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Forging your own path may be difficult, but it can also be extraordinarily rewarding. For Andrea Koppel, the daughter of former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, following her many passions led first to a career in journalism and now to nonprofit leadership. Here, she explains how anyone can redirect a career path to create real-world change.
DID GROWING UP AROUND A JOURNALIST MAKE YOU MORE AWARE OF WORLDWIDE ISSUES?
KOPPEL Absolutely. My dad covered the Vietnam War in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and we lived in Hong Kong. Anytime you’re living abroad, you can’t help but absorb the culture. It just opens your eyes to the fact there’s a lot of “richness” beyond our shores. When we moved back to the States, my dad was often on the air during the dinner hour. My mom would turn on the TV, and we would watch the news and learn about the international events he was covering, which influenced my awareness of global issues and eventually the career path I chose.
ARE YOU ABLE TO TRANSLATE THE SKILLS YOU LEARNED AS A REPORTER INTO YOUR CURRENT WORK?
KOPPEL More and more people today have unconventional experiences that can be applied in exciting new ways. Take my background as a journalist for example. If you boil it down, what are the skills of a good journalist? Somebody who knows how to listen. Somebody who can analyze and distill complicated issues and present them in a compelling way. As an advocate, you need to be able to persuade people to listen to you and ultimately to support you. My background isn’t the usual background for somebody who leads advocacy and policy in the nonprofit world, but frankly I see those experiences as big assets.
WHY DID YOU SWITCH GEARS FROM JOURNALISM TO NONPROFITS?
KOPPEL I wanted to wake up in the morning and go to work and feel like I was doing something that was helping people in some way.
WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT GOALS AS THE VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT AND POLICY AT MERCY CORPS?
KOPPEL Mercy Corps’ mission is to go into the most fragile states, the countries with the poorest of the poor who are living in very difficult environments, and create sustainable programs that will eventually give these people a brighter future. We work in more than 40 countries around the world. One of the many issues we work to address is food security (or the lack thereof). Mercy Corps is working to develop innovative programs at scale (reaching at least 1 million people within five years) so that when there are droughts, floods, or conflicts, the people who are often caught in the middle don’t lose their source of food or their livestock and are able to survive and take care of their families.
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AN ADVOCATE?
KOPPEL I’m absolutely an advocate. I think the essence of my job is to educate and to persuade, and to champion the issues that are at the heart of our work around the world. Whether it’s in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, or Somalia, there are some issues that are unique to a specific country, but often issues are crosscutting, such as food security and civil or regional conflicts. My team’s job is to remove the obstacles or roadblocks standing in the way of our colleagues in the field who are trying to forge ahead by implementing development or humanitarian programs.
HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE OUR ALUMNI TO START THEIR OWN ADVOCACY CAMPAIGNS?
KOPPEL Advocacy takes a lot of time and energy. It’s hard work, and it often takes a long time to reap the rewards. Before you launch your campaign, see if someone has already started similar work to explore a possible collaboration. If you can hitch your wagon to a like-minded organization or like-minded people, I think your chances of moving the needle will be enhanced. The world needs more people like you. It’s hard and challenging work. You’ll have good days and bad days, but ultimately it’s all about living the life you want to live. I much prefer the idea of living in a world where we’re all trying to help one another and trying to move the needle in the direction of positive social change.
Find your passion to volunteer—or discover new opportunities—by visiting www.WaldenU.edu/servicenetwork.