Jessica Ludwig is a senior program officer at the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the research and analytical section of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In this capacity, she is the managing editor of the Power 3.0 blog and producer of the Power 3.0 podcast. Her research activities focus on authoritarian sharp power influence and its impact on young and emerging democracies, with a particular interest in the relationship between China and Latin America. She is co-editor (with Christopher Walker) of the 2017 NED report, Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence, and her work has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Global Americans, and the Journal of Democracy. She holds a M.A. in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a B.A. in International Studies from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Describe your current position and what have you learned since being in the position?
I am a senior program officer with the research and conferences program at the International Forum for Democratic Studies, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy that focuses on combining learning and analysis from civil society activists and academics. My work entails a dynamic mix of organizing meetings on issues that affect the prospects for democracy around the world, conceptualizing and editing both web-based and longer-form publications, promoting our work among external audiences, and coordinating research initiatives related to authoritarian influence. I’ve been with this section of the organization for over a decade after starting in an entry-level position and have been able to evolve my role over time by taking advantage of every opportunity to learn about different facets of how the organization accomplishes its work, whether structural (like how to manage and execute a budget or maintain a website) or substantive. It’s important to look for ways to challenge yourself to grow by learning new skill sets, listening to people who have different experiences and expertise than you do, and developing good relationships with colleagues inside and outside your organization.
What professional organization, websites, or events would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?
For those interested in working in the non-governmental sector, I recommend identifying the organizations you’re most interested in working for, learning more about their mission and structure, and then checking their websites directly, since it can sometimes take time for smaller organizations to post job announcements on third-party sites, while meanwhile, you could be applying! LinkedIn is a good resource that many groups use to advertise their positions as well. Drawing on your networks and developing relationships is really the best way to learn about upcoming positions that might match your skills and interests. Don’t be shy about asking for informational interviews either, though do some amount of research about an organization in advance if you want to leave a positive impression.
What was your favorite Elliott School course and why?
I had several favorite courses, but one of the most important for me was a course on Latin American politics with Prof. Cynthia McClintock, who was director of the LAHSP at the time. Each week of the course, we took a deep dive into a different country in the region by studying the historical, economic, socio-cultural, and political factors shaping its governance system. One thing I appreciated about the course, and the regional studies program overall, was the emphasis on applying an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the various dynamics that influence societies. In the globalized era we live in now, many of the challenges the world faces are extremely complex and require drawing on different areas of expertise to analyze and understand how to develop policy and societal responses.
What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?
Learning to manage my time efficiently has become one of my biggest challenges, particularly as I have advanced in my career and find myself juggling a greater number of responsibilities both at work and in my personal life. I’m fortunate to be part of a great team at my office, and I’ve learned to rely on my colleagues’ strengths when it comes to who will take the lead or be responsible for aspects of different projects where our work overlaps. It’s also really important to prioritize what is most time sensitive or important, and sometimes even say no to participating in things that don’t fit those parameters. My biggest motivation is my family – I want to have time and energy left at the end of each day to focus on my husband and kids!
If you could throw a parade of any caliber, what type of parade would it be?
My favorite aspect of working in the democracy assistance community is that I have had the privilege of meeting so many courageous civil society activists from every corner of the globe, all working towards the same common goals to protect human rights and foster more accountable government. Many of them have faced persecution and repression at some point in their activism, so I would throw them all a parade to demonstrate solidarity if I could! The desire for freedom is universal, and I can think of no better way to illustrate this than to see the diversity of activists who would be on parade.
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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at email@example.com.
The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.