Young Initiative takes Occidental Students Across the Globe


The Young Initiative on the Global Economy

On a particularly unremarkable Tuesday afternoon, Johnson 302 is filled with the students of Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) 201, slouched into the unwieldy, plastic swivel desks. With backpacks tossed against the floor and desktops uniformly covered with highlighted versions of “The United Nations in the 21st Century (Dilemmas in World Politics),” Professor Hebert starts her lesson with a pitch. The pitch is for students to apply for grants through the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Economy.

The John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Economy, or the Young Fund as it is frequently — albeit incorrectly — called, funds opportunities for Occidental students to connect academic and practical worlds.

Though most students are familiar with the Young Initiative on the Global Economy as a source of independent research and internship funding, the initiative is, in fact, more broad. According to the Young Chair in Global Political Economy and DWA Professor Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, the initiative was destined to be multi-pronged.

“The goals [of the fund] were really several-fold. The focus was on the global economy, international economics . . . There was going to be a full tenured professor with an endowed chair, who would lead the initiative, which I am the inaugural holder of. Then there were going to be resources to support students and faculty and overall programming at the campus, relating to issues of the global economy and more broadly, global affairs,” Khagram said.

Now in its fifth year, the initiative continues in the same vein in which it started. The initiative strives to support the study of the global political economy and global affairs practice.

The entire fund is made possible through the gift of $11 million from the trust of Marie S. and John Parke Young.

According to the 2006 Occidental College press release “Oxy Receives $11 Million Gift,” “The Young gift is the third largest ever received by Occidental, exceeded only by the $16.8 million received over a period of years from the W. M. Keck Estate and $15.1 million from the Margaret Bundy Scott Trust.”

Attending Occidental, graduating in 1917 and ultimately becoming a professor of economics here between 1924-1942, John Parke Young had deep ties to the college. His father, Reverend William Stewart Young, was a founder of the college and 50-year member of the board of trustees. The initiative is, in the vision of John Parke Young, to promote the study of the global political economy and global affairs.

“My job, alongside Ambassador Shearer who is the Director for the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs, is to support global affairs more broadly on campus. Externally, it is to promote Occidental as the premier liberal arts college in global affairs,” Khagram said.

On Jan. 27, student recipients of Young Student Grants were invited to a dinner hosted at the new McKinnon Center for Global Affairs. Recipients gathered to celebrate and share their research experiences alongside faculty members. Included in the audience were Khagram and Cathie Sellick, daughter of John Parke Young.

“Cathie Sellick is an amazing partner and supporter in helping us realize the wonderful vision that her father had for Occidental College through his generous gift,” Khagram said.

Emma Lalley, Christina Seyfried, Aaron Kiesler and Ali Flaming were among the students present at the celebratory dinner. Their experiences made possible through Young Student Grants are chronicled below:

Emma Lalley

It is not drones or theories of international relations that peak DWA major Emma Lalley’s (senior) interest. Within the DWA world, Lalley is interested in how businesses with social value grow in a financially sustainable manner. It is social entrepreneurship that gets Lalley excited.

“I am interested in how non-profits scale and how you incubate social enterprise and social ideas,” Lalley said.

Lalley believes that such an interest can only be fostered to a certain extent within the classroom because it is a constantly evolving field. The Young Student Grant that Lalley received for a project in January 2013 enabled her to pursue her interest in social entrepreneurship.

“The great thing about the Young Initiative on the Global Economy is that it lets you create opportunities for yourself,” Lalley said.

Lalley’s Young Student Grant took her to Ghana, where she interned for Della, a socially responsible fashion brand out of Culver City. Despite Della’s Southern Californian roots, the fashion start-up manufactures all of their products in Ghana, currently employing 13 Ghanaian women as seamstresses.

“They originally started out making accessories, so things like bags and laptop cases that are made out of traditional West African wax prints. They were sold to places such as the Apple store and Anthropologie. Most recently they have really restructured themselves as a brand, so they are doing partnerships with companies like Urban Outfitters and Vans,” Lalley said.

