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Area studies students contribute to international development via consulting club

Apr 24, 2024

Assessing the impact of a girls’ leadership program in East Africa. Training rural coffee farmers in Guatemala to expand their businesses to produce honey. Preventing and addressing the use of torture in Egypt.

These projects may sound like the docket of the United States Agency for International Development, but undergraduate students in the Indiana University Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies are partnering with real-world organizations to tackle these issues as part of the school’s Global Development Consulting.

Hamilton Lugar School students in front of flags Consultants Sam Kirley, Harper Strahan, Micaela Fenn and Mohamed Izadine recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to present their findings to the U.S. State Department. Photo courtesy of Mohamed Izadine

The organization, which was launched in the spring of 2022, gives participating students the opportunity to complete one of several consulting projects for different international development organizations each semester. Student consultants can take lessons learned in courses from the school — which hosts more area studies institutes recognized by the Department of Education as Title VI National Resource Centers than any other school in the nation — and apply them to pressing global issues.

Elisheva Cohen, global learning specialist at the Hamilton Lugar School and director of international education programs and outreach at IU’s Center for the Study of Global Change, was part of a similar organization while she was in graduate school and saw a need for the opportunity at IU.

“Global consulting as a graduate student opened so many doors for me and helped me really understand what professional work in international development looks like,” Cohen said. “I knew our students at Hamilton Lugar were really hungry for that experience.”

The group, which is supported by the Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development, began its first semester with seven student consultants and one project; it has grown to now boast 28 student consultants working on four projects that span the globe. Almost all of the consultants are undergraduate students, including several first-year students.

Over the past five semesters, IU students have conducted research and interviewed Burmese development workers to create short podcasts that raise awareness about the democracy activism and development work taking place in Myanmar. They’ve helped The Hijabi Mentorship Project — a group advocating for female empowerment and gender equality in Kenya — identify global funding opportunities and created a comprehensive guidebook to support its fundraising initiatives.

In fall 2023, the organization bid on a project for Diplomacy Lab, a State Department program that “course sources” research and innovation related to global policy challenges to students and faculty experts at universities across the country. As part of the project, a group of consultants advised the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, a region in Papua New Guinea that was recently granted independence. The team developed a guidebook for stakeholders outlining the steps needed to become a recognized independent country both internally and on the international stage.

One Global Development Consulting team has spent this semester working with the organization Maat for Peace to make recommendations to ad... One Global Development Consulting team has spent this semester working with the organization Maat for Peace to make recommendations to address and prevent the use of torture in Egypt. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

Consultants who worked on the project, including seniors Mohamed Izadine and Micaela Fenn, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to present their findings to the U.S. State Department at the Diplomacy Lab Fair. Izadine said it’s opportunities like these that have kept him involved with the consulting organization for three semesters.

“Experts who are international lawyers that have done hugely impactful things are coming to see our presentations and asking us to email final deliverables,” said Izadine, who is studying international law and institutions. “We are making real contributions to international developments and gaining expertise in areas that very few people have.”

Izadine and Fenn, along with sophomore Cooper Kleinmaier and senior Gillian Zeuli, have spent this semester working with the organization Maat for Peace to make recommendations that aim to address and prevent the use of torture in Egypt.

The group analyzed National Preventive Mechanisms, as outlined by the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, that have been used by nations that are similar to Egypt. They then assessed which mechanisms have been effective and which have not, and they will put forth recommendations for Egypt during a presentation to the partner at the end of this week.

One recommendation the team will make is based on a successful prison-reform initiative in Ghana. An open camp prison system created a separate site for low-risk prisoners to decongest prison facilities. At the camp, prisoners engage in agriculture work and receive training for reintegration after their sentences. The food they are farming goes toward feeding other prisoners, and they are paid for their work. The money they earn is put into an account that they can access when they are released, reducing the number of inmates who are released into poverty.

Zeuli, a senior studying international studies and Middle Eastern languages and cultures, said that in addition to learning how to communicate and work with people spanning several countries, cultures and time zones, consultants also gain confidence in discussing issues with leading experts. These skills have helped former student consultants score internships with clients and get hired as full-time consultants at international development organizations.

“We are able to walk into a room with people who have dedicated their entire lives to this narrow field as undergraduate students and have our ideas and expertise valued,” she said. “That alone will take us so far professionally.”

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