For the last 10 years, Nadiia Iusupova has worked in the Office of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, where she partners with civil society institutions on humanitarian development issues including peacebuilding, education, human rights, and religious radicalism.
But between political turbulence in Kyrgyzstan and the COVID-19 pandemic, this last year has been unlike any other.
In December, Nadiia flew to Minnesota to begin the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Seeking new ideas and a global perspective, she arrived without family to freezing temperatures and empty streets, and a fellowship experience taking place from her apartment over Zoom.
Despite the lonely beginning, she and her cohort persevered, forming a pandemic “pod” in the spring and instituting Friday night national dinners.
This spring, she began working with the Humphrey School's Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy to study gender and political representation in Minnesota—a project that brings up parallels to her work in Kyrgyzstan.
“It’s not about counting, but it’s about understanding how minorities represent their voices in the legislature and in their leadership," she says. "We are a very diverse country, and gender mainstreaming is a priority of policymakers. It cannot be excluded when we talk about human rights, ethnic issues, religious freedom, or peacebuilding.”
Comparing best practices with other fellows from countries like Argentina and Pakistan has helped Nadiia articulate the need to build institutional capacity to support gender equality back home.
“This program is about inspiration,” she says. “It empowers you to talk about all the issues, do more, understand that the world is very small—especially using Zoom!”
She laughs: “With American-style networking, you can get any person you want on Zoom!”
Nadiia is looking forward to returning to public service at the end of June, bringing new knowledge to bear on her work in human rights and peacebuilding. She is grateful to the fellowship program, the University of Minnesota, and the host families for their hospitality.
“It was a great experience for me,” she says of the fellowship. “I have more power, more confidence, and a much bigger global network now.”