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The Places She’s Been--MSU Alumna’s Career Has Spanned the Globe

LTC D. Paquin, US Army
During President Obama's first visit to Afghanistan in 2010, he thanks USAID and Army representatives, shaking Patricia Orlowitz's hand at Bagram Air Field

MSU alumna Patricia Orlowitz’s professional journey since her Spartan days has been one that many just dream of. An international development advisor, she is concluding a two-year project in Bangladesh, and that after three-plus years in Afghanistan. She's also been a magazine editor and the owner of a large, successful agricultural advertising agency.  In addition, Patricia is a distinguished alumni award recipient from MSU's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Orlowitz reflects on her more traditional communications career before 1997 and her international development career since. On the global front, she has worked on numerous U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projects, in a variety of roles, at far flung locations all over the world. 

Credit WFP/Mehedi Rahman for USAID
In one of the slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, the World Food Programme, provides food to families under quarantine due to suspected COVID-19 cases or out of work, thanks to a USAID-supported program that Patricia Orlowitz helped design.

The success of a six-year Private Farmers Assistance Program in Moldova was featured in People Magazine in 2000.  The project focused on land reform measures that broke up collective farms and issued private land titles to over 1 million Moldovans.  For her leadership on the project, Orlowitz was presented with the Republic of Moldova Civic Medal in 2001 by the president of Moldova.   

More recently, in Bangladesh, Orlowitz worked with the World Food Programme, recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, to design the first ever food assistance program in Dhaka’s urban slums. The pilot program helps 50,000 urban poor in two, low-income areas of Dhaka at high risk of COVID-19.  Beneficiaries receive cash-based transfers for fresh vegetables, staples, and eggs from local vendors, or, if they are quarantined with COVID symptoms, a food package delivered to their door.  

Orlowitz also discusses other particularly rewarding, albeit often challenging projects.  In Cambodia, for example, Orlowitz and her team developed a ground-breaking program that helped to significantly reduce maternal and infant mortality during pregnancy and childbirth.  

And then there were the challenges associated with her work with the USAID Afghanistan Division. “I will say every project is tough and rewarding at the same time,” says Orlowitz. “But, for a number of reasons, I did find Afghanistan especially difficult.”  One of those reasons had to do with her working closely with the military and the associated security issues.   

Credit David Marsden, USAID
Afghanistan may have posed security challenges for aid workers, but Patricia Orlowitz found opportunities to aid in the country's economic growth. Working with US Army forces in eastern Afghanistan in 2010 she criss-crossed the eastern provinces during numerous field trips with military colleagues.

In discussing what she has learned about U.S. foreign policy and the importance of international development programs, Orlowitz uses a metaphor. 

“When we look at foreign assistance and foreign policy, in general, we say there are three branches of government, three arms that carry out our U.S. national security policy. Thus, there are three legs to our national security stool.  First, there is diplomacy. That's the State Department. Then there is national defense--our armed services. And, thirdly, there is development, and that's USAID and people like me and people like the MSU students and professors who are working in international development. At any given time, each of these three branches is doing what you need in foreign policy and national security to try to ensure a more stable world.

“Development is indeed a difficult concept to fully grasp. When I first started working in the international arena, I didn't fully understand what it was.” 

Orlowitz likes to use examples to better elucidate development.  

“A country wants to have better infrastructure so people can get their agricultural products from the farm to the market. You need to have roads. Well, how do you develop those roads? And how do you finance those roads? If you're a developing country, you need to find a way to collect taxes or generate some kind of income, but you don't even know how to do that. We can help.  

“And then look at things that we have learned in education, early grade reading being the foundation of education. And how do you better teach early grade reading to first and second graders? If we can share those skills with a developing country, that's the kind of program that helps them improve education for all their citizens. 

Patricia Orlowitz (far right) credits MSU and her mentors for preparing her for her work; she returned to campus in 2014 to thank mentors Dr. Jake Ferris, Dr. Maxine Ferris, and Dr. Kirk Heinze

Orlowitz is extremely grateful for the years she spent in East Lansing.  

“MSU totally prepared me not for just my international experience, but for all of the jobs that I've had. A good internship opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of agriculture to many different things. MSU gave me the basic skills. MSU exposed me to students and professors from around the world.  But I also think MSU gave me something even more basic. And that's an appreciation of opportunities—to be able to listen and learn and keep learning over a lifetime.” 

Orlowitz concludes by sharing some advice for young communications professionals.

“You have to, in your career, look for career tracks that may not specifically say communications. I look at my counterparts in the Army who are in civil and public affairs.  And they're doing communications, but they may not always call it that. In Afghanistan, I worked with great Army colleagues who were running preparedness programs and development programs, but working hand in hand with me on the USAID development side. 

“I think communications experts no longer need to look just at careers in magazine and news journalism, or on television and radio as we used to, but to look for other related, but less apparent positions, whether at a company, a non-profit or a branch of government. Communications is a basic skill, and everybody is always going to need effective communicators.  If you are open to those other opportunities and are even willing to help persuade those companies or agencies that what they're missing is a good communicator, I think you'll find fascinating career prospects out there.”

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