Jun 14, 2024 Article

A Conversation with Carnegie Ethics Fellow Sophie Flint

In this interview series, Carnegie Council editor Alex Woodson speaks with members of the inaugural Carnegie Ethics Fellows cohort.

ALEX WOODSON: Was there a moment for you that made you interested in ethics in your personal or professional life?

SOPHIE FLINT: I have to admit that it wasn't until the Carnegie Ethics Fellowship (CEF) came on my radar that I really started to question, "Oh, ethics. How does that pertain to what I do personally and professionally?" I've had values-based leadership training and conversations about how to make the right decisions or impactful decisions, but I never went through anything focused intentionally on ethics in my international relations studies or my nonprofit career. I thought typically that ethics was something that my friends studying philosophy or law would talk about, but not so much in the settings that I was in.

So when I learned about the Fellowship, I realized I would be missing out personally and professionally if I didn't take this opportunity to really engage in intentional discussions about ethics. This all really gives more importance to the Carnegie Ethics Fellows program and more appreciation for why I'm a part of it.

ALEX WOODSON: How did you find about Carnegie Ethics Fellows? Why did you think it would be a good fit for you?

SOPHIE FLINT: I found out about CEF from a former professor of mine at Pepperdine University in California, where I did my undergraduate studies—Dr. Dan Caldwell, who is now retired after a long career. I credit him for inspiring me to continue my journey in education and professional development. It really was his care for my academic career and my personal trajectory that made him remain in my life after school, and then send this opportunity to me years after I graduated. I'm thankful to him for introducing me to it.

One thing that I didn’t realize about the Fellowship before it started was the way I would benefit from the network that our cohort has created. This community aspect took me by surprise. Once we met together for the first weekend in New York, we all realized how successful the Carnegie Council team was at putting together our group. We come from diverse fields and backgrounds, and we live in very different places, but we all share a commitment to creating a more ethical world. It has been insightful to see how we all construct those ideas in our various fields.

Also, as someone who works remotely, I've immensely enjoyed our time together as it's allowed me to build relationships across the international affairs network.

ALEX WOODSON: You work as a project manager for Strategic Resource Group, a nonprofit that supports Christian organizations throughout the greater Middle East. What is your role there and how does ethics influence your work?

SOPHIE FLINT: In my role, I work alongside local partners in various countries in the region to help them implement, monitor, and evaluate their development or community projects—from relief work to education to healthcare. One thing I really appreciate about my job is that we do work with nationals of each country that we’re in, so it's really the local partner that forms and carries out the visions they have for their communities. But relationships like these can get tricky when you work in the nonprofit space given different power imbalances between donors, funders, and receivers, so thinking ethically helps me work through these different factors and try to approach things in a fair way.

In some spaces in my work, I can be one of the only Americans that people interact with. I had a particular meeting that I was at this spring with some people who had actively been involved in fighting against the United States. To hear them say, "We never imagined that we'd be sitting at the same table as an American, let alone working together," had a big impact on me and made me realize the large ethical responsibility I have in the way that I approach my work.

ALEX WOODSON: In working closely with Christian organizations in the Middle East, what are some issues that they’re focusing on that people in the U.S. and other Western nations should be paying more attention to? 

The biggest difference for me is just the role of religion in the Middle East and the role religion plays in our conversations. Research continues to show the decline of religion and religious affiliation throughout the Western world and the growing secularism in our culture. The more that changes in our Western culture, the more we tend to forget that religion still plays a big role for people in other parts of the world. We risk forgetting that those we interact with in our global work do prescribe to religious beliefs and belong to a religious community. Likely, those religious beliefs have a big impact on ethics to them, how they make decisions, and how they show up to the table to have these conversations.

I've seen a tendency to stay away from addressing religion in the West, particularly when it becomes too politicized. I see that as a blinder that prevents us from being able to engage and understand where others are coming from when we work with people in other parts of the world where religion is prevalent or even growing. I've had conversations with some Fellows in New York thinking through how religious beliefs, or not having religious beliefs, impacts the values that we hold close, or the topics that we bring to the table when we're together. The work that we need to do to create a more ethical world is influenced by religion, but we don't necessarily address it straightforwardly. So we need to bring up religion when it comes to ethics, and the role and influence it has on our ethics, to be able have holistic conversations.

It likely would be a different world if we all took time to analyze the work that we do and the issues we support through an ethical lens and to question: Who is winning and who is losing? How can I mitigate these losses, do the least harm, and create impactful, equitable change?
Sophie Flint

ALEX WOODSON: You are currently working toward your Master’s degree in anthropology and sociology at the Geneva Graduate Institute in Switzerland. How do you see these topics influencing your work in the future? How do they connect with ethics? 

I've always had a deep interest in people and culture in general, which is what drew me to my current job, and then also drew me to further my education in anthropology. My time here in this program has made me question how I question, if that makes sense. So with this deep interest and this curiosity that I have, it's taught me what to do with that curiosity, how to ask the right questions, and oftentimes when not to talk, and when to just sit and watch and observe; really how to gather data from everyday lived experiences and then begin to form theories about why things are the way that they are. Even as I travel or I look to learn about new areas for work or the project that we're working on for the Fellowship, I find myself looking for anthropological research and more ethnographic writing on these spaces to really see what the people are seeing and feeling, and conceptualizing—not just what the news is saying or politics is saying, but a closer look at what people themselves are experiencing.

In terms of ethics, it's interesting, because we just went through a whole research proposal phase in school, and we had to fill out a ten-page form on ethics in our research projects. There's a big emphasis on making sure your research is ethical in the social sciences—mainly not to do any harm, but beyond that, to actually ensure that you're also adding to the wellbeing of the people that you research. That was eye-opening for me, to have to think through even a hypothetical research project. If I were to go someplace and do research, what are the ethical concerns that will arise? And then how do I mitigate those risks?

But then it made me realize, "Okay, if I have to do this for an academic research project, are there other people doing this in different fields of work?" It's probably idealistic of me to say, but it likely would be a different world if we all stopped and really took time to analyze the work that we do and the issues we support through an ethical lens and to question: Who is winning and who is losing? How can I mitigate these losses, do the least harm, and hopefully create the most impactful, equitable change?

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this article are those of the Fellow and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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