Open to Opportunities, Looking for Challenges

March 21, 2016

Agnes Doka (MAPP '11) has had an interesting life – one that has taken her to Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Italy, Libya, Pakistan, Uganda, and many other places in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. There has been a good deal of continuity too. "Wherever I go and whatever I do, it involves communications in some way. That's what I've always been doing," she says.

Doka says that the turning point in her life was a three-week summer course that she took at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna di Pisa in Italy in 2003. "Until that time, I was working in public relations and training. I'd had good jobs, but I knew I wanted to do more. I was particularly interested in working in development, in a multicultural environment. So, I found this course that would train me on human rights monitoring, humanitarian assistance, and election observation." Doka took the course – and then waited for months. "That was hard," she says. "I expected my phone to ring immediately." The phone did ring eventually, and when it did the call was from the United Nations. "It was 2004 and they were looking for people to train election officials for the first election after the civil war in Afghanistan," Doka remembers.

Doka says that her experience in Afghanistan was extraordinary. It was also exhausting, and difficult, primarily because it required her to be apart from her 11-year-old daughter for six months. "I felt awful about that," she says. So at the end of six months, Doka accepted a PR job and settled down, but not for long. A year later, she applied to be a short-term election observer in Liberia. "It was for just two weeks," she remembers. However, with the second round of elections, two weeks turned into four weeks. She says that her time in a post-conflict setting was a humbling experience. It was also during this time that she found her calling. She went on to be an election observer in the West Bank and Gaza (2006), Uganda (2006), Zambia (2006, 2011), Sierra Leone (2007), Kenya (2007, 2013), Nigeria (2007, 2015), Pakistan (2008), Cambodia (2008), Malawi (2009), Kosovo (2013), and Ukraine (2014, 2015). She also worked as the press officer for EU Election Observation Missions in Afghanistan (2009) and Ethiopia (2010). Her most recent mission was in Myanmar's first democratic elections in fall 2015.

Throughout this period, Doka also provided training for a wide variety of clients including the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hungarian Ministry of Defense, the Atalanta Language School in Budapest, and CEU. For these and other clients, she conducted workshops on election observation, handling communication in a crisis situation, negotiation and conflict resolution techniques, leadership development, teambuilding, and fundraising. She delivered her most recent fundraising workshop for HRSI earlier this month.

"In 2010, despite more than 12 years of valuable real-world experience, Doka decided she needed a master's degree. "I wanted an academic framework for my experiences," she says. "I had seen so much, experienced so much, but I wanted context, a different way of looking at what I had done." So she enrolled in the MA in Public Policy program graduating in 2011 with a specialization in Media, Information and Communications Policy. Doka says that her time at CEU enabled her to reflect on what she had done from a structured, academic perspective. She found courses on freedom of information, democratic institutions, and media regulation especially valuable in enhancing her knowledge of the field. "A public policy degree was perfect for me," she says.

One new challenge that Doka may take on is to create a hospital ship that would provide care and treatment for the victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the often resulting fistula. "FGM is widespread in many parts of Africa. I saw it in Sierra Leone and felt that fighting it must be put on the mainstream media's agenda. The world needs to address this issue in a serious, concerted way," she says.

Looking back at what she has done and ahead to the different paths she is considering for her future, Doka says she never imagined that her life would turn out as it has. "I have always been open to opportunities, looked for challenges, and been willing to make subsequent changes," she says.