New IGL Director explains his goal for the program

New director for the Institute for Global Leadership Abi Williams poses for a portrait on the President's Lawn on Sept. 29. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

It is easy to walk past The Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) on Packard Avenue without realizing what it is. However, this small, quaint building is home to over 20 programs and initiatives that teach students  to use innovative problem solving to tackle complex world issues. 

Now, the new IGL Director Abi Williams, who began his role on July 1, looks at the institute not only for what it has done for Tufts — something he is quite familiar with as a previous student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and participant in the IGL’s Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) program — but also for ways that the institute can be revitalized and made sustainable on campus.

An umbrella organization at Tufts

According to Associate Director of the IGL Heather Barry, the IGL is a well-established institute focused on bridging academic theory with real-world experience.

“The institute is now in its 32nd year, and it started with EPIIC. The idea was to provide opportunities for students to connect theory with practice and to engage them in rigorous academics,” she said.

According Barry, EPIIC is a yearlong course that takes students through a complex international issue. The subject of the first course in 1986 was international terrorism, and over the years it has tackled topics from the politics of fear, to the transformation of the global economy.

This year, EPIIC students are discussing whether the liberal world order is ending.

“It’s taking a look at the institutions created post-World War II to maintain peace, such as the UN, the IMF and the World Bank, which were all founded on liberal values of respect for individual, human rights and autonomy. EPIIC always considers contemporary topics and ones that don’t have easy answers,” Barry said.

Barry explained that as part of the course, students design and plan an international symposium in the spring, and also participate in a separate program, Inquiry, where they Skype with high school students from around the country and guide them through a role-playing simulation that happens later in the spring.

Since the creation of EPIIC in 1986, the IGL has grown tremendously and now offers a variety of unique programs. According to Barry, there are a few student groups on campus that are affiliated with the IGL.

Tufts International Development (TID) and BUILD: India are also parts of the IGL,” she said. “They are a way to take what students are learning and actually apply it. They work with communities to see where they can help and the IGL helps with contacts and provides a home for them. We also help with funding, and other resources.”

Senior Mia Ellis is the current president of the TID team. According to Ellis, TID works with nonprofit organizations in Latin America on student-led development projects.

“We work with two nonprofits — one in Ecuador and one in Honduras — on projects we have developed. We have teams of students called student consultants that work throughout the semester to achieve project goals and either in the winter or summer we will take a trip to the project location and do some ground work,” Ellis said.

Ellis said that a lot of the work that TID does is with the help of the IGL.

“The IGL supports us in on-campus logistics and speaker events. They help us host development practitioners to hear about their work. The IGL also supports us with funding to actually go to these countries each year, which is extremely important for us,” Ellis said.

Two other unique student groups that work closely with the IGL are Engineers Without Borders and Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and Service (ALLIES)According to Ellis, the Tufts chapter of Engineers Without Borders, which aims to bring innovative solutions to developing countries through engineering and building, is the only chapter in the United States that is affiliated with a liberal arts school.

Ellis also explained that ALLIES is a discussion-based group that aims to bridge the gap between civilians and military personnel.

“The more civilian and military parts are going to have to work together, the more important it is to start building those relationships at a different level and get beyond stereotypes,” Ellis said.

According to its website, the first chapter of ALLIES was founded in 2006 at Tufts, and has since appeared in other universities, such as the United States Military Academy at West Point and Wellesley College.

New leadership brings a new lens

In May 2016, founding director of the IGL Sherman Teichman retired, prompting a search for a new director to lead the IGL and its slate of programs. Last semester, it was announced that Abi Williams, who received a Ph.D. in international relations from The Fletcher School in 1987 and participated in the inaugural EPIIC colloquium in 1986, was appointed as the IGL’s new director.

Williams sees the IGL as one of the more distinct institutions on campus and as one that plays an important role in undergraduate education.

“[The] IGL’s distinctive mission is to prepare new generations of ethical and effective global leaders who can help to come up with solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. This mission is more important and urgent today,” Williams said.

While the IGL has amassed a wide variety of programs and initiatives in the past three decades, Williams stressed that it might also be time to focus the IGL’s direction.

“We have over 20 programs and initiatives, and we have to take a fresh look at these programs and ask certain key questions. Are there programs and initiatives we have to continue and strengthen, and are there some that need to be phased out? And are there things that IGL ought to be doing?” Williams said.

According to Williams, in order to bring more innovative programs to the IGL it will take not just a fresh look at the existing IGL programs but also sustainable finances. He explained that maintaining the quality of the IGL’s programs will not be easy, and in order to function as an effective institute, it needs to establish a new funding strategy.

“Another critical challenge has to do with the financial sustainability of the Institute,” he said. “It has no endowment or annual fund, and in order for it to survive, it needs to have financial footing … We [are] generously partly funded by the Provost Office which provides 50 percent and the other 50 percent is raised by the advisory board, through donations, grants and other entities.”

Another thing that Williams wants to do as director is to bridge the gaps between the IGL and different departments at Tufts.

“It is very important going forward that IGL strengthens its links with all the schools at Tufts, such as the School of Arts and Sciences — especially the International Relations Program — the Fletcher School, the School of Engineering, the [Friedman] School of Nutrition [Science and Policy], the Tisch College of Civic Life,” Williams said. “IGL can’t be isolated from the rest of the university. And no matter how good an idea it is, it is always difficult to accomplish it on your own; you always need friends and allies and partners to realize an idea.” 

Still, the most important aspect of the IGL to Williams is the quality of education that the students receive.

“One of the main reasons I decided to come back to Tufts was because I wanted to have the opportunity to mentor and work very closely with the students and help to prepare them for lives of leadership and service,” Williams said. “It will be essential in the coming years to make sure that both the academic rigor of IGL and the experiential component are maintained and strengthened in the coming months and years.”

According the IGL website, Barry has been with the Institute for almost 30 years, beginning when she was a student in the 1988 EPIIC Class on “Secrecy and Democracy.” She has seen the Institute  over the years and is excited to see how Williams will change the IGL going forward.

Abi [Williams] is only our second director. The director has to come up with the different internship opportunities for the students, and he makes connections for students,” Barry said. “He chooses the topic of EPIIC each year and is responsible for the main academic component of [the] students’ experience, which makes me excited to see what he will bring to the institute.”