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African Diaspora, Policy Fuels Non-Profit Dreams of Korbel School Grad

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Emma Atkinson

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Du graduate student Natalie Impraim.

By her own account, Natalie Impraim loves her comfort zone.

“I am somebody who's very much, like, comfortable in my spaces,” she says. “And so doing things that are out of my comfort zone are often a little bit of a challenge for me.”

But that didn’t stop Impraim, a master’s student in the International Human Rights Programs at DU’s Korbel School of International Studies, from traveling across the world to do an Africa Research Practicum in Nairobi, Kenya, where different cultural norms upended the American rituals and customs she’s used to.

“Coming from the West, and coming from America, we have very specific standards of how we view how things should be, right? In terms of you know, ‘Everything has to be at this time, and meetings have to be this, and people have to do this, and everything needs to be organized,’” she reflects. “And realistically, in so many other contexts across the globe, things don't run like that.”

Impraim wasn’t left to flounder alone in Nairobi. She credits professors Singumbe Muyeba and Abigail Kabandula with making the practicum the most comfortable experience possible, allowing Impraim to focus on her work.

“I was doing research on gender equity and women's empowerment for women in leadership roles,” she says. “And getting to do that—seeing the gaps that exist, being able to do case studies and just having this really tangible, practical experience was really, I feel, a big part of my experience here at DU and something that I really, really enjoyed.”

Impraim’s time in Africa wasn’t a totally foreign experience, though. She’s a first-generation Ghanaian American, and most of her extended family remains in the West African country. Impraim’s husband is from the continent, too, with most of his family living in the Central African Republic.

At DU, Impraim is president of the Students for Africa organization, a Korbel-based group that works to further awareness of African societies and issues.

She’s responsible for planning the group’s Sustainable Development in Africa Conference this year and says the experience has made her appreciate the opportunities that she feels Korbel has provided—and the wide range of possibilities the school has afforded the student organizations she works with.

“For people like me, it's really encouraging, because I always go into everything with the mindset that I could be told no—but even though I still think that way, at Korbel and at DU, I felt like more times than not, it's been like, ‘Well, let's see what we can do. Let's see how we can make this work or figure this out.’ I've always felt very supported in that.”

A big portion of that support came from Professor Kabandula, whose work and research provides policy recommendations to the African Union.

“She kind of opened my eyes to the fact that there's a whole world of things that you can do with degrees like this, just from her own experience,” Impraim says.

While Africa is Impraim’s ancestral home and part of her recent past, it’s also looming large in her future. Impraim and her husband are planning on starting a non-profit organization aimed at educating young children in his home country.

Originally, their plan was to distribute medical supplies to Central African women and young children, but the two decided to restructure and zero in on keeping kids focused on education.

“We're wanting to build a boarding school that will help kids get off the streets and help them have access to resources and feel empowered through sports and the arts,” Impraim says. “We’re hoping to still include that maternal child health bit by having the students that live in that boarding school do volunteer work in hospitals, as a part of their course curriculums. But right now, it's geared toward youth and helping houseless kids have shelter and access to education that they wouldn't have otherwise.”

She says her time at Korbel has been instructive in helping get the nonprofit off the ground.

“We're [both] in school, and we're getting close to all these really amazing people; we've had a chance to pick people's brains and get insight and kind of restructure,” she says.

Impraim credits one professor in particular, Jules Serafini Kelty, who teaches a course on financial management for nonprofits, with helping to propel her organization forward.

“I can go back to Canvas and download her PowerPoint slides and use that in real life,” she says of Kelty. “It’s amazing to be able to sort of make these implementations in our nonprofit when we're at that stage—even though we're not there yet. And even the development classes that I've taken, and the human rights classes as well, just all of that, in every way, has definitely been impactful.”

Besides cultivating her nonprofit, Impraim says she hasn’t nailed down what exactly she’d like to do after graduating from Korbel—but she does have more than a few ideas.

For one, her family’s immigration story has helped shape Impraim’s professional life—she’s been working in refugee resettlement for the last five years, which she says helped push her to pursue a human rights degree over an international development program.

“I've been working firsthand with a lot of people who are experiencing the outcomes of human rights abuses, and that's something that I really wanted to get to the root of—understanding how these systems and programs work, in order to better them to protect people, so that you don't have so many refugees,” she says. “And so people don't have to leave their homes.”

Impraim would like to work for an international nongovernmental organization (INGO), continuing to help refugees. Or, she says, she’d do work in the African policy space, writing policy recommendations and doing work across the continent, just as her mentor Professor Kabandula does.

“But in an ideal world, having my nonprofit to work for and getting my nonprofit off the ground—to actually start doing impactful work, that would be my biggest thing,” she says.

Impraim will graduate from the Korbel school this spring.