“I never moved because I wasn’t happy with my work. I moved because something else was equally exciting, and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to contribute big time’.”

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Episode notes

Donata Garrasi has worked on conflict dynamics for about twenty-five years. That career spans operational, policy and consulting roles, and her current position is Director of Political Affairs for the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes.

In one sense this might sound like a straightforward story. But walking through the steps, it really wasn’t. It was a series of self-starting, purposeful and often risky moves to find ways to make a contribution.

What drives and sustains that kind of motivation? What happens when it’s frustrated by events on the ground that you can’t control? How does it balance with other aspirations in life?

As always, all views are personal and don’t reflect anyone’s official position.

Topics discussed:

[00:00] Describing peace and conflict work to the general public. Unexpected sticking points.

[05:10] Growing up in Italy with an interest in politics. First steps abroad, from an internship in New York to refugee response in the remotest part of Guinea-Conakry.

[12:00] Key learning from early experiences around Liberia, Sierra Leone and Western Sahara. Looking behind humanitarian crises to the political decisions that create them.

[17:35] Strong early role models that understood the why & the how of influencing key decisions. Learning about conflict dynamics at the end of the ‘90s in West Africa.

[22:35] The rationale for moving between different countries. What it means to be a specialist in unpacking and addressing conflict dynamics.

[27:25] A stint in the policy world with the OECD, at the juncture of aid and politics. Trying to help the sector as a whole learn some much-needed lessons.

[36:05] The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. Motivation and meaning when working on complex and highly political inter-governmental processes.

[40:30] The opportunities and limitations of consulting work. Freedom versus the frustrations of being peripheral to decision-making.

[44:40] Fitting all the pieces together. Playing big when it comes to highly political jobs, and the highly contentious politics of peace & security.

[51:40] Sustaining motivation when things just aren’t going the right way. When it’s more ethical to move onwards than to stay in place and keep trying.

[59:45] Reflections on a long (and still-evolving) career. Experiences as a woman in the sector.