Gabi Kruks-Wisner wants to help give a voice to those who often have no voice — the homeless, victims of the tsunami in south India, or coffee farmers in Nicaragua who are adversely affected by specific trade policies — groups she has worked with recently.

“I feel my role is to see through the eyes of people facing severe problems in their lives. I want to help these people articulate their demands, their needs, and their own solutions,” says Kruks-Wisner, who plans to help communicate their problems to policymakers, local governments, and nonprofit organizations to bring about change.

The daughter of academics, she was born in London and raised in Mozambique and in several U.S. cities. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1999 with a degree in sociology and anthropology, she earned a master’s from MIT in 2006 in urban studies and planning. Later, she earned a certificate in humanitarian studies from the Inter-University Initiative on Humanitarian Studies and Field Practice, a yearlong program run by Tufts, Harvard, and MIT. She is now pursuing an MIT Ph.D. in political economy and comparative politics.

“I feel my role is to see through the eyes of people facing severe problems in their lives. I want to help these people articulate their demands, their needs, and their own solutions.”

“I hope my skills and education equip me to study problems not just academically, but from a perspective of making a real difference in people’s lives,” she says.

Kruks-Wisner, who speaks Spanish and Portuguese and is proficient in French, now works part-time at the Boston office of Oxfam America, where she supports a range of research projects related to the response of the 2004 tsunami in south India as well as disaster risk reduction. Much of this work overlaps with her personal research.

She has also worked with a team sponsored by WaterAid, an international charity in Mozambique, to study water and sanitation access in a low-income Maputo neighborhood. In addition, she has worked at the Washington Office on Latin America, where she was part of a team that developed a program to highlight issues of economic and social rights in the Americas.

Of the Presidential Fellowship, she says: “I count myself enormously lucky to study full time and get an amazing education, while not taking any loans. I will be able to enjoy a productive career and not be saddled with big levels of debt that a lot of my peers are facing.

“It is an amazing luxury and privilege to actually be paid to go to graduate school. I feel very fortunate and thankful for that opportunity.”

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