Zulpha is the 2017 Australian Universities' John Monash Scholar and completing a Master of Public Policy at Columbia University
When I wrote my 20-30 year career plan for General Sir John Monash scholarship application, it hadn’t included a summer internship in Bangkok working on access to and quality of information. But the Monash scholarship continues to expand my horizons. Although my goals of better understanding violent extremism and creating genuine social cohesion remain the same, my desire to learn more about the links between online misinformation and intercommunal violence brought me to Internews.
I spent my summer break with Internews at their Regional Headquarters for Asia. Internews is an international non-profit organization that supports local communities to produce, disseminate, and promote news and information that is high-quality and trustworthy, and enables communities to participate and make more informed decisions. In the past their work has focused on supporting print and radio journalists and media organizations, but has increasingly shifted towards online and social media platforms where the bulk of media content is consumed. Internews’ work in the Asian region spans from Afghanistan to Vanuatu, and it was fascinating to learn so much about the challenges and opportunities facing some of Australia’s neighbours.
The internship was the fieldwork component of the Applied Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution course I completed as part of my Master of Public Administration at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). My specific role was focused on projects on peaceful pluralism, religious freedom, and violent extremism in Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
I was meant to be based in the Colombo office but the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks led to a significant deterioration of Sri Lanka’s security situation. I It was considered too much of a security risk for me to travel and work there because reprisal attacks against Muslims were escalating. The experience of having to negotiate and recalibrate my internship plans because of the threat of terrorism and intercommunal conflict was sobering, particularly because my identity was a large factor in my increased vulnerability. Since then I have spent many hours contemplating my future in the field of conflict resolution because of these realities.
My day-to-day involved developing proposals and concepts notes for new initiatives, assisting with monitoring and evaluation exercises, contributing to Internews’ organizational strategy revamp, and continuous juggling teleconferences between the offices in Sri Lanka, Washington DC, London, and Durban. I have really valued my time in Bangkok because it’s my first exposure to working in Asia (and my first time in Thailand) and with an international non-profit, which is markedly different to working in Australian government agencies.
In my spare time, I have been working on a project at the intersection of menstrual health, water scarcity, and waste management, in my childhood home of Cape Town. The project is part of my year-long fellowship with the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) Sustainable Development Goals program. I’m working with five other SIPA students who were based in Tunis, Dakar, Manila, São Paulo, and NYC (scheduling these meetings was another logistical challenge!). We will be presenting our initiative at the London School of Economics for the GPPN Annual Conference in February 2020.
I’ve also been keeping busy speaking with applicants for the 2020 John Monash scholarship. It is incredibly uplifting to speak with talented, passionate Australians about their plans for the future, and having a chance to extol the wonderful community that is the General Sir John Monash Foundation and its scholars.
I am looking forward to third semester at Columbia. I have taken on new roles as a peer advisor, and Teaching Assistant for International Law. There’s also two new fellowships to begin: the International Fellows Program, which has been running for more than 50 years and focuses on the USA’s role in global affairs, and the Women’s International Leadership Program, which is professional development program. Most of all, I am excited to be reunited with my mentee, Camille, who is a Year 1 student at PS 36, a public school in Harlem. As part of the Read Ahead mentor program, every week we read, draw, and play games together. I often have to “correct” my pronunciation of words particularly with words like “fast” or “park” so that she doesn’t accidentally adopt an Australian-South African accent.
I am grateful for the support and friendship shown to me by the staff and scholars of the John Monash community, particularly the amazing NYC/East Coast community and the Melbourne office. The selection process to become a scholar was truly transformative for me, and being a Monash scholar has enriched my life more than I could ever have imagined.
About Zulpha Styer
Zulpha has a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice and is completing a Master of Laws from the Australian National University. She sits on the Multicultural NSW Regional Advisory Council for South West Sydney, has worked in the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department, and now works for the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. Zulpha was awarded an Australia Day Achievement Medallion in 2015. Zulpha is studying for a Masters of Public Administration and will study effective policy interventions and community engagement strategies, with a focus on relationships with minority communities and social cohesion.