#ElliottExpert: Jennifer Brinkerhoff

#ElliottExpert: Jennifer Brinkerhoff

Jennifer Brinkherhoff, Professor of international Affairs, International Business, and Public Policy & Public Administration, #ElliottExpert

Jennifer Brinkerhoff, Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs, has published eight books, including: Institutional Reform and Diaspora Entrepreneurs: The In-Between Advantage (Oxford University Press, 2016), Digital Diasporas: Identity and Transnational Engagement (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and, most recently, with Aaron Williams and Taylor Jack, The Young Black Leader’s Guide to a Successful Career in International Affairs: What the Giants Want You to Know (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2022). She won the 2021 Distinguished Scholar Award from the Ethnicity, Nationalism and Migration Studies Section of the International Studies Association for her research on diasporas; and the 2016 Fred Riggs Award for Lifetime Achievement in International and Comparative Public Administration from the American Society for Public Administration for her work on development management and partnerships. She is an elected Fellow of the National Academy for Public Administration. She has consulted for multilateral development banks, bilateral assistance agencies, NGOs, and foundations.

Hometown: Irvine, California

Program or Institute: International Development Studies and Institute for International Economic Policy

Area(s) of expertise: International development management; diasporas; partnership; diversity, equity, and inclusion

Institutions Attended: UC Santa Barbara, Monterey (Middlebury) Institute for International Studies, University of Southern California

Teaching courses this or next semester?: I’m currently teaching Introduction to Public Service in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration. Next semester I will teach my undergraduate course IAFF 3190 Strategic Management and Qualitative Methods in International Affairs, with an emphasis on Africa.

What made you interested in your area of expertise?

I love ideas and exploration, but at the end of the day, I care about what we can actually do with those ideas. Management and policy were the perfect fit for me. I’ve always been interested in identifying and studying under-utilized resources and opportunities that could be better applied to improve others’ quality of life. I started by studying NGOs when they were first getting some recognition from the international development industry. Then I stumbled onto diasporas and their potential to contribute to their places of origin. I’m first-generation. U.S.-born so the diaspora experience really resonated. And now I am really keen on better understanding and applying the incredible advantages of diversity and inclusion.

What has been your favorite course to teach and why?

For more than 20 years, I taught a graduate level development management course that included teams working for client organizations. Students would learn and apply strategic management and project design tools to help a client articulate a project or program design. I loved that course, but after 20 years, I decided it was time to do something different. In all my years as a professor, I had never taught an undergraduate course so I thought it would be fun to adapt the tools and application components of that course to teach undergraduates. I want to give students some understanding of tools and their application so they can hit the ground running when they get their first jobs. The course also includes skill building related to teamwork and feedback—essential for every future leader. It’s so fun to see students light up from a sense of accomplishment when they apply tools and see an analytic product. They develop the confidence that they can do more than just think, they can apply and “do” too.

If you could have the attention of any head of state for a one hour lecture, who would you choose and what would you lecture on?

I would want to focus on the United States. For a few years, I delivered what I called “Diaspora 101” training to State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development staff. That experience and related conversations within those halls really made me aware of the disconnect between a lot of people who do international work and the American society from which they come and that they should represent. At the time I was delivering the training, there was a surprising lack of understanding about the diaspora and migration experience and how those could be leveraged to better inform foreign policies and their implementation. As a society—and one that is dominated by one demographic group—there is so much fear of the unknown that American citizens often are not allowed to serve in regions and countries that are part of their immediate heritage. Recently, I’ve been exploring demographic underrepresentation in American foreign policy more broadly. We need to learn to trust people to be professionals capable of representing and serving our country and recognize they bring unique identities and experiences that can enhance our understanding and effectiveness in the world. How is that for my mini-lecture?

What skill or knowledge do you hope students take away from your class and why?

Most importantly, I hope students leave my courses with greater self-awareness and confidence in who they are and what they bring and an appreciation for who others are and what they bring. By extension, my aspiration for my students is that they leave my courses with a better understanding of human behavior, effective interpersonal skills, and a set of tools they can take with them to continue their learning and skills development.

What book changed your life and why?

Okay, this is a really nerdy answer. I remember having this conversation with academics at a conference. The book I chose was Berger & Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality—a book that is almost as old as I am! To oversimplify, the main message is in the title. I was a graduate student when I first read it. It was the first time I encountered the idea that there is no objective truth or one way of doing things. I thought I had come to graduate school to get all the answers. Boy was I wrong. I took away a more important idea: that we need to embrace the gray that is in the world and work with the people present to figure out the best course of action in a given situation rather than assume there is one best solution to be discovered through independent analysis. The book laid a foundation for my later embrace of concepts from post-modernism about how we create, together, our own truth in each moment. It’s all actually very Buddhist.

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The #ElliottExpert profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current professors 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.