Primeros días

by Alexander Bossakov

I sit down to write this first post as my first half-week in Madrid comes to a close. I am devoting this summer to some serious exploration of my interests, following their uncontrollable flourishing during the past academic year. To put things into perspective, without digressing too much: I am a student of international studies at Dickinson, but I’ve always felt like I have just one foot in the sphere of international relations. The other part of me wanders (not entirely cluelessly, I can assure you) on cross-disciplinary paths which are the reason for my coming to the U.S. to pursue a liberal-arts college experience. More precisely, I find myself not wholly satisfied with the intellectual approach most prevalent in the field of international relations, which explains my complementary academic background in the humanities and my other pursuits at this point in my college career.

Before delving into the specifics of my internship at DARA in Madrid, it would be helpful to put it into context, as it falls between two experiences which complement it very nicely. I began my summer with a one-week institute on a curation of issues within the topic of human rights, based at an international law firm in New York City and led by Penn Law faculty. I was part of an inspiring group of graduate and undergraduate students with an extraordinarily genuine commitment to the human rights doctrine as it is and as we aspire it to become. It was also an opportunity to meet with human rights activists and leaders from organizations, such as Human Rights First, or UN agencies, such as UN Women, UNHCR, and more. Admittedly, most were from the human rights establishment, but the presence of Penn faculty and other students counterbalanced that in helpful ways.

Following DARA, I will spend three weeks in China doing fieldwork with Dickinson’s own Community Studies Center, related to internal labor migration and its impact on family structures, cultural dynamics, agricultural practices and more. Along with my internship, these three experiences offer me a rich and multifaceted look at the issues I care about. I am eternally grateful to have been able to receive grants and scholarships for all three of them, without which I would most probably have had to stay at home in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Without further ado, my internship at DARA.

DARA is a non profit that, as per the subtitle of my blog, “supports principled humanitarian action through impact evaluation.” There are myriad ways, in which I could describe all the work that DARA engages in with varying degrees of specificity, especially as I get more used to the vernacular used in the sector of humanitarian evaluation. On the one hand, DARA conducts evaluations and policy studies centered around conflicts or natural disasters that necessitate or have necessitated humanitarian action. These are evaluations commissioned by humanitarian organizations, such as UN or EU agencies, whose purpose is to ensure effective and quality aid and action. WFP, UNHCR, OCHA are among the many names one often hears around the office or sees labeled on folders laid on the shelves that encompass the offices of DARA.

On the other hand, DARA also has its very own independent projects, such as the Humanitarian Response Index, the Disaster Risk Reduction Index, or the Refugee Response Index (RRI). The latter is the project I will be working on heavily throughout my two months. These comprise research and policy studies that independently analyze and measure policies related to conflict, human rights issues, or natural disasters. The results help state governments and relevant institutions understand a particular humanitarian landscape, identify best practices, and collaborate in improving their approach to the issues in question.

During my first few days, I dove into the proposal documents and reports that served as the foundation for the Refugee Response Index. The RRI analyzes states’ response to refugee influx in a multi-dimensional manner: To avoid creating a disaggregated set of results, an analytical framework has been developed and is being fine-tuned by a team of experts, academics, and researchers. The framework comprises six pillars according to which a country’s response will be analyzed and will result in a baseline of country performance in line with goals set forth by international agreements on refugees. Over the next few stages of the RRI, data will be collected through a network of local experts, regional coordinators, and refugees themselves. The data will undergo a specialized process of review, calibration, and validation, to ensure it can be compared adequately across countries. Ultimately, the RRI will serve as a systematized, accessible, and real-time database on all dimensions of national, regional, and global refugee response.

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