By Mary Braswell
In Tanzania, programs aimed at improving women’s health have been in place for decades, but rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents remain high.
In El Salvador, several comprehensive centers for women needing health care, job training, legal help and protection from domestic violence have opened. Why aren’t more women taking advantage of these services?
Around the world, when well-intentioned policies to improve the lives of people fall short of expectations, researchers mobilize to investigate and advise.
This is the mission of a new initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs called the Global Lab for Research in Action.
The Global Lab’s focus on health, education and economic empowerment comes at a critical time, said Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and founding director of the initiative.
“There is so much need right now,” said Shah, whose extensive research as a development economist in Africa, Asia and Latin America has guided governments and agencies seeking effective, evidence-based policies.
Shah cites this sobering statistic: Of all new adolescent HIV cases in the world, three out of four are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those cases, 80% are girls.
She is currently evaluating a safe-sex campaign in Tanzania, where 60% of teen girls are sexually active by age 18. Fewer than 10% of girls ages 15 to 19 use any modern contraception, however. And adolescent girls there experience high rates of violence by their intimate partners.
Shah said policies grounded in research can bring about improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents during the next decade — which in turn would create better educational and employment opportunities.
“There is a great need to look at some of these subpopulations that aren’t historically targeted by the average intervention or policy being implemented in lower-income countries,” she said. “Part of what’s exciting at Luskin right now is the number of faculty who are doing this type of international work.”
The Global Lab integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.
“There is so much potential in bringing our international findings back to the United States, too, by identifying how our research can inform programs and policy here,” she added.
The initiative will also create opportunities for students of public policy, social welfare and urban planning who are drawn to international development issues, Shah said.
The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at the Global Lab have established. They have studied teachers in Pakistan, caregivers in rural Colombia, sex workers in Indonesia and young HIV patients in South Africa, among many other populations.
In Shah’s Tanzania research, advocating for girls means also reaching out to boys. The boys come to play soccer and stay to hear about health risks and violence against girls — part of an international program that combines sport with sex education.
Shah’s research team is measuring the relative impact of empowering girls, turning boys into allies and simply providing access to contraceptives. The goal is to identify and invest in the most effective policies — to find some way to curb adolescent pregnancy, the spread of disease and intimate partner violence. The Tanzania project is being conducted in collaboration with the international development organization BRAC.
Shah is also helping design strategies to promote El Salvador’s Ciudad Mujer women’s resource centers.
“These are safe spaces where women can come if they need a lawyer, health services, employment services. But take-up rates for the domestic violence services have been relatively low, and they don’t understand why,” Shah said. “I’m working with the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of El Salvador to do the research and to figure out what is going on.”
This is the kind of practical impact that powers the Global Lab, which is launching this summer with support from UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.
“We have so many great professors across all departments working internationally,” Shah said. The Global Lab “speaks to some of our newer strengths, bringing it all together to foster research, support faculty, and advocate for better policies through our findings and our relationships abroad.”
Editors Note: A previous version of this story referred to the Global Lab for Research in Action by its former name, International Development and Policy Outreach.
In a Team Human podcast hosted by Douglas Rushkoff, Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy discussed poverty and social justice from a global perspective. Roy explained how the “visible forms of poverty and inequality” in her childhood “shaped [her] interests in the study of cities and the manifestation of social inequality.” Roy discussed the relationships and discrepancies between poverty in the United States compared to developing countries in the global south, explaining that “poverty in many other parts of the world is not necessarily associated with political disenfranchisement in the ways in which it is in the United States.” Roy discussed spaces of mobilization and political power, noting that while “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, the master’s tools can certainly occupy the master house.” Roy concluded, “As Americans, we have an ethical and political responsibility to address the policies that then produce poverty around the world and in the United States as well.”
By Zoe Day
Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin hosted an informational session for students wanting to learn more about career paths and opportunities in U.S. government and international development. The Feb. 7 event featured guest speakers Cecilia Choi from the State Department, Alfred Nakatsuma of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Jeffrey Janis from the Peace Corps. The three shared personal experiences, answered questions about their respective sectors, and advised students how to pursue futures in international development and government.
Choi, U.S. State Department diplomat in residence, discussed the availability of careers in diplomacy, stressing the benefits of combining humanities and writing skills with technical backgrounds in IT or STEM.
“You have one life to do something meaningful,” said Choi, who has served as the director of trade and investment at the National Security Council, deputy director in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and food safety advisor at the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Now a visiting fellow at UCLA recruiting talent for careers in public service and global affairs, Choi is a valuable resource for students interested in learning more about diplomacy and government careers.
As a USAID diplomat in residence who has served in Asia, Latin America and Washington, D.C., Nakatsuma highlighted the development side of foreign policy. The agency aims to lift lives and build communities through development assistance abroad, he said, adding “[USAID] isn’t a job. It’s a life.”
Nakatsuma said the plethora of specialties within international development include humanitarian assistance, female empowerment, energy access, global health, education, innovation and technology, clean water and more. For undergraduates interested in international development, Nakatsuma recommended, “Figure out what you love to do and what pulls you. Figure out what kind of thing you’d like to do in a developing country. Develop skills, take classes, expose yourself to real-world applications, learn how development works.”
Nakatsuma will be returning to UCLA during spring quarter.
Janis is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who currently works as the UCLA Peace Corps campus recruiter. The Peace Corps requires a 27-month commitment to work abroad, during which volunteers are strongly encouraged to “live at the local level,” Janis said. With 70% of Peace Corps volunteers in their 20s, many returnees go on to pursue careers in foreign service, including with the State Department and USAID.
Volunteering for the Peace Corps demonstrates “capacity to work with other cultures,” which is essential to careers in international development, said Janis, who also spent years in the nonprofit sector.
His time in Ukraine with the Peace Corps was “the best experience of [his] life” despite the difficulties, Janis said. It’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Janis is available in the UCLA Career Center to help students interested in volunteering for the Peace Corps through the application process.
Choi, Nakatsuma and Janis also discussed scholarship and fellowship opportunities within their respective organizations. They included the State Department’s Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which offers financial support for recipients in graduate school, guarantees two internships in Washington, D.C., and at an embassy overseas, and includes a five-year employment contract as a Foreign Service Officer. Among the students attending the Global Public Affairs event was Ankhet Holmes, a second-year Public Policy student at UCLA and 2016 Pickering Fellow.
The Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship also supports graduate students interested in pursuing a career in the State Department’s Foreign Service Office. USAID offers the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship for graduate students interested in working in international development, and the Peace Corps offers scholarships of up to $70,000 for volunteers who attend graduate school.
Choi also had advice for undergraduates, urging them to gain work, leadership and volunteer experience in preparation for careers in government and international development.
View more photos from the GPA session on Flickr.