By Emma Sargent
Q: Were you involved with the Globalist for all four years at Yale?
A: I wrote and edited throughout my time at Yale. I discovered the Globalist my first year, and I got involved spring of freshman year as a writer. I applied to be an editor the following year, and was on the board as a features editor, then managing editor, then editor-in-chief my senior year. I went on two Globalist reporting trips–to Venezuela and India–and I just loved it.
Q: What was the Globalist like back then?
A: Over the course of my time, particularly my freshman to junior year, we pivoted the Globalist from being closer to pure political science analysis to instead focusing more on on-the-ground reporting–hearing the voices of people directly impacted by international relations around the world. If you look at the bulk of the reporting in 2005 versus 2009, you’ll see it moved much more towards the international reporting focus that it still has today. It was definitely an exciting four years to be a part of the Globalist.
Q: Did you write anything for the Globalist that you look back on as particularly significant?
A: Yeah, it’s actually kind of funny. My first feature article for the Globalist, and the biggest one I wrote, was my second semester sophomore year. It was about how activists were beginning to use technologies like social media in their movements. I know this sounds comically quaint now, but it was 2006. Right at the beginning of 2007, I interviewed bloggers in Egypt and activists in Indonesia, and wrote this piece called “Activism 2.0”. Fast forward two years, I graduated, and I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist, but I was really interested in free expression and media freedom beyond only censorship issues. I started working on this topic at a think tank and then was hired pretty quickly by the State Department to help start a program on internet freedom. We worked on online human rights and free expression, and thought about speech and activism in the digital world. So, there was a kind of a surprising direct line between the article that was most formative for me at the Globalist and then what I ended up doing for quite some time in my career–the connection between digital rights and human rights on the internet.
Q: How long did you end up working on that in your career?
A: I continued to follow that thread in my career for some time. I was at the State Department for four years working on tech policy and human rights, and I was increasingly interested in how much of a role the private sector had in either enabling or constricting people’s human rights. The internet is largely privately owned–all of these platforms are privately owned. So while I was a diplomat and doing a lot of government policy, a lot of our work was with activists and with companies, and we noted that the power in the field was far beyond just government policy. And so two of my mentors left the State Department to found the first human rights-centered business school, focused on how companies can build in human rights protection into their core operations. Not just creating a nice charity project, but determining how you can build the core
of your business in a way that doesn’t cause harms. They invited me to come join and focus on the tech sector. So definitely there’s a direct line there back to my work for the Globalist. Then, I left to go to grad school–the most Globalist grad school ever–I did an international relations degree at Georgetown. Every day, it was like the Globalist, and I loved it. Since then, I’ve been at Airbnb for about four to five years, dealing with geopolitical risk within the company. I don’t think it felt quite as linear along the way, but I actually have had this consistent theme throughout my career–my focus is broader now than it was at the State Department, but it’s always about the private sector.
Q: How has working for Airbnb fit into your overall focus on human rights in tech?
A: Airbnb’s leadership has always been more proactive than other tech companies in enforcing our company values because we’re dealing with people meeting other people in neighborhoods around the world, so our business is just more immediate and more tangible. We’ve removed over a million people from our platform for refusing to agree to our equity requirements. Obviously, it’s a major business decision to take that risk, but our whole mission is about belonging, so we acknowledged early on that if we’re not going to be serious about discrimination, we need a different mission. On a separate note, I think one of the things people forget about Airbnb is that over half of our hosts say that they use Airbnb to help make ends meet. It’s a really important source of income for a lot of individuals and it’s a way to earn extra money, which is particularly important for a time like now. So, we are dealing with that human element in our policy decisions. It’s different from a lot of other businesses where we basically have a lot of micro-entrepreneurs on our platform. We’re trying to figure out a way for them to be able to have their businesses and welcome people from around the world.
Q: What do you think the future of global responsibility in tech is?
A: A lot of tech companies are realizing that they can’t keep their head in the clouds anymore. More companies are reluctantly coming to the table and recognizing that they have more responsibility. I think in the future there will be more pressure from consumers. We’re already seeing this, but in future there will just be an expectation that you as a company act responsibly and engage on social issues. If you don’t, that’s what will stand out. At least in the US, we’re seeing a shift in consumer expectations towards social responsibility, and I think that is what will drive companies to make moves more proactively and not just reactively in response to a current congressional hearing or terrible news story. That’s my hope; that may be overly optimistic.
Q: What advice would you give to a current college student involved in the Globalist?
A: I learned so much from the Globalist, and I have thought back to it a lot of times during my career—everything from the actual writing skills to getting comfortable interviewing people to asking questions and writing in a concise and clear way for an outside audience to the experience of managing a team and working with editors and writers and the like. At the time, I think there were probably moments that I wondered whether I was spending too much time on the Globalist, but I was always having a great time and I was always learning and I’ve never regretted it. I made some of my best friends in the Globalist. If anything, I’m just more sure than ever that it was a good use of my college time. I’m a good example of someone who’s ended up having a career and post grad experience that’s very Globalist-y without being a journalist. There are a lot of really cool careers that would be interesting to Globalist alums in different sectors. There doesn’t have to be a linear route from working for a college publication to working for a publication after college–you can be exercising all of the same skills and interests but be in the private sector or be in government. So that something I definitely wish I had been aware of earlier–I stumbled into awareness of the private sector. Another thing I wish I knew is that if you’re interested in a job in international relations, chances are that you won’t be able to line it up before graduating. I remember going into my senior year, and a lot of my classmates were applying to consulting or finance jobs or Teach for America or different opportunities where there was a clear application process and outcome date and you would know on graduation day where you were ending up. For all of the roles I was interested in, and that many of my fellow globalistas were interested in, you had to move to a place and get coffees with people–in my case, I moved to DC and started doing informational meetings, some other friends of mine moved to Brazil and started doing freelance reporting–essentially, you just had to throw yourself into the world. Acknowledging that sooner rather than later senior year will give you peace of mind. You should be talking to people to figure out what you want to do, but it’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing on graduation day. The majority of us did not and then we all ended up in awesome places. None of the jobs I’ve had existed before I had them. They all came into being through one door leading to another, a new need arising at the State Department or at Airbnb. While it can be a little more ambiguous or take a couple more months to figure out, I’ve had so many interesting experiences and I don’t regret the couple months of uncertainty.
Emma Sargent is a rising senior in Trumbull College. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.