Roxanne Krystalli | Stories of Conflict and Love
There is a fundamental truth: Women and girls are disproportionately affected by conflict and we need to tailor our humanitarian and development programming to suit their needs.
A resident of Thessaloniki, Greece, Roxanne graduated with Honors from Harvard College in 2008 with a BA in History and Literature. While an undergraduate, Roxanne served on the Board of Directors for the Harvard International Relations Council and as the Secretary General for the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference.
Hi Roxanne, who are you and what is your impact?
I am a conflict management professional who designs and implements programs for women affected by war worldwide. My work has brought me to Egypt, Colombia, Guatemala, and Uganda among many other places I have loved and and I have worked in affiliation with UN agencies, international NGOs and community-based organizations. Beneficiaries range from ex-combatants and displaced women to victims of rape or mine attack, school students, or fellow development and conflict-oriented professionals. As I see it, there is no innovation at the heart of what I do; rather, there is a fundamental truth: Women and girls are disproportionately affected by conflict and we need to tailor our humanitarian and development programming to suit their needs. This fact is increasingly gaining traction, as we can see in the growth of initiatives such as the Girl Effect and the popularity of books and movements that highlight the plight, challenges and courage of women, such as Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky. Through my work, I hope to continue to make positive impact towards enabling conflict-affected women reintegrate into peaceful communities and creating opportunities for young girls to make choices about their futures.
What change do you bring about and how are you doing it?
Capacity-building and training were my 'entry point' into this field. At the foundation of this type of work is the belief that if we give communities and individuals tools that can improve their daily lives, they will find the most relevant ways to apply them and will extract their own impact. Capacity development in my line of work can mean a lot of things: Workshops and seminars on human rights and women's rights, trainings in business and entrepreneurial concepts, or even series of lessons on how to make tamales, which was what a group with which I worked in Guatemala was most curious about. For them, making this Latin American delicacy could mean starting to sell them or opening restaurants and it was, perhaps unexpectedly, the most salient lesson to assemble and deliver (with the help of local cooks!) for that particular group. What each community and group of women wants to learn and what each group identifies as its challenges differs in every conflict setting, so I keep an open mind, conduct thorough needs assessments, and adjust my methodology to reflect needs and learning desires.
I am also fascinated by the power of story-telling, be it through writing, photography, life biographies or other exposes. I try to document my work, travels and interactions with other development professionals or program beneficiaries because I draw incredible strength from the power of their stories and am now thinking of ways to better integrate story-telling into my work and life. In this process, I have loved browsing the work of photojournalists and writers, ranging from Lynsey Addario to Rebecca Hamilton, and hope to learn from their example.
What networks work best for you?
When I was still a student, I discovered the ways in which Google Reader allowed me to aggregate and keep up with all the blogs and publications that interested me and I have continued to enjoy this service in the field. I am continuously impressed by the power of Twitter to connect like-minded professionals or individuals with similar interests and to facilitate conversation or create community. Because of Twitter, I have come across peacekeepers, writers, photographers, journalists and entrepreneurs and it is a privilege to interact with them, even in 140-character nuggets.
Which female social innovator would you particularly recommend our readers to look at/be inspired from?
Zainab Salbi, the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, inspires me every day. She has established an organization that works with conflict-affected women in places ranging from Afghanistan to Sudan and has harnessed the power of her personal story to elevate the cause of women's development. To find out more about her, you can read her memoir (Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam) or watch this incredible speech she delivered at the Omega Institute on women and power.