James Årinaitwe recently earned his master’s degree in sustainable development from SIT Graduate Institute’s Washington, DC Center. Årinaitwe, who is originally from Uganda, attended SIT on a full scholarship and was profiled on the SIT Graduate Institute blog when he started the program. Shortly after receiving his degree, he began a one-year Global Health Corps fellowship working with Single Stop USA in New York City. We caught up with Årinaitwe to find out more about his SIT experience and his plans for the future.
World Learning: Why did you decide to attend SIT in Washington, DC?
James Årinaitwe: I wanted to study development, specifically economic development. I want to return to Uganda to go into leadership and I had already learned enough about health and I understood how lack of health care affects people, especially the poor in my country and globally. But I was missing those aspects of economic development and sustainable development, how you bridge them. How you bridge, health, education, and development in a sustainable way. I actually was looking at the PhD program at London School of Economics, but then I talked to my adviser at Florida State. I wasn’t really ready for four more years of school. I wanted to get out quicker, get into the field, and start working so that before I even think of a PhD I have more experience on the ground. The only choice that would give me that option was the SIT Graduate Institute program, that was one year, and in Washington, DC, in the midst of so many international development organizations. I figured that would be the best way for me to learn about sustainable development and how to easily apply it to the work that I hope to do in Uganda or elsewhere.
World Learning: How do you think this program prepared you to work in the sustainable development field?
Årinaitwe: I don’t even know where to start. From the beginning, there was the coursework itself in theory and practice. Then having the four-month internship of practicum experience working with BRAC USA in New York. I worked on issues in microfinance, in entrepreneurship, in social innovation, in education, and designed proposals for education in Uganda. Then coming back to SIT working on courses in program monitoring and evaluation, global economics, and just all of the courses put together. Even at the end, writing the capstone. I have to say that I actually feel SIT, and this is honest, prepared me more for the field and for the work that I want to do, than how I felt out of Florida State. And that is not biased, I love my school, Florida State University, but I felt Florida State gave me more, and I don’t mean to compare, but it gave me more of the academic, the theoretical, in classroom challenge. But SIT really brought me closer to the issues that I want to deal with. And I admire that and I always tell students, that’s what SIT gives you is the uncertainty. The ability to engage with the issues in the classroom with other students who have gone through those issues, who are returning to the classroom to hone their skills, and going back to the field. All kinds of students that are from different backgrounds. You sometimes even feel that the classroom is a mini-developing country in itself.
World Learning: What was your favorite part of the program?
Årinaitwe: I believe my favorite thing was the practicum. I enjoyed SIT and learning in DC as a whole. Just meeting and working with development organizations. The Friday before I graduated, my team and I presented a policy advocacy project to JASS [Just Associates], which is an NGO in Washington, DC working with women’s rights defenders in Latin America. There is so much that I could say, but if I were to focus on one thing it would be the practicum experience, because it gave me field experience and something to compare to what I was learning in the classroom. The practicum experience and coming back to the classroom and being able to reflect on both and compare and contrast was really important for me.
World Learning: What are you doing now and what are your plans for the future?
Årinaitwe: My fellowship right now is with the Global Health Corps. These students who were passionate about social entrepreneurship in global health founded it at Yale University. It was Barbara Bush and two other students from Yale who started this four years ago. So we are the fourth fellows and we work on all kinds of issues, from development, to health, to education, to entrepreneurship, to mention a few. Right now I’m working with Single Stop USA on poverty alleviation within New York. The organization actually does poverty alleviation across the country, but we are focusing on the poor in New York City, especially the elderly; college students who are trying to return to school, particularly those attending community colleges; and single mothers.
This is the immersion that I was looking for. To get my hands dirty and learn about how things are done well, or not well, in the developed world, and what lessons I can learn and apply. From here I’m looking forward to heading back to Uganda and working for at least five years within the NGO world or the development world. Then I’m hoping to work on initiatives to start up my NGO working with the youth in Uganda, which is my passion. My passion is to create jobs for the youth in entrepreneurship, in social innovation, and in leadership that we so badly need in my country, and promote leadership with integrity. Leadership where we can teach our youth to know that when we are corrupt we not only destroy ourselves, but we destroy our country, and our prospects for a better and brighter future. Single Stop is giving me this opportunity, because I’m going to be working with community colleges, families, and especially, youth affected by poverty in this country. I will also be working with Single Stop partners and learning from them. I think this is a good stepping-stone for me moving forward.