Della’s mission is not typical of most fashion brands. Beyond producing goods to sell to various retailers, the owners of Della seek to run their business in a socially responsible manner by providing all Ghanaian employees a living wage and healthcare benefits.

While in Ghana, Lalley split her time between working on maintaining benefits for the Ghanaian women of Della and performing product development tasks such as quality control and analysis.

“Della is really starting to take off and scale their business right now. So a lot of things that informed my interests after working for Della were how non-profits scale and how you can incubate social enterprise and social ideas,” Lalley said.

For Lalley, this experience was a formative one and acted as somewhat of a launching pad for her work at Community Partners, a non-profit consulting firm, over the summer of 2013.

Christina Seyfried

Though some Young Student Grants focus more broadly on global affairs, DWA and economics double major Christina Seyfried (junior) focuses directly on global political economics. Research conducted alongside Khagram surrounding the issue of budget transparency in foreign governments prompted her interest in applying for a Young Student Grant. The Kenyan news published her findings, which were based on international research that the Young Initiative enabled her to carry out.

An international student from Austria with a particular research interest in Africa, Seyfried used her Young Student Grant to travel to Kenya, where she interned for the non-governmental organization International Budget Partnership (IBP).

“IBP is an NGO that does research around budget transparency and that publishes an index about how open government budgets are. They also empower civil society to demand open budgets,” Seyfried said. “They also work together with governments to train them on how to set up budgets effectively concerning public funds.”

Seyfried was able to conduct research surrounding revenue allocation because in 2010, Kenya `enacted a new constitution, creating 47 new counties, all with independent budgets and funds. She presented her findings in front of the Kenyan government and received national news coverage.

“I had the great opportunity to attend the Cabri meeting, which is a meeting with all the finance ministers and senior budget officials from Africa while I was in Kenya,” Seyfried said. “Just the conversations were inspiring.”

Seyfried’s experience in Kenya allowed her to dive head-first into the topic of budget transparency. Employees at IBP treated Seyfried as a staff member, immersing her in their world of research, publishing, empowerment and training.

“You could really see that open budgets are often an issue to achieve not because people are trying to hide things but just for a lack of knowledge,” Seyfried said. “I think this new approach for NGOs to reach out to governments and work together with them is the right way forward.”

Seyfried plans to return to Kenya in the coming summer, this time intending to conduct her own research for her DWA comprehensive project.

Aaron Kiesler

DWA major Aaron Kiesler (senior) is passionate about rugby. During his time abroad in Paris, he was a part of a rugby team composed of students from both England and France. Despite the fact that the players spoke different languages, Kiesler noted a connection among all of the teammates.

“We shared a bond over playing the same sport,” Kiesler said. “The power of sport was clear.”

Upon returning to Occidental for the Spring 2013 semester, Kiesler’s adviser, Ambassador Derek Shearer, presented him with an article from ‘The Economist’ titled Pacific Scrum.” It chronicled the relationship between the New Zealand government and, Sevens, the Fijian rugby team. The article peaked Kiesler’s interest; he saw an opportunity to combine his love of rugby and his academic focus within DWA.

Kiesler began to explore the modern history between Fiji, which had recently been overthrown in a military coup, and New Zealand.

Following the coup, the Fijian military government was accused of various human rights breaches. Neighboring New Zealand, in an effort to step in, imposed travel sanctions on the Fijian rugby players of the Sevens team, preventing them from attending the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

“I realized that sports have a significance beyond what goes on on the field,” Kiesler said.

Kiesler began crafting his application for a Young Student Grant, interested in traveling to New Zealand to research the use of rugby as a means of diplomacy. He wanted to get to the heart of the conflict.

“I went to go figure out why rugby was so significant that they [New Zealand] were able to do something like this. How had rugby become a part of the politics and the foreign policy of New Zealand?” Kiesler said.

