Interview with Alexandra Toma, Executive Director of the Peace and Security Funders Group
This morning, we had the opportunity to interview Alexandra Toma from the comfort of our hostel, which I very much enjoyed. Toma is a philanthropist, the executive director at the Peace and Security Funders Group based in Washington, DC. She is also a refugee who uses her platform to give voice to and help other refugees.
Two important values in my life are self expression and equality. I believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to share their story—who they are and what they stand for—without fear of not fitting in, being judged, or being harmed in some way. I found Toma’s words reassuring when she spoke about her values and how she strives to implement them in her work and life. She mentioned that if one has the power and privilege to use their voice, one should use it in a way that challenges assumptions and that makes people think differently. It was evident that Toma believes in standing one’s ground when faced with adversity, having the courage to speak up for one’s values, and treating everyone equally without judgment or assumptions. These are messages that more people, regardless of age, need to hear.
She stated that the key to mobilizing others to create positive change in their communities is to share their stories. When we are able to connect with each other on a personal, human level, by listening to each other’s stories, different perspectives are acknowledged, and positive change becomes possible.
I am grateful for the time we spent with Toma, as well as for her willingness to stand up for what she believes in to better the world for others who do not have the same opportunities. I find her mission of selfless service truly admirable and inspiring.
Until today, we have been rushing to make it to our interviews and activities on time. This morning, however, we had the luxury of conducting the first interview of the day in the space we use as a work room in our hostel. As a result, I felt less nervous for this interview than I did for the others, as we were in familiar territory. We met with Alexandra Toma, executive director of the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG), which is “a network of foundations and individual philanthropists investing in peace and global security,” according to the website.
I had heard of NGOs before. In Model UN we use them as an easy source of funding, but prior to doing research for this interview and speaking with Toma, I knew nothing more than about them. I was thus interested to learn more about such organizations, which operate behind the scenes and don’t necessarily receive all the press or credit they deserve. Toma described how PSFG responded to the humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic, “go[ing] in kind of like the tip of a spear,” and thus “able to use a little bit of our money and leverage and a lot of money from the United States government.” Her description reminded me of how some people talk about trading stock: you might start with a little, but a little can eventually go a long way.
One theme that arose multiple times throughout the interview was that of public speaking skills. Although she said that such skills are not necessary for everyone, they have been helpful in her career. In particular, she said, her high school speech and debate courses taught her how to “stop and think about how to answer [questions] in a way that’s valuable to my audience.”
Another thing that struck me was simply how much she has accomplished. When asked what advice or reflections she has, based on her college experience, she replied that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” so “just try everything once in your life.” She has worked as a paralegal, an embassy intern in Stockholm, a shadow to a surgeon, and several other occupations—all because she pursued opportunities and possibilities. It was inspiring to see someone who is unafraid to try new things and able to follow through on her interests. It is both terrifying and liberating to realize that my plans for the future are not entirely concrete, and it’s possible—even probable—that my plans will change.