Thunderbird, ASU Law Students Draw Life Lessons from Humanitarian Internship
Non-traditional opportunity opens doors for students interested in making a real and tangible impact on the world
Thunderbird student Mijamin Strong, who is on track to graduate with a Masters in Global Management in December, had high hopes for his summer internship this year. But he didn’t expect that it would do so much to focus the direction he wants to take after graduation.
As he headed to New York City where he would spend two months at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Mija still didn’t know a lot about the small organization, but he was certain that working there would get him closer to his global goals.
The Centre is a human rights organization that provides policy advice and carries out advocacy with the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council regarding preventing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The Centre promotes the international security and human rights norm, the Responsibility to Protect or R2P, in order to address the international community's failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Dr. Simon Adams has served as Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect since 2011.
Learn more about the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect on
Tuesday, Nov. 19, during ASU’s Distinguished Global Leader Series.
The Centre’s Executive Director Dr. Simon Adams will speak at Barrett, The Honors College.
Born in Thailand and raised in Ethiopia and Kenya, Mija has always wanted to work overseas and recently has focused on a career with the United Nations. In many ways, Mija was drawn to the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) for the same reasons he was drawn to Thunderbird School of Global Management. He has always had a global mindset, he says, and wanted to build upon that.
Mija explains it like this: “If you’re going to take up a position in another country and that’s one of the things that they teach you how to do at Thunderbird, you need to be able to learn about that country’s history, about their customs and culture and traditions so that you’re not making any mistakes which might jeopardize your relationships there.”
Mija’s internship gave him much more than a sense of how to behave in other countries. It helped him truly be an advocate abroad. And it helped him clarify his career goals.
“Thunderbird is especially proud to be part of this partnership because it embodies the School’s mission by empowering global leaders to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, Dean and Director General of Thunderbird. “The internship is a quintessentially Thunderbird undertaking in that it provides hands-on, experiential learning that prepares students to work across sectors and disciplines to thrive in environments that are uncertain and ambiguous.”
At the Forefront of Public International Law
Zachary Cooper, who is in the 2021 JD Class at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, was also an intern at the Centre last summer. Zachary grew up in Peoria, Arizona, and started his law school studies directly after receiving two BAs, in Political Science and Justice Studies, at ASU.
“Non-traditional internship opportunity opens doors for students interested in making a real and tangible impact on the world. Check out how.” Click to tweet
“I have been interested in human rights and in foreign affairs for a long time,” Zachary said. “The internship was an experience I could not pass up.”
Before arriving at GCR2P, Zachary thought he would never be able to break into the competitive field of international law. “My opportunity last summer opened my eyes to far more possibilities and I have shifted my goals now toward practicing in that field,” he said.
“I went into the internship hoping it would help me begin to develop an understanding of the international legal system,” Zachary said, “as well as some of the key aspects of international diplomacy and human rights law.”
And his time at GCR2P delivered on that goal.
“The work of Dr. Adams and his team at the GCR2P is at the forefront of public international law, providing the global community and individual nation-states with real-time knowledge about populations at risk of harm,” said Diana M. Bowman, professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where she serves as the associate dean for international engagement. She is also a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
“Our partnership with GCR2P provides ASU Law and Thunderbird students with a unique opportunity to explore the nexus of international law, humanitarian law, and NGO activism with real-time research and analysis,” said Dean Bowman.
Business, Law & Humanitarian Action
It seems natural that law is connected to humanitarian work, but it may seem counterintuitive to think of business and humanitarian affairs. Yet the business case for companies to become involved in humanitarian causes is strong.
In recent years, humanitarian partnerships involving private sector companies have been on the rise. While corporate social responsibility is “first and foremost the opportunity to help the most vulnerable communities to become more resilient,” according to a recent survey by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (PDF),70% of respondents added that the expected return on investment was a crucial factor in deciding whether to pursue a partnership.
“It seems natural that law is connected to humanitarian work, but it may seem counterintuitive to think of business and humanitarian affairs. Yet maybe not.” Click to tweet
One action plan as part of the UN Global Compact includes Business for Humanitarian Action. That program will allow participants to explore opportunities and create innovative solutions to support people displaced by conflict.
