Astrid Ansah graduated from the International Development Studies program at the Elliott School in 2018. She is a young development practitioner with sectoral interests in health and economic development within the African region and currently works as an Associate Program Manager for Franco-Lusophone Africa at Population Services International, specializing in programmatic support for health programs across the region. Prior to her current role, she was a 2017 Freeman Fellow at Plan International Regional Office in Bangkok, Thailand, and a consultant for CARE USA, where she provided technical assistance on prompting social behavior change around HIV prevention and treatment among key populations in Cameroon. As a graduate student, she interned at TechnoServe, Search for Common Ground, and FHI360. She also served as a graduate consultant for Chemonics International to promote educational empowerment for young boys and girls in Mali and for USAID Food For Peace to evaluate the impact of humanitarian assistance programs in Selibaby, Mauritania.
What have you been up to since graduating?
Since I graduated, I was recruited to consult for Intrahealth International and CARE USA to promote social behavior change around HIV prevention and treatment. I consulted for approximately one year and became an Associate Program Manager for Franco-Lusophone Africa at Population Services International. In this role, I provide programmatic assistance to country teams in Burundi and Niger to improve project implementation for malaria, HIV, and sexual and reproductive health programs.
What was behind the decision to select your program/concentration and why the Elliott School?
I aim to be a thought leader in Africa that effects sustainable change in international development. Being from Benin and Ivory Coast, my family members often discussed socio-economic issues that were prevalent throughout the region. Our local community within the DMV mobilized regularly through embassies and diaspora-based associations to propose solutions to these socio-economic issues, but I wanted to actually shape economic systems throughout the continent. Africa has a skilled population and unique resources; I want to empower our population to create their own style of development, that builds on the lessons in urbanization among developed countries, but designs African-style cities, health systems, and economic opportunities. The International Development Studies program is a rigorous program within the Elliott School that focuses on the foundations of development and incorporates learnings in all aspects of development including economics, agriculture, health, policy, etc. Additionally, the capstone program for the IDS program allows students to gain practical experience consulting for international organizations and agencies within DC, which is key to establishing a long-term career in development.
What has been your favorite course at the Elliott School and why?
Cornerstone for International Development Studies. This was by the far the most challenging yet rewarding course I took in the Elliott School. We read several books and articles from influential practitioners within the field, discussed and debated current development issues, and were taught how to write succinctly. This course taught me how to formulate evidence-based opinions within the field and set a strong foundation for my future work in international development.
What was the most rewarding work, intern, or volunteer experience while going through your program at the Elliott School?
My most rewarding experience at the Elliott School was my Freeman Fellowship in Bangkok, Thailand with Plan International. What an experience! For three months, I evaluated a DHIS2-based data collection system to understand how to improve use of the tool within country offices throughout Asia. Through this experience, I interviewed staff, led a pilot training in the Philippines, and developed an implementation program to improve usage using human-centered design. In addition, I made lasting connections with UN and NGO consultants and interns and experienced life in Asia for the first time.
What advice do you have for first-year students who are starting their graduate studies?
Network and pursue internships. Internships have the potential to propel you quickly into your career upon graduation. Employers provide numerous opportunities for students pursuing graduate studies and are often willing to allow you to lead projects or initiatives that need innovation and time. Unpaid internships may seem unattractive at first, but they often provide the most experience long-term. Relationship-building is key to international affairs, so attend events at notable organizations within the DC area that focus on international topics that interest you the most. These events will allow you to meet other professionals in your area of focus and will complement your in-class experience.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.