Tag Archives: students & alumni

Interview With PJSA 2020 Best Undergrad Thesis Recipient Vanessa Meng ’20

By Billy Wu ’26

Vanessa Meng ’20, a Peace and Conflict Studies and Philosophy double major and Swarthmore alumni, recently received the PJSA 2020 Best Undergrad Thesis award. Her thesis focused on China’s own narrative of China-Africa relations and tied in the diverse cultural background she shares in her identity. The Peace and Conflict Studies department has invited Vanessa to an interview to share her experience and insights surrounding her thesis and study at Swarthmore College.

Vanessa Meng ’20 and Professor Lee Smithey holding the award

I am someone who has always been sensitive to injustice, and I had a lot of questions about what peace really is. Before college, I thought I would be in the NGO or international development world. Now my understanding of peaceful impact has changed. The Peace and Conflict Studies Department at Swarthmore helped answer many of my questions.

In “The Cost of Living,” Roy has this essay that Talks about how we are really done with the time of the big, and I think she is exceptionally correct. When doing my China-Africa relations research, I realized the problem is with big projects like SAPs. The real shift now is in the relations really lies in the cultural and the people-to-people exchange.

I definitely think my understanding of what peace means has changed significantly in my time in college and now, but the root of it remained the same because I believe there is larger injustice and conflicts that affect the more personal. I am also in a master’s program in Psychology and now look at internal peace. Everyone deserves to feel peace, which has a lot to do with injustices.


Question: In your thesis, you mentioned the diverse cultural background of your upbringing. How did the intersecting cultural identities affect you on different levels and motivate you to pursue a Peace and Conflict Studies degree at Swarthmore?

That was a crucial question that I looked at in college. On a very personal and emotional level, it was a struggle for a while. There was a moment [when I was] so frustrated that I felt that my education was colonized, and there was this deep frustration that emerged upon realizing how my parents worked super hard all their lives so that I could be far away from them in a way, not just like from physically far, but also culturally and even linguistically and emotionally. 

In terms of why it motivated me to pursue Peace and Conflict Studies, it lies in the fact that we’re products of our time. Our parents’ generation grew up understanding the power dynamics of the world. But things are shifting, and I think as things are shifting, there’s also a lot of tension, as we see with Taiwan and Hong Kong and Mainland China. Many conflicts arise out of these tensions, and it seems almost ridiculous to me, considering how many people have families across borders and culturally share striking similarities. My identity comes from all these places where tensions lie, prompting me to delve deep into questions like what it means to find peace. Not just internationally but also in a way reflected in me, something that I need to look for.

Question: What is the biggest spark that motivated you to focus on China-Africa relations in your thesis?

It’s an amusing story. When I stumbled upon China-Africa relations, I did not think about how related it is to myself until afterward. These were kind of two separate things that ended up being significantly related. In my freshman summer, I did two internships. One of them was with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Beijing. I initially thought the Foundation based in Beijing would primarily focus on Chinese situations, but most of my work in the Foundation was geared toward China and Africa relations. That brought my first insight into the topic. Then I was introduced to Irene Sun to become an assistant on her book on China-Africa relations and transcribed interviews that involved Chinese and African workers. By the end of my freshman year, I had gathered much firsthand information on the topic. 

As my career in Swarthmore went on, I was exposed to ideas like colonialism. It just dawned on me how ironic that, in the media, China is portrayed as the colonizer of Africa when (a) it comes from the Western media, the original colonizer, and (b) China has always been communist. They were the ones who were very much part of the Third Worldism idea and movement in the 50s. This is something that I was very intrigued by and later became very personal.

Question: Any memorable resonances between life and majoring in PEAC? 

