Kathryn Rzeszut is one of two new members of the Forage Center's board of directors. Kathryn is a conflict and stabilization specialist and holds the position of senior expert MEL at Integrity Global. She was previously a research fellow at the University of York’s Post-war Reconstruction & Development Unit (PRDU). Here, she reflects on her experiences in conversation with Forage Center administrative specialist Catherine Cousar.
Q: What led you to join the Forage Center's board of directors?
A: I first learned about the Forage Center from a former colleague, Abigail Slenski, who was on the board of directors at the time. I’ve been working overseas for the past 10 years and just moved back to the U.S. I was looking for ways to use my crisis-response experience to support the next generation of humanitarian and development workers, and Abigail connected me with David Smith, the president of the board. An opportunity to serve on the board opened, and it really aligned with my desire to contribute to building the capacity of new humanitarian workers.
Q: Which parts of your past experiences and education do you think will prove most useful for your work with the Forage Center?
A: My career has really focused on conflict, and I’ve worked and lived in some pretty challenging places, like Afghanistan and Somalia. The last four and a half years, I have worked on the response to the Syria crisis from Lebanon and Turkey, so I have a lot of practical experience in humanitarian response and stabilization programming to share. Before joining my current employer, I was a research fellow at the Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit at the University of York (UK), where I had also received a master’s in post-conflict recovery studies in 2009. So I have a strong theoretical grounding with which to engage the current challenges humanitarian and development workers face.
Q: You have worked internationally and in the U.S. on everything from disaster risk reduction to evidence-based monitoring. What skills have you found most important throughout your career?
A: I’ve found myself relying on "soft skills" the most. Skills like listening and treating others with empathy and respect are cross-cutting regardless of the sector. They’re not necessarily things that we’re taught in school, but they’re incredibly important when you’re navigating a humanitarian crisis. That and a good dose of situational awareness.
Q: What is your best story from working abroad?
A: I’ve got a few good stories, but since moving back, it’s really the Syrians I’ve had the privilege of working with since 2014 who really are the best story. I’ve never had such a consistently motivated and hardworking team, even in difficult personal circumstances. One of them had to start his engineering degree over three times, but never gave up. Attending his graduation last June was a happy team occasion, as all of us had watched him successfully balance his full-time job and studies for the previous three years. He’s now been accepted to a master’s program in engineering in the UK. To me, that’s the best story.