#ElliottProud: Tessa McLinden

Tessa McLinden, M.A. Security Policy Studies, Class of 2019, #ElliottProud Alumna

Tessa McLinden graduated from the Security Policy Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, concentrating in conflict resolution and transnational security. While at Elliott, Tessa’s internships and jobs were largely focused in the Latin America region. She worked at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) as a citizen security intern, as a project assistant in Bogota, Colombia with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and at the United States Institute of Peace as a research assistant for the inclusive peace processes/Colombia teams. She is now an Enterprise Risk Management consultant at Accenture, keeping organizations across sectors ahead of fast moving risks in a highly interconnected world.

What is your current position? What have you learned since you began?

I am an enterprise risk management (ERM) consultant at Accenture. I have learned a great deal about how to monitor business, regulatory and geopolitical trends to identify and implement ERM best practices at organizations across sectors and industries. Risk management skills are applicable in public, private and nonprofit work. It is a discipline that requires professionals to be current on global events, cutting edge technologies and ever-evolving legislation and trends (from business practices to pop culture), as well as their intersections.

Risks are evolving, moving at a higher velocity, and more interconnected than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how fast-emerging risks with uncertain consequences need agile, “impacts-based”, enterprise wide approaches. Effectively assessing, quantifying, monitoring, and communicating risks allow organizations to prepare for and mitigate their negative impacts. ERM helps in strategy setting, because it clarifies and formalizes the enterprise position on certain risks and how they threaten strategic objectives. ERM also benefits execution by enabling more timely risk response.

What professional organization, websites, or events would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?

I highly recommend following GZERO media, a Eurasia Group company established in 2017 as a digital-first media company “dedicated to bringing smart analysis and commentary to people who people who are hungry for substantive discussion of global issues that feels fresh. In an increasingly politicized media environment, transparency and multiple points of view are critical.”

Through various mediums, GZERO provides digestible, comprehensive updates on major global events across regions. The newsletter (Signal), news show (GZERO World with Ian Bremmer), and GZERO world podcast are perfect for foreign policy experts to not only stay current in areas of the world they are less familiar with, but to deep dive into their regions of expertise for more extensive analysis. I consistently start my days with the Signal Newsletters. The weekly global affairs series with Ian Bremmer has also recently launched nationwide on public television. “In 60 Seconds” and “The Puppet Regime” are less formal, quick, and filled with memorable quips.

What was the most valuable thing you learned during your time at the Elliott School course?

The most valuable aspect of my Elliott School courses was learning how to write for policy officials. Many professors emphasized the importance of “BLUF”- bottom line up front. This requires clear, succinct writing that quickly relays the most critical information. Coming out of undergrad, many students are tempted to continue to write in a very academic, verbose style. We are trained in this type of writing for four years, and it is a difficult habit to break. While some courses in grad school will require this kind of writing for longer research papers, practitioners need to be as concise and to the point as possible.

Though it can seem somewhat jarring and overly simple to cut out jargon and non-critical details, “BLUF” writing is expected across non-academic professions, from policy to business. Senior stakeholders rarely have the time to read beyond summaries / the first page of a document, so it is important to make every word count!

What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?

The most challenging part of my current career is identifying and managing emerging risks. There are many risks (and opportunities) on the horizon, but they are incredibly dynamic and continuously evolving.  Being able to drown out the noise and really decipher a trend requires a great deal of synthesizing and analytical skills. Scenario analysis and red teaming are two integral aspects of my work in order to get a full picture of the risk landscape.

I stay motivated by remembering how valuable my analysis and recommendations are to organizations that are trying to makes sense of / stay ahead of faster moving, more interconnected risks. I also read a wide variety of news/industry sources, which provides a range of perspectives to consider when strengthening risk management skills. Finally, I always make sure that I leave space for downtime with my wife, friends and family doing things I love (hiking, enjoying a good meal, running).

What is your favorite memory/story from your time at the Elliott School?

My favorite memory from my time at the Elliott School was receiving an Elliott School internship grant and a KACIF award to work with the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies in Bogota, Colombia. I was able to live and work in Colombia for three months, monitoring and validating the implementation of the peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC insurgent group. I supported specialists in tracking the levels of implementation of the 2016 Colombian Peace Accord using open-source research tools in English and Spanish. I maintained contact with governmental institutions, NGOs, and CSOs to track legislation, verify data, and provide accurate analysis of the status of implementation of the Agreement, collecting and organizing the information using University of Notre Dame’s Peace Accord Matrix. This was the foundation for research and reports that assessed areas of implementation within the peace process such as DDR,  SSR, agrarian reform, national reconciliation, and transitional justice,  including a paper published in PRIO report.

If you could be safely quarantined anywhere in the world, where would you want to be and why?

Leadville, Colorado- where I grew up fishing, hiking, and camping! I’d try to work remotely as early as possible to enjoy the rest of the day at Turquoise Lake.


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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 esiagrad@gwu.edu.

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.