I was one of those lucky students who came to Swarthmore knowing I wanted to study Peace and Conflict studies. In my freshman year, I took Intro to Peace and Conflict, and the book list was quite interesting. One of the books was “Half the Sky,” using Mao’s quote, “Women hold up half the sky. It is again one of those things that I did not realize how influential it is until now. The book talks about a bunch of women’s organizations worldwide, and one of them was [the organization] New Light. This was a direct thing: I found New Light very inspirational. So, I emailed them, got Lang Center Summer Funding, and went there for an internship. I was quite naïve, thinking of everything I would take part in. However, I felt disheartened knowing I was not equipped to do any of those things and had no language skills. At the same time, I was very motivated to understand and help as much as I could, which ended up being with kids of women in the red light district. In the end, I started a poetry workshop for three girls; that was my first experience teaching poetry, and now I teach poetry. This was an experience that was literally made possible by the intro peace and conflict studies course and the booklist.

Question: What stood out to you during your research? 

This is hard to choose. I remember one night I was at McCabe [Library] and pulled out a very obscure document, it was like a CIA report of the Bandung Conference, and it was about the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization (AAPSO). I was just so struck (a) by the intelligence of the CIA. They know everything happening at the conference, and (b) by how deep the connection ran. The Bandung Conference was pivotal, and the person representing China at the time was extremely radical. It was radical in the sense that they were connecting with Black Americans and Indigenous people in America, and they advocated for solidarity to combat Western imperialism. In fact, I ended my thesis with this idea: that China’s dream is closer to the radical left in America. If we look at Angela Davis or Grace Lee Boggs, activists who were communists and part of the Civil Rights Movement and Black movements, the ideas are quite aligned.

Question: What was your initial reaction after learning that you were awarded the PJSA Best Undergraduate Thesis in 2020?

To be honest, I was really shocked. I was met with a lot of countering voices during my research. I remember clearly opening the email. It was in 2020, a time that was not looking so good. It was a low point in my life. So hearing this was exciting because I felt a little more hopeful then.

Question: Can you elaborate on the line: “I bring the knowledge that a true education is liberating to the self.” mentioned in your Commencement speech in 2020?

I want to preface this by saying that some people think of academics as separate from themselves, as an intriguing exploration isolated from oneself. When I was thinking about this, I believed that the purpose of education is not preparing you for a job but rather gears you to understand your position in the world and what that means. I think tying to the previous question, what was problematic in navigating multiple identities, was not knowing where I belonged. In Swarthmore, I could think hard about my identity and situate myself in the world. 

Question: How did Swarthmore and Peace and Conflict shape your current life trajectory?

When I first set foot in college, I was much more ambitious. Peace was a big, flashy thing. There was something international and vague about it. After Swarthmore, I was heavily influenced by Arundhati Roy’s work, “The Cost of Living.” I also used her idea of the pandemic in my Commencement speech. In “The Cost of Living,” Roy has this essay that talks about how we are really done with the time of the big, and I think she is exceptionally correct. When doing my China-Africa relations research, I realized the problem is with big projects. The real beauty in the relations really lies in the cultural and the people-to-people exchange: The fact that there are Chinese moms and dads selling flip-flops in rural Nigeria. To me, these organic interactions are really the key to peace.

Also, with the pandemic, COVID-19 is like this tiny germ, but it stopped the world for a second. I think it metaphorically shows us that it is the time of the small now. Arundhati Roy had this excellent line, “Maybe there is a God of small things that is looking down.”

Question: What would it be if you were to leave a line to “little you ” before she came to Swarthmore?

My life now is entirely different than I expected when I first came to Swarthmore. I am in a master’s program in Psychology, teaching poetry, piano, and yoga. My past self would be so shocked right now. But if I could tell her one thing, it would be “to be kinder to yourself and to others, but mostly to yourself.” 

Billy Wu Becomes Student Departmental Assistant for Peace and Conflict Studies

Billy Wu ’26 is an international freshman who recently joined the Swarthmore community this fall semester. He is a prospective Sociology major and a Peace & Conflict Studies and/or Film & Media Studies minor. Billy will join the Peace & Conflict Studies Department as a student departmental assistant for Fall Semester 2022 and Spring Semester 2023.

