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Why We Still Need the Nation State

Overshadowed by international organizations, global commerce, and even individual cities, the nation state still has a vital role to play.

Illustration by alextrims/Shutterstock

With the Scottish Independence referendum still reverberating, the nation state is back on the front burner of global politics. While in the end Scottish voters opted to stay inside the United Kingdom, the issues raised by “yes” voters aren’t going anywhere, either.

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The Year I Stopped Looking For a Script and Learned How to Improvise

Learning to improvise can be tough when the road to success seems like one big script.


I have always wanted to play jazz. I found the rhythms difficult to master, and the unscripted improvisations made me uncomfortable. As a flute player, I kept firmly to classically scripted scores through my collegiate years. The most improvised thing that I did was switch to playing the sousaphone in college marching band. While it was challenging and different, I still played off of a scripted and memorized sheet of music. During one brief, brilliant moment living in Morocco, I played with a big band jazz pickup group—a virtual United Nations of musicians from all over the world. But even then, I must be honest, I hid my meek flute sound, afraid of being heard making mistakes.

I recently conducted a retrospective on my career to give a presentation for colleagues new to public service. When I looked back from college, through graduate school, to a career in public service and international relations, I have constantly looked for that compelling scripted score to follow.

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Educating the Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders

Atlas Corps shows that it's not just "the West" that can help "the developing world," but that doctors from Sudan can improve U.S. women's health too.


On a recent Friday morning in Washington D.C., representatives from Armenia, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Mexico, South Korea, and Zimbabwe gathered around a conference table. The start of another World Bank meeting? Better: It's a bimonthly "Training Day"—a gathering of professionals from around the world who've joined Atlas Corps and committed to a year of professional service in the United States or Latin America. On that particular Friday, the topic was how to effectively utilize social media to create a public advocacy campaign. (You can imagine the three participants from Egypt had a few thoughts on the topic!)

These Fellows, as they're officially known, have put their lives on hold in their home countries to gain a year of professional experience at organizations like Acumen, Ashoka, Grameen Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and even the U.S. Peace Corps. They're part of a network of 140 professionals from 40 countries. For the Fellows, it means exposure on a global stage. To the organizations, it means first-hand international knowledge. In addition, the long-term—12 to 18 months—term of service allows for deep learning and significant impact.

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Embassies make problems go away. In both practical matters (a patient clerk helping a tourist with a lost passport) and popular imagination (a silver-tongued ambassador smoothing international relations), embassies seem like the designated fixer in foreign-affair snafus, which is why I thought that maybe, by contacting the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, I'd get some help getting Samy out of Burma. Of course, thanks to the turmoil in Thailand, getting in touch with the right people at the embassy would be easier said than done.

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