#ElliottExpert: Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre

#ElliottExpert: Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre

Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Humanitarian Action Initiative at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University. Her research and publications examine humanitarian governance; humanitarian and non-governmental organization (NGO) accountability; NGO interactions; and human security and global health governance. Deloffre currently serves on the board of the International Humanitarian Studies Association; on the editorial board of Global Studies Quarterly; and as a member of the International Studies Association’s Committee on the Status of Women.

Hometown: Wheaton, IL      

Program/Institute: International Development Studies; Humanitarian Action Initiative

Areas of expertise: humanitarian governance and policy; global governance; non-governmental organizations (NGOs); humanitarian and NGO accountability; global standard-setting

Institutions Attended: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po); George Washington University

Teaching courses this or next semester?: Humanitarian Governance and Policy; Localizing Humanitarian Action; International Development Studies Capstone

What made you interested in your field of study/expertise?

I carved out my professional path by following my curiosity and interests. When I was in high school, I was active in environmental politics and advocacy and became curious about how political change occurs. In college, I majored in international relations and spent my junior year abroad in Paris, France. For six months, I interned with the Green Party at the Assemblée Nationale (parliament) because I wanted to observe and understand how environmental movements worked within political institutions. The NATO intervention in Kosovo occurred while I was interning and was highly contentious both within the French government and French civil society. This was the first militarized humanitarian intervention and raised questions about humanitarian principles, the role of the military in humanitarian action, and the politicization of aid.  I returned to France for graduate school at Sciences Po and took classes specializing in international organization and humanitarian action and interned for Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) a French humanitarian non-governmental organization. It was during this internship that I realized that I was more interested in understanding and analyzing humanitarian policy than implementing it. I decided to pursue my Ph.D. so I could keep asking questions about best practices, accountability and impact of humanitarian programs.

What courses did you enjoy the most while in undergrad/graduate school and why?

I was a Political Science and French double major in undergrad and enjoyed classes on political theory, international relations, and French literature the most. At Sciences Po, classes on humanitarian action, international organization, and theories of international relations helped shape my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in these fields. I think what was appealing about these classes was their engagement with theory, which asks us to look at the big picture and make sense of the world.

If you could make any book required reading for the incoming class, what book would you recommend and why?

I would recommend Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah examines the African diasporic experience in the United States through the eyes of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the U.S. to attend university. While in the US, she has to grapple with what it means to be Black and how this (perceived) identity erases other dimensions of her life experiences. It offers an engaging examination of racism, colonialism, and intersectionality through the lived experiences of the main characters. It challenges us to think about the shortcuts we take in understanding others and how these “boxes” can be harmful and reductionist. I think for students of international affairs, this is an important text that prompts reflection on how we interact with the world and with individuals from different backgrounds and encourages us to be empathetic, reflective, and to listen more.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are on the fence about applying to a graduate program at the Elliott school?

If I were to offer one piece of advice, I would say that in retrospect all careers and trajectories look linear but that’s often not how they came about. Follow your curiosity and your interests and in doing so, you will figure out what work you enjoy and what you do not like to do. As you consider a graduate program, ask yourself “what global problem do I want to understand or solve?” not “what do I want to be?” At the Elliott School, we’ll help you understand the history and context of the global problem, we’ll teach you how to analyze it and how to make policy recommendations that would address the problem. With that skillset, you would be qualified for any policy job. If you follow your interests, you will competently do that job but also with purpose.

If you could see any artist/band/musician in concert, who would it be and why?

I often listen to Daft Punk when I write or when I exercise, their music is energetic and upbeat and helps me block out stresses and just focus. I was heartbroken when I learned about their recent break up because it means I will never see them live in concert!

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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.