Perspectives: What is your role at USAID? 

KD: I am a Program Analyst on an institutional contract with USAID’s Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) bureau. I work specifically on Haiti - there are a few countries which have a lot of funding, so they have their own task teams. I do both policy and program work. My policy work can involve talking to Congress about where USAID funding is going and how we decide programming or I could be liaising with the State Department to make sure we have a unified policy.

My program work is more in the weeds. I could be meeting with different project stakeholders or talking to the Haiti mission team to make sure things are on track and that the monitoring and evaluation is going well. It can be quite a bit of travel, for a month at a time, about two or three times a year.

Perspectives: What is an institutional contract?

KD: An institutional contract is a contract position, but you are embedded in a specific agency. Different companies headhunt for USAID and they place you within departments in the organization – they handle my paycheck but otherwise it’s like I’m a USAID employee. It’s a good way to get in and a way to be in the right place for a staff position.

Perspectives: What does a typical day look like for you?

KD: It could be anything! On a day-to-day basis, my team has a lot of reactive work as we have long-term reporting due to Congress as well as short-term briefers in response to congressional inquiries about our programs. I also prepare briefings for the Hill or the State department. We have to understand the program portfolio as well as what is happening politically in Haiti. There’s a lot of writing, as I act as the intermediary between headquarters and the program on the ground. There’s also a lot of information management. 

Perspectives: What’s your favorite part of job?

KD: The fast turnaround deadlines are very exciting as it’s a change in pace between the medium- and long-term projects.

Perspectives: How did you find your job?

KD: I originally found a position in the LAC bureau before SAIS through networking and was hired by an institutional contractor. After SAIS, I completed a Boren fellowship and was brought back on the team given that the fellowship's point is foreign policy work. In general, it’s very difficult to get a federal job right off the bat unless you do a fellowship like Pickering or Boren as then you get preferential hiring authority.

Perspectives: Was there a specific aspect of your time at SAIS you found particularly useful?

KD: I would say it was my coursework which helped me understand development as a foreign policy tool, which is at the core of USAID’s mission.

As narrated to Yifan Powers, Editor, SAIS Perspectives. 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mountainous Farming Plots near Port-au-Prince Haiti, from Jlanghurst, licensed under CC ASA 3.0