In her current professional role at Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, New York City-based SGPIA Alum Dragica Mikavica is advocating to influence the United Nations Security Council’s Children and Armed Conflict Agenda to ensure greater protection of children’s security and rights in war-affected areas worldwide. What follows is an interview about her life and work.

Dragica Mikavica IA Article Portrait
SGPIA Alum, Dragica Mikavica, lobbies the United Nations Member States to influence global policy-making on children’s rights in conflict (credit: Luis Ernesto Santana photography)


Can you talk about your background, where are you from, and where you grew up?

I was born in a small city called Glamoc in Western Bosnia and Herzegovina, two hours inland from the Croatian coast of the Adriatic Sea. Bosnia was a part of former Yugoslavia, my country of birth. I had a carefree childhood until a civil war broke out in the early 1990s and Yugoslavia split into six different countries. One day, when my best friend, who was Muslim, did not show up to school, I realized something was wrong. Child’s play turned to daily sirens signaling attacks, and after four years of conflict, my family and I were forced to flee Glamoc in June 1995. I lost my home, my best childhood friend, and my country. My family, ethnically Serb, lived as refugees in Serbia for four years and in 1999 we were granted asylum in the United States. I finished high school and college in Ithaca, New York, a town that resembled Glamoc in its snowy and hilly landscape and became a new home for my family and I.

How did you decide to attend SGPIA?

When I was a child my community and country was disintegrating and I lived in a state of constant fear and confusion. Growing up I had many questions about what happened in former Yugoslavia and to my people. Through my Bachelor’s in Government and International Relations at Cornell University, I made it my academic pursuit to understand how governments work and how war and peace are waged. My first job when I moved to New York after graduating was at a non-profit working on social and emotional learning program delivery in New York City public schools. Two and a half years in, however, I knew I missed international affairs. I happened to attend a graduate career fair at The New School not knowing anything about the program at the time. The New School caught my attention. The SGPIA career session where I heard our now Chair, Dr. Stephen Collier, speak was enough to convince me: my place was here, in the middle of the city I loved, close to the United Nations. Stephen still does not believe that I read his article in an Anthropology class at Cornell, but perhaps it was this that motivated an Ivy Leaguer to joining this brand new, cutting edge program at, ironically, the ‘university of exiles.’

How did you become interested in Conflict & Security studies/work?

I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Erin McCandless at SGPIA because I was interested in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. I signed up for her “Post-Conflict Policies” class my first semester in the fall of 2009 and our academic relationship lasted throughout my time at SGPIA. Unsurprisingly, my first project was on Bosnia. Coupled with my peacebuilding track, I took classes in transitional justice and human rights. I grappled with questions about how societies that suffered mass trauma recover and attempted to address root causes of conflict. This was the subject of my Master’s thesis, based on primary research from the conflict in Nepal, which I conducted through SGPIA’s International Field Program. I also worked on policy research projects at the United Nations regarding political governance and conflict prevention with Erin and fell in love with policy work.

"2017 Annual Report: Putting ChildrenÕs Rights Up FrontÓ
Dragica Mikavica briefing the UN Press Corps on March 1, 2017, on a new policy note she authored for Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (credit: United Nations Photo)

What has been your career path after graduating?

After graduating I consulted at the United Nations Development Program’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, working as a junior researcher alongside Erin and other senior consultants. Erin was undoubtedly my direct link to the UN consulting world. I also taught peace education in the New York City public schools, involving creative movement or dance as a tool to teach conflict resolution and empathy to students. Meanwhile, I waited for a position that corresponded to my experience level and interests. After graduation a peer asked me, “what are you waiting for, why not settle for something?” and right then, I landed a position with Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict in New York – a policy advocacy organization protecting children caught in the situations of armed conflict worldwide.

What are you currently working on professionally?

Currently, I advocate for children’s rights, linking knowledge from Watchlist’s network organizations delivering child protection programs in conflict-affected countries with policymakers at the global level. I translate field knowledge into UN ‘policy-speak’ by making targeted recommendations to influence documents and processes, and have managed to lead advocacy initiatives improving policy, norms and practice on child protection at the global level. My work involves relationship-building with governments, coordinating and collating information on key child protection concerns to disseminate at the UN, and raising awareness on children affected by armed conflict in all relevant fora.

I am most proud of my ability to positively influence relevant, complex negotiations and have drafted language that the UN Security Council Members took up in their adopted resolutions and other texts. Sometimes, a single word in a text that we fight for may mean the international community’s improved access to monitor the situation of children in a given country, which prompts action towards ensuring their immediate protection.

What are you hoping will be the impact of your work?

Holding governments accountable on their commitments under international law is challenging but important work. My hope is that as a result of our work on advocacy, grave violations of children’s rights will be addressed and prevented, and I imagine a world where no child is forced to live through the nightmare I lived in Bosnia. I work towards a vision of the world where every child can claim their right to childhood. Children are so resilient and malleable, they can overcome any trauma; we must protect them and ensure they live up to their potential.

Dragica Mikavica pictured in front of the Ministry of Education on a field mission to Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) following up on Watchlist’s report on attacks on and military use of schools in CAR 

What would you tell the graduating students about to start looking for jobs?

First, stop, take a rest, and reflect, even just for a few weeks. What motivates and drives you? It helps to have a clear mind and vision for your job search, so take time to know and understand what you are looking for. Be thoughtful about your search and do not let anyone tell you to settle. You should be proactive about working towards the goals you set for yourself. Don’t leave any stone unturned; use everyone as your guide along the way. I know everyone’s circumstances will be different, and I had to struggle for sixteen months initially, but you will find a way. Just be authentic in your voice and purpose.

Do you have any advice for prospective students considering the SGPIA program?

This is a place where you really delve into social theory and learn critical thinking skills. The New School truly makes you into someone who looks at every possible angle of every social issue. It is innovative, progressive, and unafraid to examine the world and find unique solutions. It is a place where you can create your own rich experience if you are curious, present and diligent. Being in New York, it is also well-situated for putting your classroom knowledge to practice, as I did at the UN. Moreover, I was impressed with the quality of my instructors and material covered in my two years at SGPIA. I am proud to have been a part of its growth in its first decade and continue to remain connected.


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