Reconnecting with former Ploughshares interns Part 2

March 26, 2024

By Wendy Stocker

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2024

Part Two: From then to now (Read Part One here)

In the Winter 2023 issue of The Monitor, we looked at five former Ploughshares interns, what each did during the internship, what each liked (and didn’t) about the internship, and how the internship contributed to ultimate work goals. Here the five discuss the path taken since the internship and reflect on the role of civil society.

Reintroducing our group of interns

Yelena Gyulkhandanyan, a Ploughshares intern in 2015, earned an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Waterloo. Yelena is now Programme Coordinator (Community Resilience), with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Micronesia region.

Kirsten Mosey, an intern in 2021, has a BA from the University of Waterloo. She is now a Nuclear Policy Officer with the Disarmament and Non-proliferation Division at Global Affairs Canada.

Benny Skinner, who first interned in January 2017, has a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Waterloo and an MA in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Benny is currently an Indigenous Research Advisor at the University of Waterloo.

Grace Wright, with a BA from the University of Waterloo, is now completing an MSc in International Social and Public Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom. She interned with Ploughshares in 2021.

Erin Yantzi interned with Ploughshares in 2020 and has an MA in Political Science from the University of Waterloo. She now works at Global Affairs Canada.

Internship influences?

Yelena has had several positions with IOM, which is described as “the leading organization within the United Nations system promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all.” She sees a link between her work now and the Ploughshares internship:

Working with PP certainly helped me to get to where I am. I used the research, reporting and writing experience and skills, which were honed through working with PP, at the start of my career, primarily focusing on reporting and research. This then opened the door to build further experience in the humanitarian sector and transition to working on project implementation and management. Therefore, I am absolutely grateful for having the PP work experience which helped open further doors for me in my field.

"I think involving youth in advocacy and educational experiences significantly strengthens the role of civil society. There is a lot of momentum for youth activism, and it is important for civil society to leverage this."

Kirsten found a direct link between the Ploughshares internship and her current position:

"While my time at Project Ploughshares was not focused on nuclear weapons, my experience working for Project Ploughshares was hugely impactful and 100% helped me land my current job. I first met my current colleagues at the 2021 Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and The Simons Foundation event in Ottawa, where I was the assistant rapporteur to Project Ploughshares’ Executive Director Cesar Jaramillo. I was able to follow up after that initial meeting and started working at GAC less than 6 months later!"

Serendipity aside, she reflected:

"Project Ploughshares helped me learn how to write succinctly and identify the key points of a policy or argument. Further, the passion and commitment that Ploughshares has for its work helped encourage me that working on nuclear disarmament is not a lost cause. Being passionate about this work is key – it is not for the faint of heart! The work of Project Ploughshares continues to inspire me!"

She recommended the Ploughshares internship experience to others:

"Folks who are either already wildly passionate about peace and disarmament, or need a boost of inspiration in the goal of peace would benefit greatly! Given the ability to deep dive into topics, I think that Ploughshares really benefits graduate students – but I am a good example of the value of investing in students who are at the undergraduate level as well! I would recommend internships at Ploughshares to anyone who wants to be convinced of the importance of peace!"

Benny was “very inspired by my various colleagues at Ploughshares who had completed their graduate studies at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, which led me to pursuing grad school.” Their examples “propelled me to continue pursuing research and advocacy.”

Benny is now “the first Indigenous Fellow at the BSIA,” an Indigenous Research Advisor at the University of Waterloo, and “a professional human rights advocate where I advise on policy, speak on panels, and provide educational presentations and workshops, advocating for equity, diversity, inclusivity, and decoloniality in various spaces.”

Besides offering inspiration, Benny noted with considerable appreciation the “MASSIVE help” provided by references from Ploughshares Executive Director Cesar Jaramillo.

Grace, currently a graduate student, said that her time as an intern “solidified my passion for policy and helped me identify the ways in which my skills were well suited for a career in policy. The perspective my internships gave me on policy development, and especially how it’s shaped within an international system, also helped me gain insights that I am able to apply in my coursework and discussions.”

Erin is early in her career and not sure what the future holds. “But I do know that I want to work with people like those I worked with at PP – hard workers and learners, smart, empathetic, supportive, always able to find a bit of light in hard situations or when dealing with difficult topics; those that are able to understand different perspectives and speak to a wide range of people.”

Thoughts on civil society

From Yelena:

"I think involving youth in advocacy and educational experiences significantly strengthens the role of civil society. There is a lot of momentum for youth activism, and it is important for civil society to leverage this. Involving youth in raising awareness and various forms of activism through social media is also a great opportunity. Specifically in the conflict resolution/social cohesion building thematic area, it would be great to involve youth in conflict resolution and mediation training. I took such training when I was doing my MA, and I still use the insights and skills I gained through this training daily as I consider them essential life skills."

From Kirsten:

"In my current role, it is helpful to have civil society provide the deep dives on topics that we as public servants may not have the expertise on. It is also very helpful when we can have discussions that reflect the international environment that we work in. Obviously civil society in Canada is focused on Canada’s actions but given that (at least in the nuclear disarmament sphere) the majority of our work takes place in an international context, actions and decisions often have to be considered within the broader multilateral environment."

From Benny:

"Community-based and grassroots research is beginning to gain more recognition in academic spaces, especially with the growing number of Indigenous community members who are gaining access to the academy and its resources. It is my hope that this growing recognition will begin a mindset shift that will reflect a greater appreciation for civil society organizations to inform policy with greater legitimacy and seriousness.

That said, I think civil society needs to align itself with the concept of decolonization. When we delve into the world and why it looks the way it does contemporarily, too often we neglect the colonial legacies that have engrained warfare and violent conflict as a mode of social control. I think that if civil society underpins its mandates with the concept of decolonization, it will thrive in the sense of finding itself allied with other groups (i.e., Indigenous folks) who have been fighting for the same principles (nonviolence, inclusion, etc.). In addition, this will ensure that civil society organizations are not reproducing similar extractive and/or prescriptive harms that have led to our contemporary global state to begin with. Essentially, civil society needs to understand its own positionality as part of a colonial legacy, hop on that decolonization train, and ally itself with others who are hoping to fight for the same outcomes. This will render it more effective and more well-supported."

Erin thought that her internship “helped me understand the ‘outside’/civil society perspective of governments’ foreign policy and (inter)national security issues and how civil society attempts to raise issues and concerns. Understanding this perspective is something that I don’t want to take for granted as I continue to work in government. Civil society and researchers are critical voices and an important part of international security discussions!”

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