Billy Wu ’26 Peace & Conflict Studies Student Departmental Assistant 2022 Fall Semester

“As an international student who interacted with different cultural backgrounds, identities, and societal structures throughout my life, I am intrigued by the connections of the social ingredients that we see in our everyday lives and how they fuel the people we are and what we perceive. Peace & Conflict Studies is a brand new field for me to explore. Still, its resonance and relevance to ourselves shed light on its significance in enlightening us to navigate a world where both peace and conflicts follow one another. “

“Applying for the student departmental assistant position was an arbitrary, or more precisely, a split-second decision. As a student deeply interested in the connections between social sciences and media studies, this was a fantastic opportunity to apply my skills in media platforms and learn from the experience itself. Being a freshman at Swarthmore, I see myself in the position to engage other students who might not be familiar with Peace & Conflict Studies, just like I did before enrolling in PEAC 030 War in Lived Experience with Professor Mike Wilson Becerril this semester. I seek to use innovative ways to provide first-hand information about our department and facilitate interests based on discussions and interactions. So look out for some trendy moves in our department!”

“So whenever you have something on your mind about how our world functions or have random questions about the department you want to ask, you know who to find (ME!). Apart from being an enthusiast in Peace & Conflict Studies, I also enjoy cooking and (for the most part) eating delicious cuisines from everywhere in the world. Therefore, I am always open to anyone looking forward to chatting over a dorm-cooked dinner. I love trying out new things: dancing, journalism, weird social experiments, etc. (as long as you do them with me); message me whenever something pops up on your mind.”

Peace and Conflict Studies Student Paris Shan ’23 Shares Internship Experience With Advocates For Human Rights

Paris Shan ’23 is a Peace and Conflict Studies minor student at Swarthmore College. This summer, she was actively engaged with the Advocates for Human Rights in an internship. She describes her internship experience with ties to interviews, research, data analysis, and importantly the education she received at Swarthmore and in Peace & Conflict Studies.

Paris Shan ’23 Peace & Conflict Studies Minor

“This summer, I was able to engage in meaningful work as an International Justice and Women’s Human Rights intern with the Advocates for Human Rights. Through my role, I worked with prosecutors to collect evidence of gender-based war crimes in Ukraine to submit to the International Criminal Court. This work is extremely important as it can be used to hold perpetrators of violence accountable and allows victims to share their stories. The most impactful moment of this internship for me was an interview with a Ukrainian father who had never had the opportunity to share his pain and struggle with anyone before. He spoke about the burden he felt to protect his family, the fear of the unknown, and his gratitude for the work of the legal professionals at the Advocates for Human Rights. His interview brought him to tears as he came to confront his experience and emotions for the first time. It is easy to feel like your work as a human rights defender is so small, but experiences like this remind me that change-making can exist at various levels.”

“With the Advocates, I also worked with a team of students to research international human rights instruments and country laws on violence against women. The work I did helped bring attention to gender-based violence around the world and aid prosecutors representing victims of violence in court. I was able to build and update the www.stopvaw.org database for other organizations and victims to use as a resource. On the website, I included research and writing reports on sex trafficking and domestic violence, weekly updates on women’s rights around the world, a data tracker on the far-right movement, and updated information on gender-based violence and resources for victims. My research showed me the importance of documentation in the foundation of legal work. As a pre-law scholar, these skills are extremely valuable to my education and future goals.”

“My work this summer helped me further develop my data analysis, professional writing, and knowledge learned through my coursework as a political science and peace & conflict studies student at Swarthmore. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to apply many of the concepts that I have learned through my education at Swarthmore into real-world experiences and projects. I am grateful to the Lang Center for Social and Civic Responsibility for the Social Summer Impact Scholarship that allowed me to pursue this summer opportunity. My growth this summer is a huge step towards my goal of attending law school and becoming an international human rights lawyer.”

LIVE panel with Ruth McDonough ’08, Sultana Khaya, and co. engaged in unarmed civilian protection and nonviolent struggle in Western Sahara

Ruth McDonough ’08 (Religion; Peace and Conflict Studies; Linguistics) is currently engaged in unarmed civilian protection in the home of the Khaya sisters, Saharawi nonviolent activists calling for an independent Western Sahara, who have been under de facto house arrest for more than 500 days.. Learn more.

