WHO IS NICHOLE GRABER-SIMMONS?
” Truth is, the U.S. gets a lot more than it invests abroad, but we haven’t done a very good job of selling it, so we don’t get support at home. We need to do better PR.”
Nichole Graber-Simmons manages the Office of Citizen Security as a foreign service officer for USAID in Kingston, Jamaica. The Office covers programs working on at-risk youth, community safety and security, anti-corruption, human rights, and education.
Prior to Jamaica, Graber-Simmons worked in Haiti for two years as a Democracy and Governance Officer managing a program reintegrating Haitian deportees. She has also worked with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives as a Program Manager on its Pakistan and Uganda programs and spent six months in Zimbabwe as the acting Deputy Country Representative.
Prior to joining USAID, Graber-Simmons worked with the American Red Cross, UNDP, and Habitat for Humanity as an Americorps volunteer and served in Fiji, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic
Graber-Simmons has a Masters in International Development from Melbourne, Australia as a Rotary scholar, a graduate diploma from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. from Point Loma Nazarene University.
You can connect with Nichole here:
IN TOR 031 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The modern approach USAID applies around the world and particularly in Jamaica, as evidence by Nichole’s account of the resouces, tools, approaches and the work
environment she gets to work with.
- An ad hoc comparison of development issues between countries of different scales, governance, funding and partnerships, particularly Jamaica and Haiti.
- The tradeoffs faced by Nichole throughout her career, mainly between scope and influence, and hands-on action.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Red Cross
- Habitat for Humanity
- World Bank
- Violence, street gangs
- Adolescent education, dropping out, crime rates
- Language learning
- Development job markets
- Natural disaster relief
- National elections
- Pre-implementation research
- Inter-agency coordination
- Democracy building abroad
- Public perceptions
- Ex convict social integration
- Kingston, Jamaica
- San Francisco, LA
- Dominican Republic
- Washington, DC
- Costa Rica
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
USAID Jamaica Nichole
USAID’s focus is violence. She runs the office, 10 programs including prisons, mix of security and education.
Adolescent crime is a problem, which relates directly to education as the goal is to reduce dropouts.
Nichole started as a teacher in Costa Rica. Received a Master of Education.
Jamaica’s mission is small, may be more challenging, but her desire keeps her there.
Why is Nichole there
Early on, she volunteered for AmeriCorps, then Habitat for Humanity in San Francisco.
Her family has also been involved in development, world traveling, languages.
But after recurring activities abroad, Nichole felt she had plateaued.
Enrolled in a Master’s program at Johns Hopkins.
Received advice about getting her foot in the door at World Bank, Red Cross.
Started at Red Cross, eventually USAID, then her dream job in Jamaica.
USAID provides a young, flexible environment. They remain after work is done, particularly after conflict, they don’t leave right away.
In Uganda, USAID and the National Government built a strong partnership around camps, to clear them. People were living there for decades.
International jobs are competitive. Crisis government officer, transitioned.
She got involved in a natural disaster and new prime minister elections. Her first task was being an observer.
Then she worked with deportees, local governance. Massive scales.
USAID posts last usually 2-3 years.
She was looking at options. Jamaica was in the Caribbean, close to home.
“I miss working more closely on the ground.” USAID is taking itself out of implementation, more into contract management. It is a downside, even though there is influence and money.
Tools and resources and systems
USAID is very well resourced, invests a lot in staff training. Science, technology and innovation are a major spending focus.
Background work is thorough, they do a lot of research.
There are new resources always coming in.
Lots of data, on existing software. Heavy monitoring of results.
Pros and cons of supervising implementation and design
USAID controls a lot of programs. “We have a lot of leeway.” She designs programs, 5 year strategies.
There is job security, it is a U.S. Government agency after all, “I feel protected anywhere in the world no matter how harsh the environment is.“
Strategies encompass large scopes and work of other agencies and departments. Every office produces ‘Appraisals,’ which communicates intended plans of action to the other ones. Then activity design takes place. “It’s a very long process.“
Budget allocations and considerations
There is fundraising, sometimes. “In Haiti after the earthquake we had more money than we know what to do with.” But Jamaica is small, there is a fixed allocation. Because of the politics, the bulk of the funds come from the State Department.
Nichole has had to apply to the different government funds available in DC, some regional, some global. Every applicant has to make a strong case for their operation.
Jamaica has sustained a steady flow, but in some cases countries have seen their budgets slashed from one year to another.
Development’s value for money, accountability
“It’s a political game, it depends on who is in office at the time.“
Government spending talk is poignant, can affect their work. Congress may cut or demand more results.
Groups are concerned with supporting democracy abroad while having difficult issues at home.
Usually. There are exceptions like Haiti where the amount of money and short deadlines does not leave time for coordination, but that is actually a luxury. U.S. partners meet monthly to review and coordinate programs, keep priorities, avoid redundancies. Increasingly, this includes the private sector. “Jamaica is a very small country, after all.“
Haiti was very corrupt, results of work were not seen. Integration programs for prisoners took a lot of effort, more so in high unemployment areas. Sometimes they had to account for illiteracy, give them food, transportation, connect them with families. Government treated them as criminals even after they had paid their debts with society, and USAID had to intercede in their favor, including getting them IDs.
At the Red Cross, there were internal challenges, including leadership. Few months after joining, layoffs were announced. Leaderless places, waste of time, resources. Low morale.
“If you really want to do it and you don’t know anyone, DC is the place to be.“
Another option is just going to a country, “which is much scarier.” Experience in the field is highly valuable. Consider Peace Corps and similar opportunities.
Network, stand out. Intern, keep applying to the large ones, accept free work.
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