Posted on Jul 30, 2017
Jillian Foster was 25 years old when she received D5400’s Ambassadorial Scholarship. She had actually applied for it in 2008 but was denied. True to her nature, she determinedly sought out a new approach and ended up receiving a sponsorship from Boise Metro Rotary in 2009. That year she was granted the Ambassadorial Scholarship from District 5400, which she used to attend University College London and earn her Masters in Gender Studies.
“Without the scholarship I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to London,” Jillian told me during a conversation earlier this week, “I wanted to study for my masters abroad. It enabled me to do that.”
She went on to obtain her second Masters in Applied Quantitative Research at New York University. With her knowledge, Jillian founded Global Insight, a research, data, and monitoring and evaluation consultancy specializing in the use of data­-driven and gender-­sensitive methods in fragile states. Since 2011, she’s led Global Insight's portfolio of gender-based violence, peacebuilding/conflict and humanitarian projects, working with UNHCR, UN Women, Save the Children, the UN Trust Fund, the International Rescue Committee, and countless other INGOs.
“Conflict is human, it’s what humans do. I was working in Nigeria on a peace-building program and the major conflict was the fight of time and all eternity: Herders against farmers. This is the fight we’ve been having forever. It’s every day. Perhaps we need to just accept this as human nature,” Jillian explained, “but there are large-scale mass atrocities that I would like to see stopped. There’s no need for us to have gigantic displaced populations like refugees and famine. We can work those conflicts out through diplomacy.”
Her new project, Women in Conflict, brings global awareness to the sometimes-misconstrued female roles in conflict zones. “What I want from this project is to break open the definition “woman” in a conflict setting. Right now we think of women as passive victims, but that’s inaccurate. I want their voices and experiences to be heard and spark discussion about them as active participants. Just because you aren’t looking doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
Through uncensored stories of the actual women she researches, Jillian brings clarity to their involvement that either reinforces the traditional gender role of caregiver and peace-builder, or counters it by revealing other roles such as violent combatant.
“It’s dangerous for these women to come forward, but many of them have already taken that risk; Life itself is a risk when living in a conflict setting. They are often women who have already elevated themselves to some degree as community leaders.”
The conversation then turned to thoughts on Rotary International’s next mission to end human trafficking. “It’s a valuable cause and I support it,” she said, “The power Rotary has is amazing - they made a gigantic imprint on Polio, and I think they can do that similarly with human trafficking. It’s valiant.”
While we spoke I could hear the sounds of Jillian’s treasures being packed into boxes as she prepared to move from California to Connecticut, where she’ll be starting at Yale this fall. While she is clearly a capable and passionate woman, I wonder how much harder it would have been to achieve her successes without the help of the 2009 D5400 Leadership Team and Boise Metro Rotary. It’s proof that any district, any club or any person can make a global impact.
Michela Swarthout, Boise Centennial Rotary