WHO IS SERENA OLGIATI?
Now an independent professional, most recently she led policy development for the UK based Action on Armed Violence, as their Head of Advocacy. Serena previously worked for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, representing this organization in Colombia and for the Cluster Munition Coalition where she has been actively engaged in the negotiations of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Serena also helped found the Global Alliance on Armed Violence and has supported the creation of local and regional networks; such as the Nigeria Working Group on Armed Violence and the Latin American network SEHLAC.
She holds a master in international relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
You can connect with Serena here:
IN TOR 047 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Serena’s work, first as part of Action on Armed Violence and then as an independent consultant.
- The differences of negotiating inside and outside the UN system, particularly regarding armed violence, humanitarian aid, and victim support.
- The dangers of low capacity in competent technical advice available for countries, the difference between conflict and violence, that large organizations almost invariably miss; and the solutions Serena has seen and think can be further implemented.
- Her ‘privileged’ experience during her development career, with little failure and quicker success turnaround than most practitioners face.
- The personal choice of spearheading initiatives rather than pushing an organization’s agenda, the differences in terms of time management and productivity, and the measures she took to ‘test the waters’ before jumping out.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Global Alliance on Armed Violence
- Oxford Research Group
- Cluster Munition Coalition
- United Nations
- Armed violence
- Treaties on munitions
- Evidence based diplomatic negotiations
- Civil society
- Time management
- Sierra Leone
- El Salvador
- Latin America
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Armed violence career
She focused on general policy development, but was also involved in projects in Nigeria, Burundi and Sierra Leone.
Focus on the weapon, their impact locally and country-wide.
Victims of violence, gathering of evidence for action. Worked in Serbia with arms and the Oxford Research Group, GAAV to develop a template for violence report, gathered indicators, assessed impact of programs and policies.
“There is a lot to be done. It is hard to gather data about violence, from either side.” Governments keep their information very jealously, they argue it’s dangerous to share too much.
A very large scope “with a lot of meat“. Capacity for understanding is critical.
It’s also very challenging to evaluate impact of violence on other areas of development.
Surprised because the rates of violence in places like El Salvador or Jamaica can be similar to those of Iraq during the war.
Violence is hidden in many places, like Latin America, tends to be under-recognized in the agendas of development agencies and donors. “Conflict and violence are different. ‘Conflict’ tends to focus on a broader confrontation and dismisses the day-to-day realities of war.”
“This work found me not because of its content but because of how it was being done.”
’06 First job was at CMC, their beginning. Munition in hands of the population was a problem. Within 2 years CMC contributed to a civilian ban. The impact of effective mobilization was revealing to her. “I was lucky. Ongoing work after that has taken longer to make an impact.”
But she has seen impact in many instances throughout her career, from a policy level.
“People who come together ready to achieve a specific goal tend to accomplish what they were looking for.”
Affecting arms policies
“I was always one of many.” She coordinates work regionally, inquires about advocacy action, but it’s always in collaboration.
She has been on location. “I was there and saw the First Minister of Switzerland sign the Treaty we were working on. It was a very emotional moment.”
“We were at the UN during the negotiation. In many cases we provided intelligence and technical support to the countries. It was striking to see that governments don’t have a lot of experts that can provide competent, substantive advice during negotiation of treaties.” The NGOs become the content providers.
Challenges in arms advocacy
The UN system is a good instance even for local treaties because “everyone is there,” despite the plurality of positions there is high diplomacy expertise and leverage.
It’s always about finding the right approach.
Outside the UN, the Mine Ban Treaty, civil societies have actually more voice, and a lot less talk goes away from the table.
More on the differences of negotiating inside and outside the UN system
Mainly, “inside the UN you reach a consensus. When it comes to humanitarian impact and support to victims, no country can be opposed. It is a strategic move.”
“When you move it outside, you might have stronger humanitarian content, but countries can decide not to be on board,” like a country with a civil war in which weapons are supplied from countries far away. The treaty would not be too strong.
“I don’t remember a time when we have actually achieved all we wanted to. But I don’t recall a time when we have failed completely.”
Challenges as a subsidiary
Serena moved away looking for more control of her time, and involvement in projects of her interest.
Working for an organization made Serena feel she was losing her creativity in part, and evading responsibility to an extent, was starting to lose passion.
Not a data lover, but she realized how important that was. “People make decisions based on belief, on what the political agenda dictated what the project would be like.”
In Burundi, officials and police expressed interest in data and how to use it.
“Cultivated my contacts“. Years of partnerships accrued. Tested the waters “asking organizations if they would consider work with consultant firms.”
Knowing what you are worthy of is a challenge in itself. Between overselling and impostor syndrome. But clients need an answer about what they can expect from you.
Serena wants many clients but having the time to work close to the whole project lifecycle, stay close afterwards.
She gets a lot of heads up prior to a negotiation, she wants to have as clear a picture of the players before getting to meet them.
Plug: Branislav Kapetanovic, http://branislavkapetanovic.com/
Focus is probably at the center of most pitfalls in development projects and careers.
“Be really clear about what you want. Take the time to think about it. What, how you want to work.”
“Talking to people beats looking up websites. It inspires you.”
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