Rachel Clement on Gender, Youth, & Urbanization

OID: Rachel, tell us more about yourself and why you chose development?

Rachel Clement

Rachel Clement

Rachel Clement: I’m originally from Colorado (and I miss it terribly especially when it’s hot and muggy here in DC!), but have spent several years working in Austria, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. I majored in Sociology and Spanish in undergrad. Professionally I have spent time working for a small NGO in a rural village in the Andes in Ecuador and as a Bilingual Program Specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. Both instances helped me to realize that my calling was development.

Rachel and her "little sister" before indoor skydiving in Denver

Rachel and her “little sister” before indoor skydiving in Denver

At BBBS I interviewed volunteers, children and families and matched children ages 7-12 with suitable adult mentors. I mentored a girl for over 5 years, and still consider her my “little sister.” Working with youth domestically who were living in poverty and seeing them rise above so many challenges and obstacles and make their own paths in life really inspired me. While I was in Ecuador I learned a lot about development, and felt frustration at my own lack of knowledge. The organization I worked for was trying to build tourism, invest in human capital by building computer and English-language skills, as well as improve  water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems. The water in the village was not potable–you could actually see things floating in it–and there was no formal road in to the village to bring supplies (such as water and medicine) or to transport the children to the next village over for secondary schooling. I attended several community meetings and there were several times when the concerns of the community did not align with those of the NGO. Being an insider/outsider allowed me to see both sides, but not how to resolve the issues that were presented. There were a lot of factors for the NGO to work on, and they tried to work with the community on a lot of them, but I felt that going to graduate school would allow me to see the “big picture” of development and program management so that I could be prepared to tackle the processes involved in a development project.

OID: So, why did you decide to stay in DC this summer and are you happy that you did it?

Rachel Clement: I’m really happy I decided to stay in DC this summer. I was able to attend several lectures that I wouldn’t have had time for with school and interning during the school year.  I heard from top people from the UNDP, Population Council, Oxfam—just recently I saw Rajiv Shah  talk about women in Afghanistan.  It’s amazing to have the opportunity to hear people you read about in class speak and often have the chance to talk to them afterwards and ask questions. It really makes you question what you hear and read in class in an intelligent and critical way. It’s also a great way to explore topics that aren’t  necessarily in your area of concentration, and to hear different points of view.

I’ve been an intern with The Coalition for Adolescent Girls since February and when I was offered the position I knew it would be through December (and that I couldn’t go abroad.) The Coalition is made up of 40+ member organizations who come from all areas of development.  It’s the perfect internship for me because gender and youth are both cross-cutting issues and members of the Coalition address both from all areas—economics, health, advocacy, education, and more. It’s given me a really healthy perspective on what is and what isn’t being done for girls in development as well as which areas I want to specialize in. So, while I was sad to not be in the field I think the experiences I gained are well worth it. It also afforded me the opportunity to take my research methods class over the summer, which means I’m better prepared (and able to go part-time second semester) for the IDS capstone project.

OID: Your concentrations include Youth and Gender. What got you interested in these aspects of development, and how have you found them to be inter-related?

Rachel Clement: I was in a sorority in college and am the kind of girl who loves wearing a dress–I don’t think I’m my mother’s generation of feminist. I didn’t start out identifying myself as a feminist, which would make my poor mother cringe to hear, but in all of my previous professional experiences I realized how much of how we interact with the world around us is impacted by gender. Everything from how you walk to school or work, to what you wear and what you say, to what kinds of jobs you take is impacted by gender. And yet, traditionally a lot of development policies and programs lumped people together as though men and women—and boys and girls—all have the same needs.

A group of GWU students participating in a Day of the Girl advocacy campaign. This year's theme is girls' education.

A group of GWU students participating in a Day of the Girl advocacy campaign for ABC News. This year’s theme is girls’ education.

I’m passionate about girls in development, which is why I am concentrating on youth and gender in urban spaces . I’m a huge proponent of consistent collection of sex and age disaggregated data (and I’m not alone). (If you’re interested in gender but don’t have space for it on your schedule, DevEx made this list of the “top 10” books you should read and it includes everything from value chains to mainstreaming. It’s not comprehensive but might be a good starting place!) I decided to focus on young women because I think often they are the most overlooked part of any population. In most cultures, including my own, we are taught to be quiet and respectful while boys are taught to speak up and dominate classroom discussions, relationships, politics, business, you name it. And I don’t think all men are bad or that all men hit women, but I do think there are a lot of girls and women whose voices aren’t heard, and I want to help amplify them, and give them a place within the world and their own communities.

Urban Quito, Ecuador

Urban Quito, Ecuador

I chose urban spaces based in large part on my own professional experiences with youth in urban and rural Ecuador and urban Denver. The global trend, particularly in the developing world, is towards cities and urbanization. About half of the world lived in cities as of 2000, and it is projected that by 2050, seven out of ten people will live in urban areas. I was born and raised in a city and feel I have a better understanding of urban issues and aspirations, and living in rural Ecuador really helped me to define that I don’t have that same passion for rural areas. One of the big issues we saw there was a rural to urban migration of young people, so I don’t think the two are separate issues, either. I think building good cities that provide economic and educational opportunities for young people can also increase the kinds of migration we see, and help to improve rural areas, keep young people at home to finish their education, and to be more financially stable in general. I’m hopeful that by concentrating on vulnerable populations in an emerging area of need will position me where I can be marketable and of the greatest use.

Rural Pistishi, Ecuador

Rural Pistishi, Ecuador

OID: You have previous work experience working with domestic youth, how has this impacted your view of youth and international development?