On Wednesday April 20, we are hosting a hybrid in-person/online event to:

1.) learn more about Western Saraha
2.) join a LIVE panel from the Khaya sisters’ home.

Where: Join online (links below) or come to Kohlberg Hall Room 230

10:30 AM EDT – Primer on Western Sahara by Professor Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, Coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies, and co-author of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.
Online: Register at https://bit.ly/wsahara

11:00 AM EDT – Join the live online panel with Ruth McDonough ’08 and the rest of the team.
Online: Register at https://bit.ly/3jIDzi4

Online participation by the public is welcomed.


Ruth McDonough

Ruth is a current member of the Unarmed Civilian Accompaniment based at the Khaya family home in Boujdour, Western Sahara. Ruth has been an Arabic teacher and strong proponent of cross-cultural understanding and peacebuilding and is the site Director of Middlebury College’s Jiran: Arabic Community Action Summer 2021 to present. Previously, she was head of the World Languages and Cultures Department at The American School in London–London, UK; Arabic Teacher at The American School in London, UK; Field Instructor at Where There Be Dragons, Amman, Jordan; Arabic Teacher at Arabic Summer Academy–Boston, MA, USA; Curriculum Consultant at One World Now, Seattle, Washington and Portland State University–Portland, OR, USA and Arabic Teacher at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School–Cambridge, MA, USA. Ruth served as co-founder/facilitator of Anti-Racism Enquiry Group at The American School in London, co-chair of the Upper School Diversity Committee and co-advisor to SHADES at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School–Cambridge, MA, USA. She is skilled at international and outdoor program management as Ecology Facilitator and Wilderness Trail Co-Leader at The American School in London, UK and an emergency wilderness responder. Ruth lived and traveled in many Arab countries and is proficient at several languages including English, Arabic, French and American Sign Language. She earned a BA in Religion at Swarthmore College with minors in Linguistics and Peace & Conflict Studies and a Certificate in Humanistic Integrative Counseling from CPPD Counseling School.

Sponsored by the Peace and Conflict Studies Program and the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College
Contact: Lee Smithey, lsmithe1@swarthmore.edu

30th Anniversary Event: Preparing for Peace, Building Social Justice

Join us online on Tuesday February 22 at 4:15 pm EST to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Peace & Conflict Studies program at Swarthmore College! The virtual event will reflect on the past three decades of peace and conflict studies at Swarthmore and the ways that program alumni have integrated peace and conflict studies to their careers.

This virtual event is free and open to the public. Please register to attend at https://bit.ly/330ZWuw

Allison Oman Lawli, '91
Deputy Divisional for Nutritional Operations, Analysis, and Integration, World Food Programme

Maurice Weeks, '08
Co-Executive Director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) Coordinator

Jasmine Rashid, '18
Director of Impact at the Candide Group

Jerry Frost
Howard M. and Charles F. Jenkins Professor Emeritus of Quaker History and Research and Former Peace & Conflict Studies Program Coordinator

Lee Smithey
Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies and Sociology and Peace & Conflict Studies Program Coordinator

Peace Major Martin Tomlinson Reflects on the Climate Crisis in Student-lEd Workshop Series

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of the Swarthmore College Bulletin.

Growing up in rural Kansas, Martin Tomlinson ’23 experienced the effects of the climate crisis firsthand.

“I saw my neighbors’ crops failing and the water in the creek behind my house beginning to dry out,” says Tomlinson, a double major in Peace & Conflict Studies and Religion with a minor in Environmental Studies. “As my town became more and more abandoned, I began to realize that this was the death of a way of life and of a community.”

Such evidence of the existential threat posed by the climate crisis continues: this summer alone, the United States experienced heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods that claimed hundreds of lives. A recent report authored by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that global climate change is accelerating due to insufficient reduction of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Described by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres as a “code red for humanity,” the report suggests that limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a tipping point for increased risk of irreversible climate disaster, is no longer possible and that further warming can only be avoided by rapid and large-scale reductions of all greenhouse gases.

Faced with the enormity of the crisis, many students, including Tomlinson, feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the seeming inevitability that things will only get worse.

