Traversing the Globe
A Batten alum reflects on what led her to a career in the humanitarian sector

Makayla Palazzo received her Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree in 2018. With a background in economics, she was always interested in bridging the gaps between community engagement, accountability and data analysis in humanitarian aid. She now works in Jordan for the Swiss NGO IMPACT Initiatives. This is how she got there.

Makayla Palazzo

For most of my adult life, the distance be- tween where I am and where I will go next has been approximately halfway around the world. I moved from a military base in Japan to study at UVA. I spent my summers bounc- ing from Virginia to my family back in Japan to wherever I found an opportunity to do something interesting—studied Spanish in Argentina, managed a development project in the rural Dominican Republic, interned in Morocco and Austria. At this point, my moth- er just rolls her eyes and says, “Okay, Makay- la,” whenever I announce my next destina- tion. Therefore, it came as little surprise to me (or my mother) when this summer, with less than two weeks’ notice, I moved to Jordan to begin a job in the humanitarian sector.

Batten played a significant role in helping me traverse the distance between where I was and where I have ended up. The relation- ships I built there have ultimately connected me to both my internship in Austria and the job I have now in Jordan. But more impor- tantly, my Batten experience—and the profes- sors I studied and worked with—helped me to better define my interests, and to decide exactly what it was that I wanted to do when I got to this place.

When I first started my MPP, I never con- sidered working in the humanitarian sector. Professor Gelsdorf and Batten’s Global Policy Center changed that by exposing me to this work and giving me the resources to prepare. And while my background in economics had already primed me to work in data analysis, taking courses in research methods with Professor Tello-Trillo and Professor Hudson while assistant teaching for Professor Play- er’s undergraduate research methods class showed me both the power of data and how much knowledge there is to be obtained from numbers and analysis. With a bit of luck, I was able to find an organization that married these two interests.

I now work for a Swiss NGO called IM- PACT Initiatives, which provides informa- tional products and data analysis for human- itarian crises worldwide. My specific project monitors people who return to their homes in Syria after being displaced, with an overall goal of bringing attention to the fact that in many cases, they are not able to access essential services and adequate livelihoods despite choosing to return. It’s the kind of job where your initial plan for the day changes several times and you’re never quite sure what will happen next because of the volatility of the crisis. While this can be stressful at times, I could not imagine a more perfect first job.