While in New Zealand, Kiesler’s day-to-day tasks were entirely self-motivated and primarily included conducting interviews. Kiesler spoke with individuals directly involved in the conflict, including the Director of the National Rugby Museum and former coaches of the New Zealand All-Blacks. At one point, Kiesler walked into the New Zealand Foreign Ministry without an appointment and asked to sit down with government officials. He was able to meet with them and conduct further research.

Kiesler’s experience provoked further questions regarding foreign relations between New Zealand and Fiji.

“You realize in doing research like this that you don’t always get the results you were hoping for,” Kiesler said. “The nature of research is that you don’t know what the answers are going to be until you go look for them.”

Ali Flaming

DWA major Ali Flaming (junior) came into her first year at Occidental committed to the pre-medical track.

“I always thought that being a doctor was my path into the health field,” Flaming said.

During winter break of 2011, Flaming traveled to Nicaragua with a group of undergraduate students with the intention of working at rural health facilities. This experience changed her academic and future career track.

“That’s when I realized my interests were more broad than medical care,” Flaming said.

Upon returning to Occidental, Flaming took “Topics in Diplomacy and World Affairs: Global Public Health” (DWA 295). Taught by Adjunct Professor Mellissa Withers, this course furthered Flaming’s desire to reconsider her pre-medical track and explore other options within the health field.

“Since then I have been focusing my academic interests within DWA on global health issues and public health through [Urban and Environmental Policy] as well,” Flaming said.

During her sophomore year, Flaming began researching ways to narrow her focus within the broad field of Global Public Health.

“I was looking for an internship or research project to do over the summer that would give me a better idea of my specific interests within global health because it is such a broad topic,” Flaming said.

Flaming crafted a proposal for a Young Student Grant that would allow her to intern for Marie Stopes International, a non-governmental organization that focuses on reproductive health. The organization is based in London, with a clinic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

At the time, Marie Stopes International was working on a project in Phnom Penh that focused on improving adherence to post-abortion family planning through mobile phone services. They were interested in assessing the efficacy of offering health counseling through an automated mobile phone application in an effort to improve family planning post-abortion.

Upon arriving in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, it was clear to Flaming that this was not going to be a traditional internship – her supervisor had to make an emergency return to London.

“I got there, and most of the people did not know what projects and tasks I was supposed to focus on. My role within the organization was unclear,” Flaming said.

Despite the fact that the internship took a few unexpected turns, the experience was invaluable in Flaming’s academic and practical growth. With the absence of a supervisor, she was able to work for employees in different departments, gaining a more extensive knowledge of how Marie Stopes International functions. In the end, she had the opportunity to produce a report on post-abortion family planning in Cambodia, which eventually served as an advocacy piece for the Cambodian government.

“It was not at all what I was expecting, but I think that gave [me] opportunities for a lot more interesting projects and gave me an idea of what I would be doing if I were to work for an organization such as Marie Stopes,” Flaming said.

Flaming’s experience in Cambodia has informed her DWA comprehensive project topic immensely. She plans to consider how mobile technology can improve access to healthcare in low-resource settings. For Flaming, coming to understand where her true interest lies has been a slow but rewarding process of elimination, facilitated by the Young Student Grant.

“I would not have been able to do this [internship] without the Young Student Grant that I received,” Flaming said.


Lalley, Seyfried, Kiesler and Flaming are just four of the 30 recipients of Young Student Grants awarded between 2012 and 2013. Other projects took students all over the world and to domestic destinations as well.

The Young Initiative on the Global Economy has also played a critical role in supporting TEDx Occidental, the Young Initiative on the Global Economy speaker series and Oxypreneurship.

The initiative manifests itself in various ways around the Occidental campus, engaging the community as a whole in issues concerning the global political economy.

“Even if you are a biology major . . . go for it. Get involved,” Seyfried said.



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