I worked as a Fellow for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Istanbul Regional Hub (IRH) from June 2017 until December 2017. While at the Hub, I was a member of the Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding team, which is a part of the larger Governance and Peacebuilding Cluster. While I was involved in a variety of projects, my work focused primarily on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) or, depending on whom we worked with, Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). For instance, I served as a primary researcher on a project, which examines and analyzes National PVE Strategies and Plans of Action implemented in UN Member States. In addition, I aided in the planning and execution of various conferences and workshops, including a UNDP PVE Workshop and the International CVE Research Conference.
The experience itself was amazing, but I was originally unprepared. Besides knowing no Turkish, the work itself was not entirely familiar. First and foremost, the IRH’s region was composed of the Western Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. The region was either referred to as Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (ECIS) or Europe and Central Asia (ECA). Prior to this job, I had limited experience with the region. I very shortly had to cram on the history, religion, and current politics of each individual country. Furthermore, until this point I had primarily approached Violent Extremism from a security perspective. The UNDP, however, looked at the phenomena from a development perspective (go figure), which was a radical shift in viewpoints.
As a result, I spent the first two months of my job working like a maniac, just to catch up. It was annoying, frustrating, and, at the end of it all, incredibly useful. Understanding the same dilemma from two perspectives changes your entire way of thinking, and not just in regards to that one specific situation. I also came away with a newfound appreciation for the development field. Lastly, I was able to test opinions and get away from the groupthink of my own field. Even when I came away with the same opinion in the end, I was glad to have had it tested.
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