Christina Grossen and team of women participating in ALI
In the spring of 2021, as I applied for internships and looked at potential career paths to pursue following graduation, I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation. I recently transitioned from teaching to pursuing a master's in Diplomacy, and I felt like I was window shopping for my future but could never find the door to enter. I craved community and support and was looking for opportunities to develop relationships and challenge myself. In April, I stumbled upon the application for Andi Leadership Institute for Young Women (ALI) August 2022 program, and finally a door appeared.
The Andi Leadership Institute for Young Women (ALI) hosts a fully immersive program in Washington, D.C., for eight female-identifying persons between the ages of 18 and 27. Established in honor of Andi Parhamovich, who was killed in Iraq in 2007 while working for the National Democratic Institute, ALI brings diverse women together to equip them to bridge cultural divides and transform conflicts through leadership training to ultimately build the next generation of female peace builders. After a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the in-person program resumed in August 2022, with its largest pool of applications since its creation in 2013. Issues with visas (a lingering effect of the pandemic) saw a smaller cohort of six gather together to learn. This year, I joined five other women from Wyoming, New York, Afghanistan, Kenya, and Ethiopia as we embarked on our two-week journey, where we learned all about Speaking Your Truth: A Path to Healing and Reconciliation. The program culminated with a policy memo, a presentation to the Department of State, and a capstone project to implement a community-level initiative.
Before we jumped head first into the program's content, we took to the streets of D.C. We got our bearings with a walking tour from A Tour of Her Own, which brings women's perspectives into the conversation that is often dominated by the accomplishments of men. Walking the National Mall and hearing about the sacrifices and achievements of the women humanized them and reminded me that the stories that are not told carry just as much weight as the ones that are.
The two weeks consisted of classroom lectures both online and in person, site visits, leadership development sessions, and time to reflect on ourselves as individuals. Our first speaker connected me back to Seton Hall as we partook in conflict transformation scenarios with Dr. Tatsushi Arai, who, in addition to his role with ALI and as a professor at Kent State, is a senior fellow at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies here at Seton Hall. We practiced speech writing with Karen Finney and discussed the role of media and life's challenges with Rachael Maddow. Site visits at the United States Institute for Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies shed light on ongoing projects. They demonstrated how academic work could connect to practical implementations. We discussed gender, inclusion, equality, advocacy, communications, movements, monitoring and evaluation from industry leaders at Search for Common Ground, Creative Associate Internationals, and local D.C. nonprofits.
The final days of the conference were spent writing a policy memo for the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) and developing a project proposal for our local community. For the memo, S/GWI requested that we look into ways to implement the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality in an area of our choice. After looking into the ten different categories, we focused on ways to eliminate gender-based violence in Ethiopia and Kenya. Because my research tends to focus on the Middle East, this topic was entirely new for me. I was able to help guide the writing and scope of research because of my experience with the National Security Fellowship at Seton Hall. Our policy recommendations highlighted the need to include religious leaders in the conversations on gender equality in Ethiopia because any education coming from the United States is seen as too progressive and is not initiated. For Kenya, we focused on ways to increase education about the rules and laws by using the radio platform Voice of America to spread awareness campaigns. The Office of Global Women's Issues was duly impressed and passed the memo to other departments working on Ethiopia and Kenya.
A significant component of the conference focused not only on building strong international connections but also equipping us as leaders to directly impact our local communities. As I reflected on my experiences to date, I realized I, along with other young professionals, often lack adequate dialogue and de-escalation skills because we do not have opportunities to practice. I wanted to create a space where we could practice those skills, and from that, the event, Setting the Table for Peace, emerged. Partnering with the International Relations of Cuisine, a new student club on campus, we will host a peace mediator, practice negotiation, and continue learning as we share a meal from a different part of the world. My hope is that as we start learning how to have productive conversations over differing opinions, we can take those skills with us and influence our families, workplaces, communities, and for some of us, the international sphere.
During those two weeks, I grew as a leader, peace builder, and person. I am incredibly thankful for all of the professors and school events along the way that helped me prepare for this opportunity. Dr. Huddleston's Causes of War class underscored the power of citizens to hold their governments accountable. Dr. Wang's The Art and Science of Negotiation cemented the fundamentals of what makes a negotiation successful. My internship with the Center for Civil Society and Democracy and Rajaa Altalli, the Spring 2022 Sergio Vieira de Mello Visiting Chair, shed light on the lack of inclusion of women in peace negotiations across the world, but specifically in Syria. The Andi Leadership Institute was a great way to bridge the academic divide and apply my knowledge gained from the School of Diplomacy.
Categories: Nation and World