Former Rotary scholar a good return on Rotary’s investment
Former Rotary Scholar Jesse Sullivan with an old Russian tank in Afghanistan. Sullivan served the U.S. Department of Defense as a human terrain analyst. Photo courtesy Jesse Sullivan
J esse Sullivan was set to go to medical school when he decided to study global governance and diplomacy as a 2007-08 Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar at the University of Oxford. He never looked back. Sullivan later became a foreign policy adviser on a U.S. congressional campaign, worked at a displaced persons camp in Haiti, and served with the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan. He’s now a member of the Rotary E-Club of Oxford International.
THE ROTARIAN: Your experiences have taken you all over the world. Where did you get your start?
SULLIVAN: I am from a town of 2,300 people called Petersburg, Ill. When I went to Saint Louis University in Missouri, my dorm was half the size of my hometown. I saw the cultural diversity in the city, and I also saw some of the difficulties. I worked at a clinic for immigrants who couldn’t afford health insurance, and I helped an Afghan family adjust after they had been relocated to the United States. Then I went to El Salvador for six months on an exchange program through the U.S. State Department. I learned that malnutrition is as much a socioeconomic problem as a medical one. So I deferred medical school and never went back after my Ambassadorial Scholarship.
TR: What kind of work did you do in Afghanistan?
SULLIVAN: I was a human terrain analyst with the Defense Department. My job was to bridge the gap in understanding between the Afghan people and the military. It was the perfect way for me to use my experiences from Oxford. In Helmand Province, we entered into an area with intense fighting between insurgent and coalition forces. I went into the villages and interviewed people – religious leaders, militia members, farmers, a father who had seen his son killed by an improvised explosive device. I asked them how they thought we could end the conflict locally. My role was to determine how to improve the implementation of a local police force. The first time I was there, families said they couldn’t send their kids to school because they feared for their lives. When I went back six months later, I visited a school that had reopened. It was a small victory, but it was pretty neat to be a part of something like that.
TR: Now that you’re back in the States, what’s next?
SULLIVAN: Because of my exposure to Rotary, I’ve discovered what a vital role business plays in creating social value. In Haiti, the unemployment rate is astronomical. People need a way of generating wealth. I’m looking for opportunities to learn more about the business world and find a comprehensive approach to helping the developing world.
In the United States, we’re in a unique position. We sit atop these global political structures and could be doing even more to make them work. People from the developing world don’t have the ability to represent their interests.
TR: At your request, a flag was flown over the military headquarters of Regional Command (Southwest) in Helmand Province in honor of Rotary International on 28 May. Why?
SULLIVAN: When I was at the school that reopened in Helmand, I saw how excited the kids were to go to school. I started thinking about how lucky I was to get the education I did. I sent the flag to Rotary because I want Rotary to know the impact it made on my life. Rotarians deserve to be honored for their work.
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