Social isolation caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also done little to alleviate the fear that the time for decisive, collective action has passed.

In this reality, it is critical to have a space for discussing the climate crisis and formulating action at both the individual and community level. At Swarthmore, a student-led workshop series, Climate Essentials, aims to fill this role by encouraging participants to “critically engage with the climate crisis in its many dimensions.”

The series of lectures and virtual meetings works to draw participants into community and build on an awareness that actions can be taken to combat climate anxiety.

Climate Essentials began in 2020 as a five-session pilot program under the direction of Atticus Maloney ’22 and Declan Murphy ’21, students in the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF) who developed a syllabus with guest speakers and recommended readings related to the climate crisis.

“Many of us at Swarthmore are grappling with the same concerns and questions about the climate crisis,” says Murphy. “We wanted to create opportunities for community members to talk about these things, hear other thoughts, and then work to translate conversations into action.”

This year, Tomlinson and fellow PSRF participant Maya Tipton ’23 took the reins of the now-virtual Climate Essentials course with help from Murphy and Terrence Xiao ’20, a sustainability and engaged scholarship fellow in the Office of Sustainability.

Although the move to Zoom initially presented challenges, the virtual format allowed for double the number of participants of the pilot program; this year’s series had more than 100 registrants, consisting of students, staff, faculty, community members, and alumni.

“The virtual environment actually helped create a strong sense of community because it made the course accessible to people who normally wouldn’t be able to join,” says Tomlinson. “We had alumni from all over the country calling in and students in different parts of the world participating as well.”

Over six sessions, the workshop covered topics such as “Indigenous Environmental Justice,” “Climate Science and Policy,” and “Planning for the Future,” and featured such speakers as Indigenous activist Enei Begaye Peter of the Diné and Tohono O’odham nations. The broad range of topics was designed to help participants understand the all-encompassing nature of the climate crisis and intersectionality within.

A spring course is planned. “It’s important to continually emphasize the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and racial justice,” says Drake, one of the project’s mentors. “If you care about social justice issues, you also need to care about the climate crisis because they are one and the same in many ways.”

“Ultimately, the goal is to build a critical mass of community members who understand the crisis and its urgency,” Drake adds. “Hopefully, that awareness will influence the way they approach their lives and there will be many impacts, however small, that result.”

Translating knowledge into action was the focus of the final session, which provided participants with an opportunity to reflect on their own impacts. For example, climate activist Fran Putnam ’69 planned to educate herself further on environmental issues faced by Indigenous people, while others planned to get involved with local organizations such as Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.

Holding Climate Essentials during this unique time led several of its organizers to reflect on the similarities between COVID-19 and the climate emergency, and what can be achieved through collective responsibility.

“I believe both crises result in part from a widely held belief that we exploit the planet, animals, and others without significant consequences,” says Tipton. “Climate change and COVID show us that we are not separate from our environment and other people — in fact, we are all deeply interconnected.”

“Gone are the days where we imagine we cannot sacrifice some aspect of our daily lives for the good of the whole,” adds Maloney. “Hopefully, we can channel this energy to make similar sacrifices for the survival of the human species in the face of climate catastrophe.”

Walking the Walk on Climate Change

Tim Hirschel-Burns ’17 (@TimH_B on Twitter; now at Yale Law School) anticipates global climate summit in Glasgow in a piece published on the Fellow Travelers blog:

This November, nations will come together for the international climate summit in Glasgow. The summit is the most significant since the 2015 conference that produced the Paris Agreement, and the recent wave of climate disasters only underlines the extreme urgency of global action to fight climate change. The US, now back in the Paris Agreement after the Trump Administration withdrew, aims to play a leading role in the negotiations. But as the US attempts to return to the head of the table, one key question will be in other countries’ minds: why should we believe what the US says?

26 July 2021 on Fellow Travelers.

Read more at Fellow Travelers

IfNotNow, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ramiro Hernandez ’23 Named Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow

Ramiro Hernandez ’23 has always had a knack for writing.

