“Know the world you live in” is the motto of www.ForeignPolicyDigest.org, an online magazine about world affairs and international issues. It is a message that third-year University of Pennsylvania Law School student Olivier Kamanda, the site’s founder, takes to heart.
Since earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from Princeton University in 2003, Kamanda has traveled to Prague researching E.U. nuclear regulatory law, covered international perspectives on the 2008 presidential election for the Huffington Post and visited 92 U.S. cities as a consultant for BearingPoint’s Homeland Security Sector. Kamanda’s proudest accomplishment to date, however, is the November 2007 launch of Foreign Policy Digest (FPD), which aims to provide U.S. readers with the context necessary to better evaluate U.S. foreign policy.
As the site’s editor in chief, Kamanda has found that many of the skills he acquired in law school are the same skills he attempts to foster in his audience:
“In my experience, the folks who really understood foreign policy and how laws are made had law degrees. I wanted to learn how to think critically and ask the right questions, and I knew that a law degree would help me do that.”
Kamanda believes that FPD fills a critical gap left by other foreign policy websites such as Foreign Policy Passport and PostGlobal, which assume readers are familiar with the background narratives of world affairs. Each issue of FPD offers a crash course in how major news events impact five world regions: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Russia and the Middle East. The lawyers, economists, aid workers and journalists who write content for the magazine simplify complex topics like nuclear proliferation and international trade by describing the issue, providing relevant background information and explaining how it may impact Americans. Kamanda hopes that his site will help counteract the imbalance he perceives in Americans’ awareness of foreign affairs:
“The rest of the world is much more aware of the U.S. than we are of it,” says Kamanda. “We can’t expect young professionals from the U.S. to compete with those from other countries if those in the U.S. don’t understand how the rest of the world works.”
But covering global issues demands a global approach. To that end, the magazine’s content is specifically formatted to feed through cell phones, social networking sites and online media; readers can get FPD status updates on Facebook and Twitter, watch interviews on YouTube and even download podcasts of articles on iTunes.
Says Kamanda, “We’d like to reach the generation that spends five to eight hours a day online and explain how the world works, so that when it comes time to vote, everyone can make informed choices.”
Kamanda might also describe his decision to attend Penn Law as an “informed choice.” The Law School’s journal opportunities, expansive course offerings and interdisciplinary program were selling points for him, and since starting at Penn in 2006, he has made ample use of the University’s resources. In addition to completing international law coursework at the Law School and international finance and markets classes at Penn’s Wharton School, Kamanda is an executive editor of the Journal of International Law. He is also a frequent presence at the Annenberg School for Communication, where he regularly seeks advice from the faculty about growing FPD’s readership.
“The wealth of resources at the Law School and within a five-minute walk of it is something that is unique to Penn. Having Annenberg across the street is invaluable to starting your own magazine,” Kamanda says.
Another major draw for Kamanda was Penn Law’s proximity to New York and Washington, D.C., which allows him easy access to the foreign policy makers and experts in those cities. But as it turns out, he does not necessarily have to travel beyond Penn’s campus to find such scholarship.
For instance, Penn Law Professor William Burke-White, an expert on public international law, contributed an article to FPD about transitional justice in Uganda. For its issue on global warming, FPD interviewed a former chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force, Roger Ballentine, following his remarks at a Journal of Business Law-sponsored symposium. And Kamanda’s fellow Law School classmates Deena Shankar (‘10) and Katie Roney (‘09) have also penned articles for FPD about their respective areas of expertise, Arab women in the Middle East and U.S. policy toward Pakistan.
Following Kamanda’s graduation from the Law School this coming May, he plans to continue working on and promoting the site, which has been noted by the Philadelphia World Affairs Council and The Huffington Post. Kamanda attributes FPD’s preliminary success to his collaboration with the University, and with Penn Law in particular.
“The Law School has been a great support for me,” reflects Kamanda. “The Foreign Policy Digest is the product of a community effort.”