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Supporting democracy in South Africa

Courtesy photo.

An American who grew up on a NATO base in Belgium has expanded her global reach by doing a co-op on a different continent.

Audra Richards — a third-year combined major in criminal justice and international affairs at Northeastern University — has been on co-op since January for the Institute for Democracy in Africa, a Cape Town-based independent public interest organization dedicated to building sustainable democratic societies.

In her role, Richards attends high-level meetings of the organization’s Parliamentary Monitoring Group and then prepares detailed outcome reports for its website. The practice, she said, is uncommon among young democracies.

“It’s a very important organization because South Africa doesn’t have anything that oversees what goes on in their Parliament except for the PMG,” Richards said.

Richards — who is currently writing a research paper on the nation of South Sudan —also works for a broad range of programs for which she studies the cost of corruption in the electricity sector, monitors election procedures in Zimbabwe and Madagascar and conducts background research for members of an ad hoc committee drafting South Africa’s Protection of Information Bill.

“I love the opportunities that I’ve been given,” said Richards, noting that her experience complements her international affairs major.

“I’ve learned about not only South African politics, issues and history but also broader pan-African issues, too.”

Richards completed her first co-op for the Homeland Security Unit in the Boston Police Department’s Regional Intelligence Center. At Northeastern, she is part of the Criminal Justice Student Advisory Council and the campus Circle K chapter, a community service organization dedicated to improving the greater Boston community.

Richards blogs about her co-op in South Africa at

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