“Due to the scale, complexity, duration and recurring nature of today’s humanitarian crises,” Global Compact Action Plan organizers said, “we need government, the UN, civil society and business to work together.”
For ASU Law and Thunderbird students, this internship can be a first step on the road toward that sort of cooperation.
“Our partnership with GCR2P is illustrative of the non-traditional internship opportunities that ASU Law and Thunderbird are increasingly providing to our students who have a strong desire to make a very real and tangible impact in the world.” Dean Bowman said. “We look forward to seeing what doors this internship opens for our students, and look forward to creating more internship opportunities like this one with the GCR2P’.“
Developing Research, Writing Skills
The team at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect monitors populations at risk of mass atrocity crimes, offers analysis of influences that would prevent further crimes, and tracks international response with a particular emphasis on the actions of the United Nations (UN), key regional actors, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Centre also suggests action to prevent or halt the commission of atrocity crimes.
“This partnership with ASU is very important and provides us with interns who we see as potential future leaders in the human rights and humanitarian field,” said Dr. Simon Adams, GDR2P’s Executive Director. “In these times, with human rights under attack in so many places around the world, we need more young people with the skill, vision & intestinal fortitude to build and lead 21st century civil society organizations that can confront 21st century problems.”
As interns at GCR2P, located at the CUNY Graduate School in Midtown Manhattan, Mija and Zachary were responsible for keeping tabs on specific global locations.
“We had day-to-day responsibilities, which included following the news of countries which were flagged as being either in a current crisis or had potential for crisis to occur,” Mija explained. “Every day we followed what was going on there, what was being said about those countries at the UN, at the Security Council.”
“As interns at GCR2P, in Midtown Manhattan, Mija Strong and Zachary Cooper were responsible for keeping tabs on specific regions at risk.” Click to tweet
The interns sent updates to the organization’s permanent staff and the information was often included in one of the several daily newsletters published by GCR2P.
Zachary, who kept an eye on conditions in Mali and Pakistan, said, “The biggest highlight of my internship was being listed as a contributor on the Atrocity Alert publication for my research and writing.”
Zachary said the work helped push him outside his comfort zone. “I had never been to NYC. Working at the GCR2P helped me develop valuable skills at the same time it gave me the confidence to travel across country for the opportunity.”
Mija had studied construction management and worked in that field in Manhattan before heading to Thunderbird. He welcomed the chance to fine-tune the type of skills that the internship required: research, analysis, and quickly writing updates.
There was certainly pressure to correctly characterize the daily status of countries or people who may need help to avoid mass atrocity crimes. “What I wrote might be said on live television,” Mija said. “I had to quickly take a real deep dive into the history, into the geopolitical situations of some of these countries that I might want to work in one day to help.”
Access and Opportunity
“One of the great things about this internship was the access and opportunities that it granted,” Mija said. The interns were told to look for any events, speakers, or discussions, related to global human rights. They were urged to attend them, take notes, and report back to the GCR2P staff.
One of those events left a lasting impression on Mija.
He heard Pierre Krähenbühl, then Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, talk about the importance of humanitarian work and the role of his agency. “I left there with no doubt in my mind that that’s what I want to do … not traditional advocacy work, but humanitarian work, hopefully with the UN. His talk was really impressive,” Mija said.
Not for Everyone
“Being honest, this internship may not be for everybody,” Mija said. “If you’re looking for a finance career or consulting role, then it might not be for you.”
But time spent at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect will be very helpful for anyone interested in working for a business or organization trying to make a difference, focused on having an impact, or fighting for people’s rights, he said.
The Centre, Mija said, offers great experience working at a small, tightly knit organization where everyone is dedicated and devoted to the same goal.
Mija’s father worked for USAID, an international development agency, and his mother worked for UNICEF, which supports disadvantaged children around the world.
As a young man, Mija said, he watched his parents do well for the family and do good for people around the world. This internship has helped solidify a goal to follow in their footsteps and to help people in need around the world.