From the Editor: On-the-ground perspectives to inform US foreign policy and national policies abroad

Living and working in Washington, DC, it’s hard to escape the buzz and debate about international affairs and policy. From the popular protests in the Middle East and Russia to inter-religious conflict in Nigeria or famine in Africa, countless headlines from around the world make their way into our daily conversations.  Most stories, however, tend to perpetuate gross generalizations and political bias, and they often lack the comprehensive information needed for readers to form accurate and appropriate understandings of the events, and their broader implications.

As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of the local nuances and complex circumstances that are shaping the course of these events. By providing an online platform for critical local voices, unfiltered by mass media, we hope to help foster more effective policies that respond to the real situations and needs on the ground.

Late last year, I met with a Nigerian activist and civil society leader from an area experiencing a recent spate of religiously motivated violence and killings. A group called Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, including in churches and schools.  The activist was concerned that Western media is portraying an inaccurate picture of the realities in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram, she said, is much more fragmented and decentralized than they are made out to be; while their acts are atrocious, violence had yet to overcome the country and people continue to go about their lives.  The media, she said, risks oversimplifying what is in reality a complex and fluid situation.

In a meeting that same afternoon in downtown DC, a group of international affairs professionals expressed concern that Nigeria may be on the verge of a wider civil conflict fueled by international Islamic terrorism – clearly a different view from what I had just heard from the Nigerian activist. This experience only served to reaffirm my belief that policymakers need to hear directly from local civil society leaders.   While this is not a silver bullet solution to making more effective policy decisions, it is a much-needed component to affect positive change in the policymaking process.

This website brings together contributors from around the world who are thinking critically about key issues in their communities and countries.  They offer on-the-ground perspectives from people who have seen, lived, and experienced the events happening around them.  They offer the insight and nuance needed to help shape and inform today’s policies.

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