By April Raphiou, DCID Communications Director

A first-year Master of International Development Policy (MIDP) and Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Fellow is already making  a lasting mark at Duke University.

Philile Shongwe

Philile Shongwe, a native of the Kingdom of Eswatini, is leading efforts to launch a Duke student chapter of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), a global organization that builds on the assets and strengths of rural people to implement programs that empower rural communities. The virtual launch, scheduled for Wednesday, March 17 at 5 p.m., will feature a talk by Peter Williams, IIRR’s president and CEO.

“I am really excited about this opportunity to help elevate the topic of rural development and rural reconstruction here at Duke,” said Shongwe. “We are starting a Duke student chapter that will be focused on educating our peers about this by bringing in experts and practitioners that are working in rural reconstruction.” 

Shongwe first learned about the organization when an IIRR representative contacted her and recommended that she serve as an ambassador. Shongwe recalled the conversation:

“She said eighty percent of the poorest people in the world are in rural communities and that our thinking about development needs to consider this vast majority of people. That was compelling to me, and I found people at Sanford that thought the same.”

Currently, there are ten members in the inaugural chapter including Shongwe, but she hopes that the launch will increase interest in the organization.

“IIR is an organization that has roots in the 1960-70s mass China literacy movement and has grown in Southeast Asia and Africa. It is looking to grow more as well in Latin America so that all of these solutions that are being co-developed in communities can be visible and be replicable,” added Shongwe.

Eddy Malesky, director of the Duke Center for International Development that houses the MIDP program, said, “Philile is one of our outstanding fellows, and we applaud her for bringing attention to critical issues that affect social and economic development in rural communities.”

A graduate of Yale University, Shongwe is a recipient of the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Fellowship that provides a full scholarship to select fellows in the MIDP program as well as fellows in programs at UNC.

Graduate students interested in joining the new IIRR chapter are encouraged to attend the launch on Wednesday. For more information, visit

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