By Juliette O’Quinn
Andy Sisson knows the value of global diversity. With a career in USAID management spanning three decades and three continents, he has been on the ground in disaster-stricken and war-torn countries and has worked with people from all over the world. Sisson recently joined DCID as an adjunct faculty member and this spring he taught a mini seminar to a cohort of students from across MIDP, Sanford, and Duke.
He didn’t grow up thinking this would be his career path. After stumbling upon an economic development class in college, Sisson changed his major and started a journey that saw him working in Peru, Guatemala and Madagascar, all before completing his master’s degree. While working as the acting economic and commercial officer for the embassy in Madagascar over one summer, Sisson traveled throughout the country and learned more about the Foreign Service. As he tells it, “I got hooked.” He decided to expand his career goals to include development and the U.S. Foreign Service – and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allowed him to combine the two. “So out of grad school, that’s what I did for most of my career.”
Sisson’s career with USAID led him to Kosovo, where he served as Deputy Director setting up the USAID mission following the end of the war in 1999. “We set up a USAID mission to provide emergency relief because there were so many displaced people and so much destruction, and to build a program to promote peace and stability.” Later, in 2010, Andy was sent to turn around the USAID program in Pakistan following massive flooding and the displacement of almost 20 million people. There was not only a huge emergency relief effort underway, but the USAID mission needed restructuring and unity. “I persuaded the State Department that we needed a strategy, so everybody would sing from the same sheet of music. I put together a fantastic team. It was, as you can imagine, pretty rugged. But we did succeed.”
His experience was enriched by his relationships, too. “One of the joys of being in the service, where I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in different countries, is you get to learn about the culture. I love the adventure and the local staff are fabulous not only for doing such amazing work but also for helping you learn about and enjoy the culture of a country. Those relationships are part of the treasure from my career.”
Sisson’s experience is not limited to economic development efforts and crisis management in the field, however. He learned early on that teaching gave him another valuable window into the world. “I had an opportunity to go on loan from USAID and teach at the Department of Defense’s National Defense University. I was sent there as a student for a master’s degree and learned about national security strategy and the US interagency process. It’s an amazing school. And then 10 years later, I got to go back and be a professor. That was my first introduction to teaching and I loved it.”
Sisson retired from USAID only a couple years ago, and moved to North Carolina after spending a career living mostly abroad. He has no plans to slow down, though. Upon moving here, he reached out to friends to look for opportunities to teach, and was introduced to Cory Krupp and other faculty of DCID. As an adjunct instructor, his mini-seminar focused on managing organizations in high-risk environments, an apt subject for his experience.
RELATED: Watch Sisson’s lecture on leading in high-risk environments for Griffin Leadership, an organization founded by DCID executive education alumnus Chafic Daoud.
“It was fantastic because designing a course is a lot like designing a project for development program… And it was a fabulous opportunity for me to learn from a globally diverse class cohort. I had amazing students, five from DCID and five from other parts of Sanford or Duke. Five of the 10 were foreign students. I ran it as a seminar and every class had small group exercises. These students are experienced, they’re very motivated, and they’re very smart. They’re learning a lot from each other, and I am too.”
Sisson said this opportunity, both to teach and to learn and to give back after a long career on the ground, is what attracted him to the role at DCID. “A lot of people have helped me in my career along the way. And one of the best parts about being a senior manager, besides having interesting responsibilities, is that you get to help people develop in their careers. I can give students advice and help them explore options, and share my experiences in different countries and in different roles. Being at DCID also gives me an opportunity to keep learning and meeting smart, energized people.”