Grant Gordon is a political scientist and policymaker who specializes in humanitarian intervention. He’s a fellow at the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation, and has worked on humanitarian and development policy for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordination, the UN Refugee Agency, as well as the Rwandan Government, Open Society Justice Initiative and other organizations.
All of that is a long way of saying he works on the some of the world’s worst problems and conflicts, and tries to figure out which interventions will actually help. He’s embedded with the Congolese military to try to understand why soldiers attack citizens, he’s used satellites to monitor and deter genocidal violence in Darfur, and he’s studied the ways in which peacekeepers can win hearts and minds with local communities in Haiti. And over and over again, he’s found that good intentions do not always make good policies. It’s a valuable lesson — and Grant is a valuable voice — for anyone who thinks seriously about policymaking.
Grant is also a good friend whose work has long fascinated me, and so it was great to get a chance to interrogate him on it for two hours. Among other things, we covered:
– How to read academic literature efficiently
– Grant’s path from being a kid in California to working in the Rwandan health ministry to hiding under cars in Congo
– What his whiteness and Jewish heritage means in his work on humanitarian policy
– How the politics around humanitarian intervention have changed since the 90s
– How and why he got an internship, as a college student, in the Rwandan health ministry by cold emailing Rwanda’s health minister
– How randomized controlled trials do and don’t help humanitarian work
– Why it’s actually difficult for a fragile society to build an army strong enough to protect its citizens but not so strong it overthrows the government
– How to care for yourself when you work in and out of conflict-torn places
And much more. Towards the end of the interview, Grant turns the tables and questions me for a bit, so keep an ear out for that.