GCHS Faculty Dr. Kenly Fenio

gchs faculty kenly fenio headshot

Dr. Fenio, you have an extensive background in research and teach Research Methods in the Global Conflict and Human Security graduate program at the University of New Hampshire. Which aspect of research do you feel is most important for young scholars? 

I think there are three. First, have a sense of what it is you want to achieve by doing a graduate degree, and embrace the idea of becoming an expert on your chosen topic. This role is much different from that of an undergraduate because engaging as a master’s student is about understanding and assimilating published research on your topic, as well as knowing where you fit in. Second, understanding when and why to use quantitative versus qualitative methods (or both together) is also crucial, especially when many organizations or donors do not always fully know which research methods will get them the data they actually need to answer their research questions.

Finally, the ability to relate to others is crucial, especially when the participants may be in vastly different social, economic, or political situations than the researchers are.  There have been many times when we have conducted fieldwork, and at the end of the day, my local researchers turn to me and say “We never knew this about communities in our country!” We do a great deal of work on informal institutions, or the normal, daily rules and customs that constitute the fabric of everyday life in rural communities, and which are usually more important than the top-down, legal policies of a country. To adequately incorporate these, prior to conducting fieldwork, researchers should prioritize understanding how these institutions are relevant to the topic and communities at hand, how they arose, their implications, and why they make a crucial difference to the success or lack thereof in implementing development programming.      

Many of our students are planning for a career with the Department of State. Do you have any tips to share about working for this federal agency?  

Working with the Department of State can be extremely fulfilling from both research and policy perspectives. Some of the brightest and most down-to-earth individuals I know have worked at State, and the friendships and collaborations have continued even after I chose to switch jobs, so the networking there is a key advantage. I think that for all of us who have worked there or continue to do so, it has been extremely important to know which Bureau and Office is likely the best fit for each individual.

For example, some offices focus more on research while others concentrate on policymaking. As students progress in their careers, they should decide what their short- and long-term goals are, take stock of their strengths, and determine if they prefer to work mainly on a particular topic or in a certain geographical region.  There is also a question of whether they want to go into the Civil Service to be primarily based in Washington DC, or the Foreign Service to be based overseas, as these career options are two vastly different experiences.  Finally, students need to ask themselves if they can work across partisan lines, so that no matter which party is in power, they can remain objective.

How does living in Mozambique impact your career? That is, with our virtually connected world, could you just as easily be living in the U.S. and connect with others via the internet?  

I think it depends on the type of project. Living here has had a significant impact on my career.  I am permanently based in sub-Saharan Africa, and therefore I work not only in Mozambique, but across the continent. Many overseas consulting firms fly in their experts to conduct research for a short period of time, and although they may closely monitor events from their home base, there is really nothing like living in the region of your focus, understanding the daily context of what occurs on the ground, regularly working in different types of communities, and having your finger on the pulse of a region to fully understand what is actually occurring.  Having said this, however, one of our companies takes on projects outside of southern and eastern Africa, and when this occurs, we find ourselves well-placed to do comparative development work, and we utilize local and international experts for the country who are well-respected in their fields and make sure we are telling the story correctly to our audiences.

Do you feel your background in Theater has helped you succeed in your current role as Director and Founder of KGF Pesquisas e Associados and REAL Consulting Group, LLC?  

Absolutely, and I feel it was also an advantage to have an undergraduate degree in a field other than international studies because I went into graduate school with a different perspective than many others, yet there were still many similarities.  We do a great deal of background research and bring in experts on the topics at hand, and we conduct fieldwork to fully understand local perceptions. Then we analyze the data and write reports to tell the story to our audience, always keeping in mind that our audience may consist of members with different levels of knowledge about the topics. I am both the Research Director and the Senior Researcher on our projects, and it’s the same as the role of a Stage Manager: you have multiple aspects to oversee to keep everything and everyone moving forward on time, and you adapt from experience when challenges pop up, and you always remind yourself that the process is just as important as the final outcome.

Do you have any final insights to share with readers who are considering a career in international development?  

Three key attributes to have are the ability to wear multiple hats (depending on what the organization and community needs are at the time), patience (because capacity sharing and development don’t happen quickly), and a big smile accompanied by a terrific sense of humor.