders and partners, and to develop a plan to implement messaging campaigns. I will serve as her research assistant, and I am eager to learn more about the drivers of radicalization across Jordan and about how to design a campaign to counter them.
Beyond the experience I will gain getting to do field research and gain a better understanding of radicalism in Jordan, this research will benefit the Jordanian government and society because there has been little research done on CVE and PVE in Jordan thus far. I hope that our research can help NGOs, CBOs, international organizations, and the Jordanian government better understand what’s driving Jordanians to extremism and ways to counter it and to prevent it that are specific to Jordan.
How have you changed from this experience?
Beyond the weight I’ve gained from eating way too many Arabic sweets (kunafeh anyone?), I’ve developed a stronger appreciation for the ways in which international aid and development can change people’s lives on a smaller scale. I think it’s easy to criticize the efficacy of development in Washington because change is often slow, success can be hard to measure, corruption surrounding international aid is prevalent, and we are far removed from the work on the ground. However, after having the opportunity to go on field visits with UNDP, I was moved by the small-scale impact aid has in people’s lives, especially women, even if it doesn’t necessarily change whole communities in the timeframe policymakers or NGOs hope. I have yet to solidify my own opinions on international aid, but I have grown a greater appreciation for the nuance and am inspired by the women I met who are creating small change in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.