“I remember being in fourth grade, and we had to take this state exam,” says Hernandez, of Hidalgo, Texas. “We had to write essays for it and whatnot. They graded us from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best. I remember I was the only kid in my class who got a 4. It was a big deal at the time.”

A decade later, Hernandez has been selected for the Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellowship, a program that provides funding, mentorship, and support for student journalists to report on global issues that are rarely covered in the national media. The fellowship is made possible by a three-year partnership between Swarthmore and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Hernandez’s writing is one of the things that set him apart for the fellowship.

“We were all moved by Ramiro’s writing samples,” says Katie Price, associate director of the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility and a member of the selection committee. “He writes in a way that stays with you; it is haunting and beautiful.”

Anya Slepyan ’22, the recipient of last year’s fellowship and a member of this year’s selection committee, agreed. “He was a really strong writer throughout his application,” she says. “He used very powerful language.”

This achievement should come as no surprise to a student like Hernandez, a QuestBridge Scholar, Richard Rubin Scholar, and 2020 recipient of Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership summer grant. Already holding postsecondary degrees in medical Spanish and interdisciplinary studies, he is now an honors student with a special major in peace & conflict studies, educational studies, and medical anthropology.

“We put forward multiple outstanding candidates, and we’re thrilled that the Pulitzer Center has chosen to recognize Ramiro Hernandez,” says Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center. “His brilliance and passion will be put to good use,”

This summer, Hernandez will be reporting from his hometown of Hidalgo, which is located just five minutes away from the Mexican border. Under the mentorship of Pulitzer Center grantee journalists and staff, he will cover the stories of immigrant veterans in the U.S. who are either undocumented or have troubles with immigration.

These veterans “serve in the armed forces with the promise of citizenship, either for themselves or for their loved ones,” Hernandez says. “And then after their contract ends, they’re either deported or the promise that they were given is not fulfilled.”

The topic is deeply personal for Hernandez.

“Many of the people I care about, including many friends and loved ones, experience issues with immigration,” Hernandez says. He hopes that his reporting with the Pulitzer Center will help to inform future immigration policy and legislation.

“I want to be able to bring these issues to a national spotlight, and the Pulitzer Center has a big platform,” says Hernandez, whose final project will be featured on the Pulitzer Center website and, with the help of the center, pitched to other news outlets.

“In making the final selection, we agreed that Ramiro not only had the facility to tell the story well, but also that he had an important story to tell,” says Price. “While we hear news about immigration and military operations on an almost-daily basis, Ramiro’s project will address these topics in a way that is unique, underreported, and intersectional.”

This story originally appeared in Swarthmore News & Events. It was written by Madeleine Palden ’22.

Change-Makers

We are thrilled to share this article reprinted from the Swarthmore Bulletin [Spring 2020 / Issue III / Volume CXVII] that features Peace and Conflict Studies Major, Jasmine Rashid ’18.


Change Makers

By Elizabeth Redden ’05

Morgan Simon ’04 (left), co-founder of the registered investment adviser the Candide Group — where Jasmine Rashid ’18 is also part of the team — traces her interest in impact investing to her experiences with strategic activism at the College. “It was really because Swarthmore had faith in young people to not only think about how to make a difference but get real experience,” Simon says. Photo by Jennifer Leahy.

Through impact investing, Swarthmoreans put their money where their values are

Morgan Simon ’04 wants you to know one thing about money: Investing it wisely can help bring about social change. 

For almost 20 years, she’s done just that as a pioneer in impact investing, or the practice of investing not only for financial returns, but for social or environmental returns, as well. As a founding partner of the Bay Area-based Candide Group, a registered investment adviser, Simon and her team provide custom advice to families, foundations, athletes, and actors “who want their money working for justice,” she says.

It’s an ambitious endeavor that traces back to Simon’s Swarthmore days, when her shareholder activism led several Fortune 500 companies to amend their nondiscrimination policies. But Simon’s not alone in this burgeoning field, where monetary value meets Quaker values. Through impact investing, numerous Swarthmoreans are changing the world, one dollar at a time.

