by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you attend The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at BrandeisUniversity, what degree did you earn, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?
Louie: I arrived in Heller School in August 2006 for the Fall semester. I completed my Master’s degree in Sustainable International Development (SID) in June 2008 after having spent my second year working with Mayan communities in Punta Gorda, Belize. I enjoyed learning the quantitative research subjects. They were challenging coming from a humanities background but I learned new research tools. More importantly, it was the interaction in the class that made the learning process worthwhile.
Gordon: When did you serve as Consultant City of Newton, MA and what were your primary responsibilities? Louie: I had a few months before June 2008 graduation to finalize my Capstone paper. My professor, who was Chairperson of the City of Newton’s climate action committee, asked me to help a classmate calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the city to inform their climate action plan. I took on and continued the work alone until October 2008, reporting to my professor, coordinating with the city officers in collecting data and computing GHG, and finally, writing a final project report. Helping the city account for their carbon footprint using a new tool developed by a group called ICLEI was a tremendous learning moment for me.
Gordon: When did you serve as Coordinator, Office of VP Research at Asian Institute of Technology and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there? Louie: I worked with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in 2009. It was a short stint but busy and fruitful. With a small group of doctoral students, I organized a global summit on sustainable development and climate change bringing in global and regional experts to talk about climate change and how it is impacting sustainable development. We invited an activist who was an awardee of a regional environmental award who barely made it to the event due to government pressure. It was a reminder about unknown heroes in our society. Our team was so delighted that we pulled off that summit without mishap. The meeting between environmental groups and donors was particularly fruitful with new partnerships forged.
Gordon: When were you working at Regional Programmes in Bangkok Thailand and what were your primary responsibilities?
Louie: I started with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Asia Pacific in January 2010. As programmes officer, I was tasked to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate projects in the region. I travelled to the countries where JRS has presence. An unenviable part of my responsibility was to close projects when the humanitarian needs of the forcibly displaced population has become developmental needs where other stakeholders are in a better position to help. This is a difficult process as we plan for the personnel’s transition and negotiating with partners to take on the development phase of the work. When I left the regional programs office in 2015, JRS has exited in Timor-Leste and handed over the development work to the Jesuits there as well as opened country-based presence in the Philippines and Myanmar.
Gordon: When and where were you Program Officer at Jesuit Refugee Services in Rome and what was one of the primary lessons that you learned while working there?
Louie: I left JRS Asia Pacific in December 2015 to join the JRS International Office in Rome in January 2016. There were two notable differences in my program management work at the region and the international office. While I was directly involved in developing projects in the region, I was filling in the role of global program oversight of JRS work in Africa and Asia. This means supporting regional teams to ensure quality and promote core humanitarian standards in all JRS programming. I was also involved in training and capacity building for our global teams while in Rome. During this period, I learned how humanitarian assistance can save lives especially during intense conflict displacement. I also learned how humanitarian assistance can create a sense of prolonged dependency and sometimes, unfortunately resulting to reduced agency of displaced people. I experienced how people continue to care for others while in great distress and living in inhumane conditions. I also experienced how political groups can choose to disregard the suffering of their own people, of their neighbors in order to perpetuate themselves in power.
Gordon: When you appointed Regional Director at Jesuit Refugee Service, what are your primary responsibilities, and what are come of the challenges that you have had to address? Louie: JRS as a global organization operates on the principle of subsidiary and so allowing the Regional Director as leader and representative of the JRS mission at the regional level to innovate while staying true to the JRS vision and values. The Regional Director is a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), the global leadership body of JRS. There are a few key challenges I experienced during my term. First, is the care for people during the pandemic, both for staff and persons we serve. All in JRS had to seek better ways to continue service, solidarity and safety for all. Second, is promoting protection for all forcibly displaced person in the region. JRS is in contact with refugees in urban and camp settings and people with high security and protection concern. Promoting safety and protection for this vulnerable sector is an enormous challenge because most countries in the region have not signed the UN Refugee Convention or have no national legal framework to protect people seeking asylum. And third, is challenging and changing the dominant narrative of fear of the stranger and different, and increasing exclusion of the invisible, vulnerable and undocumented persons. These challenges remain and confronted by all in JRS and our supporters.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.