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Christy Johnson

Christy Johnson
Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

2000-02 Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

Travel to exotic places certainly wasn’t the reason that I applied for a AAAS Diplomacy Fellowship, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting, informative and inspiring aspects of my two years as a Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

While carrying out field work in Brazil and Chile, I was as fascinated by the different cultures as by the new ecosystems. After finishing my PhD, wanting to explore the world outside of academia, I spent a year as a AAAS Congressional Fellow and I saw the appropriations process in action. I wondered what happened next. How did agencies take Congressional directives and transform them into effective programs? I hoped that a AAAS Diplomacy Fellowship would provide an answer and also provide an opportunity to understand more about the complex, interconnected issues of environment, poverty, and development that had struck me during my dissertation field work.

As a Diplomacy Fellow, I found a placement in USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)—an office that included three former AAAS Fellows. (In fact, I soon discovered that many of the Agency’s environmental staff are former Fellows.) The position was a good fit for me because it offered both breadth and focus. I was able to pinch-hit as needed on a variety of environmental and agricultural issues, while also serving as the primary forestry advisor for the LAC region.

My mentor invited me to tag along to budget and strategy sessions and meetings with potential partners and other agencies. As I learned my way through USAID’s maze of cubicles and acronyms, I began to write briefing memoranda, talking points, and to critique natural resource and environment initiatives, policies, and development programs. I worked closely with staff from the U.S. Forest Service, as well as from environmental NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy and the Rainforest Alliance, to discuss concepts for future activities and address technical and administrative aspects of ongoing programs. For me, these interactions were another benefit of the fellowship—an opportunity to discover other non-academic, environmental positions while I was “trying on” a USAID job.

One of the most interesting tasks I took on as a Fellow was working with other members of the agency-wide forestry team to develop a $6 million suite of alliances between the public and private sectors. The goal of these alliances was to bring new resources and partners together to support environmentally, socially and economically sustainable forest management.

And then, of course, there were the trips. During my two years as a Fellow, I traveled to Brazil and Guatemala several times, as well as to Bolivia, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Montreal. Each trip was an adventure, a learning experience and an opportunity to make a small contribution in support of the passionate work of many devoted individuals. I feel lucky that, after my fellowship ended, I was hired to stay on at USAID in the same office—to continue these adventures and to watch programs that I helped design come to fruition.