Ciara Nolan, recipient of the Social Change Initiative Fellowship in Belfast, Northern Ireland, talks to us about her experience this summer
Can you describe your fellowship for us? What tasks do you work on day to day?
Through my fellowship, I have been researching the harmful effects of new legislation on the sections of the Ireland-Northern Ireland Protocol that protect human rights. The end product will be a document that explains these effects for stakeholders, including NGOs, think tanks, and politicians. Day to day, I conducted legal research, reviewed and tracked legislation, wrote short memos, and compiled these memos and other parts of my research into longer drafts to create the final product. I also attended meetings with NGOs, activists, academics, etc. on the topic I was researching and on other related topics.
What has been the most important lesson that you have taken away from your experience?
The most interesting thing I learnt through this fellowship is how NGOs and other stakeholders can influence policy. The amount of strategy and teamwork that goes into supporting various policy goals is more extensive than I ever thought. It's really inspiring to see different organizations work together to improve human rights. More personally, I learnt how to collaborate with colleagues in a different environment, and part of that was learning to let go and let people change my drafts and edit them so they better suit our needs.
Do you feel this fellowship will help you pave your future career path? In what ways?
This fellowship will almost certainly shape my career path, because my experience here has helped me get comfortable with legal research and tracking policy changes. I have a better understanding of how law and policy interact, and I'm more prepared to incorporate both into future opportunities. My work through the fellowship also introduced me to another system of government which potentially gives me more options in the future; I could work in the UK on these issues, or work in the US with a concentration on US-UK relations. I now also have some experience with EU policy, which opens up even more career opportunities. Overall, this fellowship has given me space to explore areas of law and policy I'm interested in for a career and shown me what some potential career paths could be.
Have you had much time to do any activities outside of your work? What have you enjoyed doing in your spare time?
Outside of my work on the fellowship, I've been doing all the touristy things in Belfast on the weekends. I've enjoyed going to the museums, including the Titanic, the Crumlin Road Gaol, and the Ulster Museum, and learning about the history of the city. On my first weekend, I was able to go up to the Giant's Causeway, which was a really cool experience. SCI's office is close to St. George's Market, which is a covered market built in the 1890s, so I'll sometimes go there for lunch and to just look at all the little booths. It's been amazing to experience the culture and history of Northern Ireland.