February 17, 2021


Klevisa Kovaçi MIA ’17
Klevisa Kovaçi MIA ’17

Klevisa Kovaçi MIA ’17, humanitarian funding coordinator at Save the Children US, is passionate about making a difference through development and human rights. Kovaçi’s prior experience includes projects with global organizations Save the Children, UN Women Kosovo, and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the UN, all focusing on sustainable development, democratization, youth, and gender.

The following interview, part of a series conducted by Ahmad Jamal Wattoo MPA ’21, has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Why did you choose to attend SIPA?

I applied to various programs in D.C., New York, Connecticut, Paris, and Geneva, but Columbia was my dream school. I was attracted to SIPA for many reasons, and found the dual degree programs to be especially intriguing—it’s one of just a few schools that provides students with the opportunity to earn two degrees, in joint collaboration with universities in other countries! Columbia’s location in New York City, with its proximity to the United Nations and global organizations, also made it an ideal location to jump-start a career after work.

Which courses would you recommend to current SIPA students?

Conceptual Foundations with Professor Hisham Aidi. The course transformed from theory to application in world events today—ranging from the evolution of multilateralism, threats to democracy, the role of the U.S. and other great actors, the influence of nonstate actors, and much more. We heard from world-renowned economists, Nobel Prize winners, and industry leader, and I continue to use the fundamental theories of international relations explored in this course to examine and better understand world events today. 

Human Rights in the Western Balkans with Professor Tanya Domi was exactly what I was looking for with respect to my personal and professional focus on democracy in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. It investigated the challenging and complex case study of southeastern Europe and the countries’ transition to liberal democracies through pertinent issues including transitional justice, free societies, and civil society. This course delved deeply into my specialization of democracy in the Balkans, which had fascinated me for years and originally inspired my interest in international development.

The Capstone workshopwith Professor Eugenia McGill and my project adviser Alessia Lefébure—was a culmination of learning, akin to performing in an intense workplace. The Capstone has been the most practical and directly applied course to my work, both at the Friendship Ambassadors, Save the Children, and other initiatives. It brought to life the theory of international development through practice in consultancy work by applying key components of the project management cycle. Furthermore, this course added great value to my resume when searching for work, and I was able to elaborate on my workshop project with hiring managers. 

Did you take part in any extracurricular activities at SIPA?

I participated in the UN Studies Working Group, attending specialized activities such as the Multilateral Negotiations Workshop that focused on training to negotiate on resolving world issues in a mock setting of different countries and country blocks. I especially enjoyed the UN retreat on peacebuilding. I had the chance to attend and get the most out of speaker lectures, panels, and workshops on issues pertaining to my specializations, as well as broader ones of interest.

What was it like studying as a dual-degree student at Sciences Po and Columbia?

Absolutely fantastic—one of the greatest decisions I’ve made and an opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to study at two prestigious institutions of exceptional rigor, in two megacities with the greatest opportunities, was a dream. Prior to this, I had spent some time in France and struggled deciding whether to study in the U.S. or Europe. The program helped me meet, and exceed, my educational, career, and travel goals in the most ideal ways.

Living in two different countries was a privilege that provided my colleagues and me with great insights into pedagogy, methodologies, and treatment of international affairs from both U.S. and European perspectives. The networks provided by both schools were immense as well—I keep in touch with my colleagues from both universities.

Why did you choose to work at Save the Children US? What does your average work day look like?

Working in the Department of Humanitarian Response, in the Division for International Programs, my daily work involves helping to manage financial awards through reviewing and tracking budgets, conducting analyses, making funding allocations and transfers, and supporting country offices. Each day I am in communication with country or regional offices, and in meetings on large-scale emergencies in the world.

While my background is in development, the shift to humanitarian response allows me to grasp the interplay between the two and how they operate together, especially as humanitarian response becomes more sustainable and focuses more on longer-term resilience.

Save the Children is an ambitious organization that focuses on the most vulnerable population—children who are in the poorest and hardest-to-reach conditions, struggling from disasters. When we respond to crises by providing health, education, protection from violence, and nutrition to children and their families and communities, the impact is direct, tangible, and immediate.

What I see in the news weekly often becomes part of my work, and playing even a small part in responding to the greatest crises is both motivating and rewarding.

Do you have any advice for SIPA students who are currently looking for internships or permanent positions?

First, focus on positions where you can leverage your specializations. In the international development field, for example, employers are looking for particular regional and thematic specialists, like democracy in Eastern Europe or women in sub-Saharan Africa. Use the languages you speak and any work or travel experience to tailor it to each specific position. Two of the most competitive positions I obtained with no connections were all because of this. I was hired for my internship at UN Women in Kosovo and current position at Save the Children because I matched my specific profile to the needs of the position, and it made all the difference.

In terms of connections, try to obtain an internship at an organization where you want to eventually work, and stay in touch with your supervisors and colleagues from that organization. I was hired by the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation because I had been an intern there years ago and kept in touch. My positions teaching for Rassias Languages and at Dartmouth College in China were also through connections from my undergraduate alma mater, Fairfield University.

It’s important to create a path for yourself—how and why you go from one position and organization to the next. If you change the theme or region you work with, you should be able to explain why. Eventually this will form who you are—your package and brand. Then, be able to justify to an employer why and how you took that path— and how it pertains to the job for which you are applying.

The job-hunting process is challenging, especially now during the COVID-19 economy. Be patient and be proud of how far you’ve already come, and keep trying! You may need to apply to many positions before you hear back, and that is okay. Use the experience of applying and doing information interviews to learn. Have faith in yourself and your place in the world, and keep going. The first step is the hardest, but you will get there, and it will pay dividends as you progress in an upwards spiral to new positions and organizations.

Finally, take on some pro bono work and extra engagement. If you are invited to speak at events, do so. If you’re asked to write a blog or post for a magazine, go ahead! If other younger students reach out to you for insights, listen to them, share tips with them, and encourage them forward! Such activities may lead to new connections and opportunities, and you always have much to learn, build upon, add to your brand, and contribute—as service is intrinsic and in the spirit of SIPA.