Limabenla Jamir, Class 17 (2018-2020)
Twenty Blogs for 20 Years
Limabenla currently works as an independent development consultant and is involved in social policy design and evaluation, researching development policy and practices in fragile and conflict-affected states. Previously, she was a consultant for the World Bank in Washington D.C., where she worked on citizen engagement strategies for the Government of Georgia, social inclusion, and an Asian Development Bank report on the future of digital skilling. Limabenla is a TEDx speaker, founding curator of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Kohima Hub, and advises NEIMUN, an initiative for young leaders in Northeast India founded in 2013. She obtained a master’s degree in International Development Policy from Duke University as a Rotary Peace Fellow and a master’s in Applied Social Psychology from Royal Holloway, University of London.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship was life-changing, and the Duke-UNC experience was truly unique. The academic program was rigorous, challenging, multidisciplinary, and had a wealth of networking and mentors packed in two years. Attending the many brown bag sessions and seminars with practitioners, world leaders, and alumni pushed me to develop a deeper understanding of the intricacies of development interventions particularly in conflict settings. Rotary gifted me the opportunity to study — a gift of a lifetime.
(Picture: The graduation picture to the left was taken in the midst of the COVID pandemic on a deserted Duke campus.)
I was ecstatic and overwhelmed when I received the acceptance email for my fellowship. Thank you to the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center for taking a chance. It allowed me to pursue my aspirations and gave hope to the dreams I had nurtured for years. Since high school, I have had more questions than answers. A lot of my thoughts, which centered on conflict, inequality, and human development, stemmed from my experiences growing up in Nagaland and Northeast India.
My hometown sounded ‘mystical’ and a ‘hidden gem’ to some, defined by some of my friends. But they fed the fascination and curiosity from the safe space the Rotary fellowship provided, to share about our backgrounds, our experiences and our thoughts. The two years studying international development policy at Duke University as a Rotary Peace Fellow was a moment of growth and awakening.
Rotary, North Carolina, Duke and More…
What captured me during my two years was my diverse and exceptional Rotary Peace Fellow cohort. Individuals with different backgrounds who were challenging conventional norms and institutions. I was still incubating ideas, but they knew what was important and what mattered to them. When they spoke in classes, they rooted their views in real struggles – the conflicts in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Vietnam, Lebanon and more. They could connect theories to real-life struggles and a commitment to find solutions.
Together with them – with bravery, courage and some idealism – we explored the injustices in the world. We often got lost in debates and spent many evenings huddled over many statistics problem sets (and moments thinking about the meaning of life). Several layers of questions preoccupied us. But in between, we tried to squeeze in a few Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels basketball games and many barbecue and Chick-Fil-A moments. Another wonderful aspect of the fellowship is the Rotary Peace Fellow Buddy program – Peace Fellows introduced themselves to us before we arrived in the United States. I found meaningful friendships and wonderful conversations with my buddies Natalie and Kalkidan from the outgoing and incoming Peace Fellow cohorts.
In the first semester, when I enrolled for a course on poverty reduction strategies by international financial institutions, I never imagined working for the World Bank the following year. Through Rotary’s generous support, I moved to Washington DC and during the Applied Field Experience, I travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia to conduct focus group discussions in select rural areas for a digital inclusion project by the World Bank.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship at Duke-UNC provided me with not only academic training but with important life values. It began with the center that believed in me. I am grateful to my host family Reagan and Ardath, Amy, Scott, Bart, and Cindy for taking extra steps to make sure I was comfortable during my stay. You made me feel at home and helped moving to a new country feel less daunting. You made me truly experience North Carolina with your hospitality and kindness, and I cherish all the wonderful moments.
I was helped by so many professors and mentors who tolerated and guided my basic knowledge of statistics, development theories and writing skills, maybe compensated by my sheer enthusiasm. I can never trade the advice from my professors and mentors – Rosemary Fernholz, Catherine Admay, Phyllis Pomerantz, Indermit Gill, and Susan Carroll – for challenging my ideas, the constant encouragement, and stretching the limits of what I can do and the possibilities of the things I often thought were unattainable.
With COVID affecting every corner of the world, it only made sense to return home – with no plans, no big goals, but the need to be with family. Joining hands with the rest of the world, I founded the COVID relief campaign Help Nagaland Breathe, bringing together 40+ volunteers based in 7 countries. We raised funds through crowdfunding, humanitarian organisations, and philanthropists and distributed medical supplies worth USD 185,000 (INR 1.5 Crores) across 50 primary and community health centres in all the districts of Nagaland.
The fellowship nurtured a sense of confidence and relentless service-above-self as I embarked on this journey as a Peace Fellow. It instilled life values and opened several opportunities to learn continuously and make an impact. In the final semester at Duke University, I was selected to be a mentee at the Research in Colour Foundation, then based at Princeton University, for an 8-month long independent research project, mentored by established economists to amplify meaningful economic and policy research on communities of colour. With the skills and theoretical knowledge gained during the Rotary Peace Fellowship, I contributed to an Asian Development Bank study on the future of digital skilling. Back in Northeast India, for the past year, I’ve worked as an independent development consultant serving as an advisor to grassroot nonprofits, providing consultancy support to organisations – most recently for a network of legislators, policymakers and industry experts from Northeast India.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship allowed me to begin my intellectual quest to find answers through research. It gave me friends and mentors who, despite being some of the busiest individuals I know, are always available to have a chat and continually remind me to be brave, face failures, and never to forget why I started this journey. I always desired mentors and I am grateful for this privilege. Every day, I strive to be that listening ear, a mentor for someone. I really, truly can’t explain how life-changing this experience was for me. The fellowship was fuel for the journey ahead – knowledge, optimism, courage. It is a reminder that there are people around the world collectively striving to address complex and pressing problems to improve our societies – a common denominator that we all share.