Purpose at the Center

Amit Bouri ’99 knew from a very young age that he wanted to do something that helped improve the lives of others. Raised by a single mother who put herself through school to bring the family to a basic level of middle-class stability, Bouri was keenly aware that most kids from similar backgrounds didn’t have access to the same kinds of educational opportunities that he had. 

“I wanted to have purpose at the center of my career,” says Bouri, who holds an MBA from Northwestern and a master in public administration from Harvard. “But at the time I was in school, I did not have a very clear view of what that purpose would be.”

After working for a consulting firm and helping to author a report about investing for social and environmental impact, Bouri co-founded the nonprofit Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), “the global champion for impact investing,” he says. “We’re trying to develop a market that steers massive amounts of investment capital to address the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems.”

And from Bouri’s experience, interest in impact investing is booming — in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and elsewhere.

“We see more and more investors who want to put their money to work to have a positive impact on the world,” he says. “This ranges from big institutional investors, pension funds, and university endowments, all the way down to individuals who want their money to be invested in the world that they want to live in.”

A Meaningful Difference

Tralance Addy ’69 has seen a similar trend. The Ghana native is in the process of launching Yaro Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm that will invest in African companies in fields like health care services, clean technology, renewable energy, and food and agriculture.

“One of the most effective ways of addressing the needs of the developing world, especially poverty, is by much stronger engagement with private enterprise and entrepreneurship,” says Addy, who holds an engineering Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. For his present venture, he’s drawing from his past experience as executive director of Stanford University’s Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies and as CEO of WaterHealth International. 

Addy is passionate about Yaro’s potential for using business solutions to solve social problems.

“Our thesis is, there should be no conflict between making a return and having an impact,” he says, explaining that once a problem is solved in a way that is profitable, the solution can be sustained even after project leaders or philanthropists leave the scene.

“For instance,” he says, “with clean water, what we had to do was say we have to find a way to provide clean water that is affordable for people who earn $2 a day. Once you can make that a sustainable business, you have solved the problem.” 

Sampriti Ganguli ’95, CEO of Arabella Advisors, says philanthropists are increasingly looking to move beyond grant-making to invest in socially conscious businesses.

“It’s part of a broader trend in philanthropy,” says Ganguli, whose company advises individuals, corporations, and foundations on philanthropic giving and impact investing. “There’s a transition into the next generation of donors who want to be much more actively involved, and they want to think more creatively about their giving strategy.”

Ganguli — who was born in India, grew up in the Philippines, and speaks five languages — holds an M.A. in international affairs from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Wharton. Before joining Arabella Advisors, she had roles in finance and consulting. But something was missing.

“The greatest value — and, in some ways, the greatest burden — of being a Swarthmore graduate is you always wrestle with that existential question of ‘How am I making a difference in this world?’” Ganguli says. “I always felt dissatisfied with where I was until I could answer that question: ‘Do I feel like the work that I’m doing is making a meaningful difference in the world?’ I now feel myself finally at peace from a career perspective.”

Making a Real Impact

Those existential questions are also at the center of  the Candide Group, where “we’re able to invest in things like solar energy for low-income households in Louisiana, or direct-trade cacao that can give farmers three times the income,” says Simon, who in 2017 released Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change. Other investments made through Candide assisted a media production company in telling positive stories about people of color, or helped Black hairstylists increase their income by selling products directly to customers. 

More than half of the companies and funds in Candide’s portfolio are led by women or people of color. That fact makes Simon particularly proud. 

“Less than 2% of global assets are managed by firms owned by women or people of color,” she says. “Now, I’m managing a team that’s majority women of color, managing an investment portfolio that’s majority women and/or people-of-color led, and being able to exercise my values while deploying over $30 million a year.”

Among her teammates is Jasmine Rashid ’18, whose upbringing in a highly class-stratified community on Long Island sparked her interest in exploring economic inequality. Working with Simon, Rashid helped develop Candide’s Real Money Moves campaign to encourage divestment from private prisons. She also helped launch the $40 million Olamina Fund, focused on lending to “historically disinvested communities in rural America, the deep South, and Native country.” 

