When Elmira Bayrasli and Lauren Bohn created Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI) in 2014, they set out to interrupt the same-old, same-old nature of the pundit class by showcasing the work of female academics, journalists and foreign-policy professionals, and to get more of those women in front of the cameras. When the voices of female experts are left out of the conversation, as is so painfully often the case, it does “a complete disservice to the world and the conversations we have about it,” Bohn told FishbowlDC.
Bohn and Bayrasli started with a newsletter that features a weekly collection of links to articles, books and media appearances by women, or interruptors, as they are known, and a Q&A feature with interruptors of note. It is both a showcase and a reminder that women are doing good, important work in foreign relations, if you bother to seek out their contributions.
To add to that visibility component, FPI installed its inaugural class of fellows this month, a program Bayrasli and Bohn had been planning for since they founded FPI.
Out of an application pool of almost 200 candidates, four fellows were chosen: Mira Rapp Hooper, a CSIS Asia Program fellow and director of the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative; Manal Omar, asssociate vp for Middle East North Africa programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace; H. Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan writer and human rights advocate; and Jen Weedon, a cybersecurity expert and threat intelligence manager at FireEye.
Of the process, Bohn notes that it “really drove home why we exist: there are so many brilliant, accomplished women working in foreign policy/international relations, whose voices aren’t in the conversation as much or as loudly as they should be.”
The plan for getting those voices into the conversation begins with a training program for fellows, set to start in early summer, designed to “build their media muscle,” according to Bohn. “Pitching media isn’t something you’re born knowing how to do. Neither is going on camera or behind a radio mic, or sustaining a meaningful digital presence in a constantly transforming, interactive information age. Those skills require training and confidence-building.” As seasoned veterans of the process fellows are training for, Bohn and Bayrasli have used their own experience to design the training.
Once training is complete, fellows move on to a one- to three-month “externship,” during which they will each partner with a media organization and work with an editor there to prepare for on-camera appearances or op-ed writing. But, warns Bohn, “This externship isn’t just about dumping a fellow at the New York Times or Foreign Policy magazine to produce a byline or two. It’s about linking her to a mentor who appreciates her voice, who believes in her expertise and the need to amplify it.”
In creating these deep relationships between fellows and media organizations, FPI hopes to expand the pool of go-to experts that editors and producers call on when news breaks—from the same crowd of familiar white, male faces to everyone else, starting with FPI’s interruptors.