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Hannah Alexander '05 Is Passionately Making a Difference

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives
May 20, 2005

Hannah Alexander '05 Is Passionately Making a Difference

Hannah Alexander ’05 has spent her Mount Holyoke career jetting around the globe, participating in international policy meetings and organizing conferences while double majoring in international relations and economics.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alexander has lived in England, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Albania, and New York, where she maintains residency. In her junior year of high school, a family friend invited Alexander to help organize a United Nations symposium on health and environment. It was then that she began her work with UN nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and discovered her passion for international relations.

Since 2001, when she was 18, Alexander has held the position of United Nations liaison for an NGO (she declined to give its name) with general consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and associative status with the UN Department of Public Information. This NGO, which operates in more than 55 countries, focuses primarily on poverty eradication, economic and social development, and peace and reconciliation.

“Educating girls and women is the single most important investment in development,” Alexander said. “[The] education of girls is fundamental to the health and nutrition of populations, to overall improvements in the standard of living, to better agricultural and environmental practices, to greater gender equality at all levels of society—to overall greater economic and social development.

“There can be no significant reduction of poverty until girls receive the quality basic education they need. Despite improvements in the education attainment level of girls over the past decade, millions of girls worldwide still lack access to education. More collaboration is needed on the multilateral and grassroots levels to promote girls’ education,” Alexander added. “I hope and believe universal primary and secondary education for all can be achieved during my lifetime.”

During Alexander’s study abroad at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London last year, she worked for a Swiss investment bank and a WTO-affiliated organization that focuses on trade issues and competition policy. In addition, she worked with NGO leaders, scholars, and a British parliamentarian to promote interracial understanding and harmony in the United Kingdom. “Study abroad enriched my Mount Holyoke experience, and work with public sector organizations reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a career in the international affairs field,” Alexander said.

Half Chinese American and half British, Alexander began to develop her Chinese identity on a service trip to China three years ago. She worked on a grassroots development project leading American and Chinese students to build roads in Hubei Province. After talking to her about her multiracial identity as a bridge between the West and China, a journalist from China’s leading English– language newspaper asked Alexander to collaborate with him on a book about the role of civil society and NGOs in promoting grassroots development, intercultural understanding, and peace and conflict resolution.

When not working for NGOs or promoting economic and social development, Alexander enjoys theatre (her favorite musical is Les Miserables); art (her favorite gallery is the Wallace Collection in London); traveling (she would love to visit Australia and South America—the only two continents to which she has not yet been); attending cultural events; and talking about politics, culture, and religion.

Her favorite courses at Mount Holyoke were Comparative Politics with Penny Gill, Seminar in International Trade with Patricia Schneider, and International Peace and Security with Michael Klare. Alexander’s senior thesis, “Replicating Grameen: Victories and Cries in Kenya and Bangladesh,” assesses whether replications of the Grameen Bank (a pioneer of the microfinance movement) have been successful in reaching and helping the poor in both countries.

Following graduation, she hopes to work for an economic-development consulting firm before pursuing a postgraduate degree in economic development or international business. After that, she would like to work in the international economic policy-making field.

“Hannah Alexander is unlike any student I have ever taught before,” said Penny Gill, acting dean of faculty and Mary Lyon Professor of Humanities and professor of politics. “She essentially has created for herself a range of projects and responsibilities—all NGOs—many with the UN or under its wide umbrella. She has beautifully integrated her course work with her ‘work in the world.’ She understands that she is creating her own life work, at the same moment she is studying to prepare herself for that work. She has a global vision, is stunningly entrepreneurial, and [is] a wonderful student.”

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