Daniel Barnhardt works for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in New York City. He holds a MA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School and a BA in History from Pennsylvania State University. He got started in the humanitarian sector while studying in DC during which time he interned with Save the Children and CARE. He also studied abroad in Lebanon in 2010-2011 and interned there with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Seeking to again work with the UN, he was hired by WFP in 2012 as an Early Warning analyst and later promoted to oversee WFP’s global Emergency Centre in Italy until 2017. During that time, he went to Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, and Somalia on temporary assignment for WFP. In 2019, he transitioned to WFP’s New York office where he now works as a Policy Advisor for a reform of UN’s development system, which seeks to strengthen the UN’s capacity to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Describe your current position and what have you learned since being in the position?
Currently I work for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization. I started working with the UN almost immediately after graduating from GW in 2012. I had previously interned with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in 2010-2011. My goal upon graduating was to get a job with the UN due to my keen desire to work for a global organization with a positive impact in many countries. While my MA from GW was focused on the Middle East, working for WFP has required me to quickly adapt my knowledge of cultures, policies and other international development practices to the multitude of different contexts the organization works in. WFP has offices in over 80 countries and provides food assistance to over 90 million food insecure people annually, so it has been a remarkably interesting journey to learn all about some places of the world I otherwise knew little about prior to getting this job. Likewise, the sheer scale of the UN and all its various branches and technical areas of work is extraordinary, including all the dedicated personnel working to help make the world a better place.
What professional organization, websites, or events would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?
Reliefweb.int is a great website for learning all about the humanitarian crises around the world and what different organizations are doing to help the countries and people in need. Moreover, thenewhumanitarian.org offers some great analysis of different humanitarian hot spots, trends in the field of work and other think-pieces that provide some perspective on topics facing the global humanitarian world. Beyond these websites, the United Nations HQ in New York Office often has many unique events and exhibitions on a wide range of global topics – there are some many to pick. While some may be invite-only, the UN and the other UN missions, foreign consulates and other international entities in Washington DC and Manhattan often have cultural, historical and current-topic events on their premises. If there is a particular topic of interest, I would suggest a quick google search for a UN organization (like WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR etc) and see if they are hosting any public events. Furthermore, if you are interested in a particular country or region, nearby foreign consulates and embassies may be hosting public exhibits or events of a cultural or foreign policy related topic. A little homework and investigation should unlock some great treasures!
What was your favorite Elliott School course and why?
One of the most enriching aspects of my Elliott School experience was not one specific course, but rather the option to study abroad with a partner university. In my third semester, I studied abroad at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Given my keen interest in the region and my desire to further my Arabic proficiency, this was an excellent way to combine my studies with the immersion experience. I had never been to Lebanon before and I was not entirely sure what to expect. However, upon my arrival I knew I was in for a great experience. I took several courses at AUB, including International Relations of the Middle East and Social Reform in the Middle East. My classes were filled with extremely knowledge students from across Lebanon and the wider Middle East. The Arab Spring was just starting too, and this added a whole different dimension to academic and theoretical debates with real-world cases unfolding around us. also found an internship with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Lebanon. I was tasked with helping support a revamping of UNRWA’s vocational education schools for over 1,000 students and help to improve their employability after graduation. While I initially intended to stay in Lebanon for six months, after I completed my semester at AUB, I took a semester off and kept working with UNRWA for another seven months. When I returned to the Elliott School for my final semester, I brought back a whole new perspective on Lebanon, greatly improved Arabic (both Modern Standard and Lebanese colloquial) and I had a career direction to eventually work the UN again.
What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?
Working in the humanitarian field, we are often confronted with some very dire circumstances that the people we are trying to help face on a daily basis. We aim to help the most vulnerable groups of people and that often means those in the worst situations, facing the toughest challenges of food insecurity. It can be very frightening and sad to deal with these tragic situations. To stay motivated, it is important to remember that we are there to help and that the support we provide is often lifesaving. While my position is not often on the front lines, I help to support my colleagues who are in those places, so it is important that we work as a global team to act quickly and effectively. WFP often works in emergency settings, after an earthquake, drought or conflict-zone, so timing is essential, so people get the food and humanitarian assistance they need urgently. It can also be challenging when a sudden new crisis happens in a place that I may not be too familiar with, but to response appropriately I need to quickly come up to speed with the context and situation to take informed decisions. This again relies on the vast network of trained colleagues to come together and work in a highly efficient manner to adapt to the situation and find the best response possible.
What was best compliment you received?
I was often complimented on my Lebanese Arabic accent by native speakers who assumed I had to be Lebanese (I’m not). Pretty great compliment since I’ve spent so much time learning the language and its unique linguistics expressions.
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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.