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Global co-op inspires research

Leen AlHajjar, SSH’17, a combined major in international affairs and economics, presents her research at RISE:2017. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Last year Madeline Seibert worked on co-op at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing, where she led an independent study documenting food losses and waste through Chinese supply chains, a project that included literature reviews and on-the-ground investigations from farms to markets. At RISE, she presented researching stemming from that co-op experience. “The goal was to find out how much food is wasted,” she says.

Her findings reveal that more than 200 million tons of food produced annually in China is lost or wasted—a figure amounting to about 30 percent of all food produced each year. These trends are critical to address and mirror global patterns, says Seibert, SSH’17, a combined major in international affairs and environmental science who was recently named a Schwarzman Scholar.

Seibert says getting hands-on, up-close experience with this issue on co-op was critical to understanding the underlying problems. Leen AlHajjar, SSH’17, would agree with that sentiment.

“If you really want to find a solution, you need to be embedded in the problem and understand the context.”

Leen AlHajjar SSH'17

In 2016 AlHajjar spent six months on co-op in Jordan, where she worked at the United National High Commission for Refugees. Early in her co-op, a program had was announced at the International Donors Conference in London intended to create 200,000 jobs for Syrian refugees in Jordan. As a result, she spent much of her co-op doing outreach to connect with these refugees to explain the ins and outs of issues such as work permits, their labor protections under the law, and working hours and wages.

Following her co-op, she undertook a research project to explore why the work-permit program didn’t meet target expectations; it only led to some 40,000 work permits being issued after one year, she says. Her research leaned on her experiences and the data she gathered on co-op as well as qualitative interviews with 15 refugees.

AlHajjar found some refugees worried they’d lose aid if they started working, and identified other gender, cultural, legal, and structural barriers. She argues that more work needs to be done to engage both employers and Syrian refugees about how to overcome employment obstacles.

She says she gained a much deeper understanding of the problem from living in Jordan and speaking to refugees than she could have from reading about the issue from afar.

“If you really want to find a solution, you need to be embedded in the problem and understand the context,” AlHajjar, SSH’17, a combined major in international affairs and economics. “It’s very worthwhile to be a researcher on the ground.”