Rashid named the fund after the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a novel she fell in love as a senior at Swarthmore. 

“I actually started out Swarthmore as an economics major,” she says. “But I learned fairly quickly it was hard for me to stay focused just working with equations.” Instead, she wanted to talk about capital in the context of power, history, and society. “A special major in peace & conflict studies allowed a more nuanced exploration of that for me,” she adds, “and prepared me to begin drawing clear connections between money and justice — or lack thereof — in any social issue I encountered.”

For Simon, a similar connection was made in 2002, during her sophomore year in college. Troubled by the lack of protections offered to LGBTQ employees at Lockheed Martin, which was part of Swarthmore’s investment portfolio, Simon proposed that the College file a shareholder resolution with the aerospace and defense company. The resolution was hugely successful: Lockheed added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, and — through persuasion from Simon and other activists ­— three other large companies in the College’s portfolio made similar changes, as well.

“It was really because Swarthmore had faith in young people to not only think about how to make a difference but get real experience,” she says. “I was the first student since the apartheid era to have filed a shareholder resolution, and that led to students across the country reaching out and saying, ‘This is amazing. How can we do that?’” 

The actions motivated Simon to found the Responsible Endowments Coalition, which at its height was on more than 100 U.S. college campuses influencing more than $150 billion. They also created a career path for Simon, “even if I wouldn’t have known it at the time,” she says. 

“My objective was always strategic activism,” she adds, “and I learned that impact investing was an incredible way to do that.”  

Two Swatties Earn National Award for Work in Peace & Conflict Studies

— by Ryan Dougherty via Swarthmore News and Events, January 8th 2021

Vanessa Meng ’20 (left) and Lucy Jones ’20 were honored at Peace and Justice Studies Association’s annual meeting, held remotely in November.

For the first time in its history, the Peace and Justice Studies Association’s (PJSA) award for best paper went to two students this year — and they’re both Swarthmoreans.

The selection committee honored both Lucy Jones ’20, who explored the experiences of Central American migrant women on the U.S.-Mexico border for her thesis, and Vanessa Meng ’20, who examined the debates surrounding colonialism in contemporary Chinese-African relations.

The students, who graduated in May with high honors, were honored at PJSA’s annual meeting, held virtually in November.

For Jones, it was an opportunity to properly celebrate her thesis, “Resistance, Resilience, and Survival: Central American Refugee Women Across the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which she completed while in quarantine during the pandemic.

“It was a huge honor, and very exciting to have my work recognized and to be able to talk about it with peace scholars from around the country,” says Jones, who majored in peace & conflict studies at Swarthmore and is now a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Philadelphia.

For Meng, it was particularly rewarding to be recognized for her thesis, “The Middle Kingdom Dreams: Understanding and Reframing China-African Relations,” at what she considered a time of heightened hostility from the Western media toward her native China.

“I hoped to show that there is an opportunity for peace between the U.S. and China, because the values and ideas that I was taught at Swarthmore, specifically the American revolutionary dream from activists in the United States, are in fact aligned with the dream of the country I grew up in,” says Meng, who majored in peace & conflict studies and has been writing a children’s book on environmental science. 

Both students expressed gratitude for the faculty and students of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program, citing its depth of collaboration and support. They follow PJSA thesis award winners from Swarthmore in 2013 and 2014.

“Research and writing are important in our program, so we are understandably thrilled when colleagues in our field recognize that our students are doing important and often cutting-edge work,” says Lee Smithey, professor and program coordinator. “Lucy and Vanessa exemplify student scholarship in peace & conflict studies.”

Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa’ed Atshan ’06 advised both students on their thesis projects, and offered comments on their behalf at the awards ceremony.

“Lucy arrived in my office in August 2016 from Birmingham, Ala., where she was born and raised,” Atshan recalls. “In our very first meeting, she expressed palpable enthusiasm for peace & conflict studies, reflecting on her Irish heritage, and proved to be a brilliant student.”

Atshan says Meng joined the College community “with a very clear consciousness regarding peace and environmental justice, speaking eloquently about climate challenges she witnessed in her hometown of Beijing.”