Saturday, October 4, 2008

Peacemaker Interview: Nancy Delaney

Katie Suter
Modern Peacemaker Interview

Nancy Delaney

Nancy works for Oxfam America as the Outreach Manager. She works extensively on the CHANGE Leadership Program; recruiting college students, training them in nonprofit strategy and international issues, and helping them initiate awareness campaigns on their campuses. Nancy lives in Boston with her husband and has two adult sons.

• Background:

o Who/What were your greatest influences? She traveled a lot as a child because her father was in foreign service. She lived in El Salvador for 3 years. She had amazing experiences that brought her face-to-face with inequality at a young age. Because she was so young they made a very deep impression on her and it was hard for her to wrap her head around it. In her everyday life she lived in a secure home but she would see people in desperate straights during her walk to school. This always stayed with her- she asked, ‘Why do I have this life and they do not have it?’ Nancy wrestled with that over the years, but never found the answer. This is what she believes is inspiring about the program she works on, the CHANGE initiative. As a young woman, she was not doing anything like the actions the students from CHANGE are doing. However, the idea of justice stayed with throughout her life. When the opportunity presented itself to explore the nonprofit sector, she took it. She started as a volunteer for Oxfam and then became an employee. Once she began to understand the routes, causes, possible solutions to international problems it was impossible for her to turn back. “I was completely hooked,” she said. Essentially, she believes the beginning of her journey was at age 6 in El Salvador, where she experienced personal contact with inequality.
o Where did you go to college? What did you study? She went to college at Holy Cross in Wooster, Massachusetts, where she gained the influence of Jesuit college. She believes the experience of learning in a Jesuit environment was important for her. She studied Spanish and had an “unofficial minor” in Latin American Studies. She was interested in understanding the information about a culture one can gather from both literature and history. Nancy was very focused on government and policies, but also with the people’s writing. These studies, combined with the Jesuit ideal of ‘men and women for others’ supported her path toward social justice work. During school, Nancy did volunteer work as part of the campus group, SPUD, which gave time and resources to the local community.
o What work did you do before Oxfam? She “wandered around” at first. Nancy took a couple of years after graduation because she believed it was important to have some life experience before she considered graduate school. She tried different jobs in the “informal sector”-and then began to look for a “real job” in the for-profit sector. She worked for an international transportation company. Nancy believes this was good experience in business and management and that her years in the for-profit sector were good preparation for her work at Oxfam. After her sons were born, she wanted to try something completely different- nonprofit work. She sought out Oxfam for their reputation. Nancy believes there are many different paths to social justice work and related that every person at Oxfam has a different way that they came to be there.

• Peace as an influence

o Is it important to you that your actions are nonviolent? Nancy does not think about conflict and violence as a way to make change for the issues she is working for. She acknowledges that many people accept poverty as simply part of the fabric for life, but she believes that this is not predestined or inevitable. Nancy thinks that the kind of well-researched, well-conceived strategic ways of addressing the issues of the systemic causes, as they have at Oxfam, are the only way to go about it. She cannot even imagine the other position. She realizes there are examples of when violence has moved populations and created change. However, she believes that to do the work Oxfam does, it is necessary to address the issues and have a really sound analysis. She believes that this, along with the organization itself, is how one makes really sustainable change. She emphasized analysis over methods of violence.

• Staying with it

o What is the best part of your job? Nancy related that there are a lot of people who do social justice work that is not direct service (meaning they do not go into the community). She has the part of social justice work that she believes is so special: The people she works with, she gets to see [in the Change Leadership program]. While many colleagues must sustain themselves on the belief that they’re making change, she gets the benefit of meeting students, see the kind of change they enact, and feeding off of all their actions and energy.
o How do you balance it with family? She said that it is difficult but always worth it to balance. Additionally, she said the Non-profit sector is good at helping people balance. The older her sons became, the more important she believed it was to do social justice work with Oxfam. She saw that she could bring her experiences and what she was learning home to her family. Her two sons have worked at Oxfam as interns and one worked on the farm bill for the organization. This was an unforeseen benefit of working for Oxfam. The rewards also manifested themselves in “funny ways”. She would speak in their classrooms and then their universities about her work. Also, her sons grew up understanding injustice existed in the world. The older they grew, the more her commitment deepened. She saw the impact her experiences had on them and how they viewed the world as a result. This made her think about her own role.
o How do you handle the slow-progress? Nancy makes sure that her personal efforts are positive and move her causes forward. She ensures that she can access impact and evaluate effectiveness of what she does. She related this to why she advocates for the continued renewal of the Change Leadership program. She believes it is a good use of resource, with tremendous multiplying affects. “It is a step forward,” she said. She said it is important to ask questions about her actions- that she does an action not for the sake of doing it, but for the impact. Further, she believes that awareness is the first step to engagement. She said it is important to not be overwhelmed by the problems, but to keep moving forward. Personally, she carves out pieces of the problem where she thinks she can be effective and pushes further where she can. She related she is part of Oxfam’s larger strategy to make change. She said that everyone has bits and pieces of the initiative. She said to ask, “Why are people living in poverty?” Then, she said to analyze: to look at structures, then what is needed to change them. She greatly enjoys working with college students to address change.

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