ana camila vasquez
Ana Camila Vasquez, MPP Class of 2022 and Pearson Fellow

Ana Camila Vasquez, MPP Class of 2022 and Pearson Fellow, writes about her experience attending the 2020 Pearson Global Forum

Being born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, I have witnessed the impacts of extreme inequality and political polarization on my community. However, the explanations I heard from politicians and the conflict theories I read were insufficient to explain  my country’s multidimensional crisis. In college, I sought to better understand the crisis in Venezuela: I majored in economics to explore the root causes of poverty, as well as how to achieve economic growth and sustainable development.

Upon deciding to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy at Harris, my main goal was to connect with the Pearson Institute and its faculty. I was honored to be offered a Pearson Fellowship, which provided an invaluable opportunity to advance my search for answers to my country’s conflict at an academic institution. It has also driven me further toward my career objective of founding a regional nonprofit organization to create safe environments where  youth who are victims of violence can  develop resilience and social cohesion in their communities through arts. 

My story of how I came to Harris and Pearson aligned seamlessly with the topics of the 2020 Pearson Global Forum.

As Harris Professor James Robinson said in his welcoming remarks, spaces like the Global Forum allow us to challenge our perceptions and preconceptions through connecting with people from diverse backgrounds. 

The forum took me through three intense days of analyzing, questioning, and absorbing a variety of ideas. These ideas ranged from the Colombian case of La Perseverancia community and its “chicha” market—and how its conflict illustrates how action or inaction of governments influences economics and community relations—to much less obvious external factors that influence conflict. 

The main subject of the Forum was the relationship between conflict and climate change. Having come from a developing country where our focus was generally on immediate scarcities in basic public services, access to food, and autonomous and democratic institutions, I had paid less attention to the global consequences that arise from climate change. One of my key takeaways from Harris Professor Amir Jina’s session, “Climate Conflict: Water,” was the need for more data on the ways in which access to water influences conflict, and the long-term effects of water scarcity on agriculture, food supply and distribution, and market shocks that shape social interactions. 

The Global Forum also enlightened me on how climate affects migration patterns. Georgetown Professor Elizabeth Ferris said in her session, “Climate Conflict: Migration,” this migration shift represents a challenge for international aid organizations in working with displaced populations, and it is critically important that debates on shared responsibility take place at the policy planning table. 

Perhaps the part of the Forum that made me pause and reflect the most was Harvard Professor Mina Cikara’s session, “Combatting Polarization,” and the distinction between people’s perceptions and the actual levels of disagreement between two or more political actors. I want to better understand what drives the polarized dynamic of Venezuelan politics that I’ve witnessed first-hand, and this discussion gave me a lens through which to better view that polarization. 

My search for answers is endless, and I believe that spaces such as the Pearson Global Forum are an excellent opportunity to ask such questions and to make progress in solving them. But as David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Alice Hill asserted in her keynote address, “If you wait until you have 100% certainty, it is going to be too late to act in the battlefield.”

Couldn't make the third annual Pearson Global Forum? Catch up in The Chicago Maroon and stream all session videos on the Pearson Institute’s YouTube channel.