This summer in Washington, D.C. has been a whirlwind of experiences with both highs and lows, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. My internship at a think-tank has allowed me to consider many of the latest ideas and theories of international development including foreign aid effectiveness, government contracting, and private sector-led development. I have also had time to reflect on life after William and Mary as this internship provides a window into that world.
One highlight from the summer was when I attended a conference hosted by USAID and Georgetown University on the ‘Frontiers to Development.’ The conference was attended by heads of state, premier economists, non-profits, and government officials. We heard panel discussions on topics ranging from food security to population growth, and the sustainability of development to the future of foreign aid. The overall mood was resoundingly positive regarding the future despite the harsh political climate and economic woes of the global economy. Much of the discussion surrounded how to improve transparency and accountability of development projects as well as how to better illustrate to the American people the successes of aid projects. One thing that stuck out in particular was the criticism of aid agencies for failing to learn from their mistakes. The speaker noted that failure is imminent, but failing from the same mistakes is not. He encouraged the audience to take risks in development but to always act in coordination with local governments and to learn from previous mistakes.
Another particularly exciting day at work occurred during one of our events on democracy and governance versus economic growth in developing countries. The event ran fairly smoothly and it was highly engaging with great speakers.. However, the discussions also got heated at times, but that just illustrated the passion and dedication to international development of the participants.. Even though the world of think-tanks appears to be at the intersection of academics, research, and policy, it was amazing to feel that these people were able to impact the way development is viewed and implemented, not just sitting around and discussing abstract ideas. It was one of the few times I have felt that I was sitting in the presence of something bigger than me, the potential to improve foreign aid delivery and international development policy.
Michelle Selim ‘13 is a double major in Economics and Government. She has a passion for international development, and interested in issues concerning the effectiveness, transparency, and sustainability of foreign aid and development. After graduation, she hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a career in international development to better the global community.