By Adeney Zo
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
Public Policy student Janine Berridge’s journey has taken her around the world, but along the way she’s achieved an impressive list of accomplishments — both in the workforce and as a master of public policy candidate at UCLA Luskin.
Beginning her story in Wales, where she spent her childhood, Berridge first received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Cardiff University. “I always wanted to become a broadcast journalist. However, I realized I had to eat, breathe and sleep ‘news’ in order to work in the journalism field . . . and I realized this might not be the thing for me,” Berridge explains. “So after I graduated, I took some time off traveling. I went all over the world and, along the way, discovered that I really enjoyed and thrived off meeting communities. When I returned I thought about how I could put my skills to work with these communities to solve certain issues.”
With these experiences in mind, Berridge took a leap of faith and started her career in a junior position at Plan UK, a children’s charity with which she had ties as a sponsor and passionate supporter. “At first, the job was hard because it was very repetitive. I had to phone 50 schools a day, saying the same lines with as much enthusiasm and energy as I could,” she recalls. Despite the high turnover rate of her position, Berridge continued with Plan UK, rising from assistant to senior executive within five years. “Ultimately, this came about from me thinking, ‘What are my skills? Where do I want to be?’, and then getting my head down and working hard.”
Working with Plan UK allowed Berridge to continue her passion for travel and meeting communities around the world. From working with a girl’s boarding school in Malawi to teaching young people about sexual and reproductive health in Zambia, Berridge devoted her efforts to creating change through her work.
Though her travels were mainly work-related, one specific trip was made for the sole purpose of self-discovery. “My grandfather was born in the Gambia and came to the UK as a stowaway on a ship,” she explains. Intrigued by her family’s origins, Berridge went on a solo journey to the West African country to discover her story — armed with a single photograph and an unfaltering sense of determination. She went from door to door in communities across the country, hopeful that someone would recognize her grandfather from the photograph, or from the story of his adventures as a stowaway. At the least expected moment, one woman grew excited at the sight of a familiar face in the picture, and took Berridge to another compound to meet the now elderly lady in the photograph. “All of a sudden, she just burst out in tears, and I ended up bursting out in tears as well. She was my grandfather’s cousin, and they were raised together by their grandmother after their parents died when they were young,” Berridge describes. She found the rest of her relatives in the Gambia through this point of connection and spent time there reconnecting with her family’s roots.
While working at Plan UK, Berridge met her husband, a filmmaker who traveled between London and Los Angeles for work. The couple decided to permanently relocate to L.A., and Berridge made the decision to apply to graduate school. “I always wanted to get my master’s but the money and the time were an issue,” Berridge explains. “Going through the GRE was absolutely petrifying, but I eventually got offered a position to study here.”
From the start, Berridge was determined to apply an equal amount of dedication and involvement at UCLA Luskin as she did in her previous jobs. “I wanted to be really involved and be a part of the experience in a way that I didn’t really get to do as an undergraduate,” she explains. During her time at UCLA, Berridge has taken on several leadership positions through campus organizations. Her roles include: vice president for professional development with the Association of Master of Public Policy Students; lead member of Policy Professionals for Diversity; Graduate Student Representative (GSA) for the LGBTQ UCLA-wide committee; leader in the development of foreign language options for graduate students; and member of the Luskin Senior Fellows Program, which Berridge describes as a program that “has really made my time at Luskin very special.” Berridge is also the recipient of a fellowship from the Wasserman Foundation, which provides funding for exceptional UCLA Luskin students.
On top of her active involvement within the school, Berridge was also offered the unique opportunity to intern with the Clinton Foundation last summer. “The internship was a good, holistic program that offered a great deal of knowledge on topics I’m interested in,” Berridge relates. “I really enjoyed the ‘brown bag’ events where highly accomplished individuals who worked in administration and the White House shared their insight on our work.”
As an intern, Berridge worked with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) team and CGI partners to formulate market-based approaches to global social issues. “The goal is to promote more practical, market-based, shared-value strategies to all levels of the income pyramid,” she says. “Companies will invest in a program that benefits both the company and the individual, unlike philanthropies that may dry up when the economy is in recession.”
Berridge’s work as a Clinton Foundation intern and work outside of UCLA continue to fulfill one of her first goals — to help communities around the world. Her Applied Policy Project, a team report that all Public Policy students submit at the conclusion of their studies, is focused on offering policy recommendations to a client working in Malawi who is facing “the challenges of employee absenteeism and petty theft in their community development projects.” Berridge also serves as a consultant at InVenture, a social enterprise aimed to offer resources for entrepreneurs in India to reach out to unbanked individuals, and Wells Bring Hope, a nonprofit that funds boreholes in Niger.
Berridge has come a long way from her initial dream of becoming a broadcast journalist, but each step of her journey has been one of personal growth and discovery. “It takes hard work — and failure, sometimes — to figure out where you need to focus your strategy,” she concludes. “Like someone once said, if you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough. Always push yourself until you’ve reached your maximum and then take a step back and see how you can improve from there.”