Rachel Clement: I think sometimes people forget how big a little thing can be, which was really brought home to me working with youth domestically. I paired children with one-to-one adult mentors. Usually the mentors took their mentees to do fun things like go out to ice cream, to the park to play, or maybe work together on homework. We really discouraged spending money (and encouraged spending time) with the kids. I was fortunate to see several of our “Littles” graduate from high school and move on to pursue tertiary education. Interacting with the kids everyday really brought home to me how having those support systems—whether it’s family, friends, or a role model or mentor—can make all the difference for someone. I didn’t start out with this concentration when I entered GWU, but through the cornerstone and other courses came to firmly believe that interventions made in childhood and adolescence can be the most impactful long-term investment one can make. I often think of the children that I supported at BBBS and about what a big difference simply having one extra person who acts as your cheerleader can make, and how enormous of an impact organizations that promote healthy youth outcomes and supported mentorships can make.

OID: You’ve completed a few internships while in the IDS program. Can you speak to how you found these internships and how they have benefited your studies at the Elliott School?

Rachel Clement: I found my first internship through the Elliott School Career Center job website. I had an interest in gender and a vague interest in youth and Plan International posted two positions related to adolescent girls. The position I applied for was a research internship looking at funding that is either targeted at interventions for or eventually reaches adolescent girls. From this internship I began focusing most of my class papers on adolescent girls and the various interventions that are being used currently. The thing with writing a 20 page paper, and doing it well, is that you have to be interested in what you’re writing about and I found that I always had too much to say and too many pages to write! From this, I began looking at organizations that have programs specifically working with and for adolescent girls. Naturally when the Coalition for Adolescent Girls advertised an internship opening, I applied immediately! I think interning while going to school is the perfect balance. I was in a youth class with a professor who helped to write a major US government youth policy. Actually talking to the person who wrote the policy was a truly memorable experience. That, coupled with people who are working to translate that policy into practice, gave me a really full view of all of the moving pieces that go into changing development policies, priorities, and programs.

OID: What was the best advice you received before your first year? What is your best advice for incoming IDS students?

Rachel Clement: In the fall, about one month into my first semester, one of my friends died. I was still new to DC, and my cohort really came through. I remember the now-President of OID, Alejandro, stopping me outside of Gelman and saying, “we are your family now. You have to deal with this, and we are here for you.” I think that’s what really makes IDS unique: you’re in this cohort of people from such diverse backgrounds and interests, but everyone is really compassionate and caring. We edit each other’s papers during finals, host dinners and study groups, and are just really there for each other as a support system. I don’t know of another program that has that. It doesn’t have to be something as tragic as a friend’s death: being in a new city or a new program can be really stressful and isolating for anyone. Just know that your whole cohort feels some degree of the same thing and that they (and the second years!) are here for you, and can and will make that transition easier. I’d also echo some of the advice given by other second-years: don’t worry too much if you don’t have all the answers right now. Take on internships, even if they are unpaid or part-time. Attend as many events in DC as you can, even if you don’t think they are in your area of interest. You’ll figure it out (and if you stay in DC and want to take a class you couldn’t fit in, GWU has really good alumni rates for auditing classes!)

GWU students listen as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim's new strategy to end global poverty.

GWU students listen as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s new strategy to end global poverty.

OID:  What is (are) the best class(es) you’ve taken at GW? Do you have any recommendations on how to find the best schedule?

Rachel Clement: That is a tough question. Best classes: I loved the Gender and Development class with Dr. Fink. I was a little intimidated to take two classes with the co-chair of the department my first semester but I am very happy I did. It was great to see Fink in her element and I think she brought to that class the perfect balance of structure and debate. We had some really eye-opening and thought-provoking discussions that made me decide on gender as a concentration (and that I wanted to look more into youth interventions as well). I still reference the readings in meetings and other classes I’ve had. I think other interviewees have echoed this but Mr. Yetter’s Participatory Planning class was also incredible. I wrote my final paper for that class as a re-imagined second-chance at my experiences in Ecuador, and what that would have looked like using participatory methodology. It was phenomenal to apply a real-world experience in a class like that.

Best schedule: Don’t give up! Search other schools in GWU at the Consortium. This semester I’m actually only taking one Elliott class; the others are in the School of Public Health and one via the Consortium. Taking classes outside of Elliott is an extra step (you have to have your professor, advisor, and the registrar sign an additional form for consortium, and sometimes really justify your class choices for other GWU schools) but for me it’s been worth the hassle! I really appreciate that about GWU: since I have been able to hone down my concentration through my core coursework and the papers I wrote in my first year, I can take classes now to apply that knowledge and further increase my skills as they relate to my concentration. My class with Dr. Ruiz on Adolescent Health is really engaging and it’s interesting to get a non-development perspective from my fellow classmates. I’m taking an urban development class at American University and we are actually doing a service learning project with a community here in DC. I applied to AU and GWU initially, so this is a great way to get the best of both worlds! The class is also really diverse: about half international students and half-Americans, with several students from business and law perspectives.  I’m also taking Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course which is out of my comfort zone and fast-paced but I am loving it thus far and  can’t wait to apply it in urban contexts with youth-oriented services. I’m contemplating taking Advanced GIS next; I think the way youth can and cannot move around a city and obtain services like education, transportation, and sexual/reproductive healthcare is intriguing and directly impacts effects of programmatic interventions.  I am confident that having a GIS skill-set can help me provide additional expertise once I enter the workforce.