Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rasmussen builds international development career on La Follette opportunities

Kristen Rasmussen knew securing a job with an international non-governmental organization would be a challenge, even with her Master of International Public Affairs from the La Follette School.

Kristen Rasmussen


Kristen Rasmussen, 2003, started a new job in 2012 as program coordinator at Danish Church Aid/Christian Aid Cambodia, which implements a joint program between DCA, the leading Danish international development agency, and Christian Aid, a large development agency based in the United Kingdom.

"DCA/CA Cambodia is quite large; we partner with 25 local non-governmental organizations to implement a food security program and gender justice and human rights program," Rasmussen says. "Under the food security program, DCA/CA's partners work on issues such as access to land and land use rights and climate change adaptation. Under our gender justice and human rights program, DCA/CA partners with local NGOs working on protection of civil liberties, human rights and reduction of gender-based violence. As the only program coordinator at DCA/CA Cambodia my work is cut out for me, but I am very excited about it!"

2003 alum applies understanding of gender to reduce landmine risk

A little gender analysis mixed with hip-hop and rap music can go a long way in making the world more peaceful, Kristen Rasmussen finds through her work on landmines in Cambodia. Read more

So when she moved to Cambodia after graduating in 2003, she focused on freelance consulting jobs to gain experience, knowing that landing an internationally based NGO position required three to five years in the field. Since then, Rasmussen has worked for a number of nonprofits in Cambodia, conducting surveys and trainings, writing reports, evaluating programs and organizing focus groups. In 2009 she completed a three-year project to incorporate gender analysis into public policy and local action to address landmines.

She discovered she likes the flexibility consulting gives her: "As I was able to secure contracts consistently and enjoyed the challenge of working on a variety of different projects, I decided to continue consulting," she says. "I have a flexible schedule which allows me to take longer vacations — including monthlong visits to my husband while he was in graduate school in the U.S. — and to pursue my hobbies, like singing in my blues band, Bayon Blues."

Rasmussen first visited Cambodia in 2002, after she completed her La Follette School internship in Indonesia, to visit her sister. Rasmussen settled there, knowing she could tap her sister's professional network to find consulting work. "My sister put me in touch with the American Red Cross," Rasmussen says, "and within two weeks I had signed a contract with them to lead a baseline survey for a safe water project that they were to begin implementing."

Rasmussen spent her summer between her first and second years at La Follette as an intern with Project Concern International in Jakarta, Indonesia. She assessed a community health and nutrition program, conducted field research to identify program strengths and weaknesses, produced promotional material, and identified barriers to program implementation."The experience played a major role in preparing me for my career," she says. "Prior to my internship, I had never conducted a program evaluation of any kind. I have since conducted seven of them. My internship provided me with a hands-on learning experience in which I undertook focus group discussions and interviews to assess program effectiveness and efficiency using qualitative methods."

During her second year at La Follette she held an assistantship with professor Graham Wilson, assisting with his duties as editor of the journal Governance. She also served as the La Follette School Student Association's liaison for the Master of International Public Affairs program. In the latter capacity she worked with her cohort and faculty to redesign the school's advising system so it better met individual students' needs.

Rasmussen notes her coursework may have influenced recent policymaking in Cambodia. Her experience in Professor Melanie Manion's course "Political Economy of Corruption and Good Governance" helped her secure work with Pact International, which partnered with Cambodia's government to develop anti-corruption legislation that became law in 2010.

Since completing the landmine work, Rasmussen has evaluated the effectiveness of non-governmental aid on Cambodia's development. This summer she is conducting a mid-term review of three grassroots Cambodian organizations, one that aids sex workers, another that provides labor conflict negotiation services to garment factory workers. The third organization is a music band of garment workers who document the lives of rural farmers through their compositions. Her next contract broadens her international connections: She will conduct gender research for the Canadian Cooperative Association in fall 2010.

Rasmussen credits her time at La Follette for giving her the skills and experiences that have enabled her to build her career as an international development consultant. "La Follette played an important role in developing my research and analysis skills," Rasmussen says. "Although my study of statistics was limited to the core course taught by Dr. Karen Holden, it gave me a basic understanding of quantitative analysis that has served me well in my career."

— updated August 22, 2012