Karelle Samuda_ Champion for the Vulnerable_ May 2017


Karelle Samuda was born for leadership. Motivated by her parents’ steadfast emphasis on quality education, Karelle has embarked on several international degrees that have brought her innate leadership skills to the forefront. Each educational journey she has taken has provided her with immeasurable experience in international policies, governance, and public sector management. She has always had a soft spot for Jamaica’s most vulnerable, especially youth and the society’s poorest. This genuine concern is one of the motivations for the path she has chosen. It has also resulted in her co-authorship of a book entitled From Mines and Wells to Well-Build Minds: Turning Sub-Saharan Africa’s Resource Wealth into Human Capital. She began a 2 year fellowship with the Prime Minister’s Support Unit in March and recently shared some inspirational thoughts from her life’s journey with me.

Her Background

Karelle is the eldest of 4 girls. Being the eldest always brings a certain measure of responsibility. Her siblings look up to her and she was indirectly charged with the responsibility of setting the right example for them. Her parents were primary school principals and, therefore, highly valued education. Achieving academically was never called to question. Her dad’s death in 2008 further motivated her to achieve the success he had always envisioned for her.

Shying away from leadership was never an option for Karelle. She held several leadership positions while attending Bishop Gibson High. Her invaluable contribution to the institution resulted in a scholarship offer from the United World College of the Atlantic. Karelle had a clear path already planned for her life: attend 6th form and study law at the Norman Manley Law School. This scholarship forced her to make a decision that would catapult her towards a path of tremendous opportunities.

Studying at Atlantic College provided her with exposure to her role as a global citizen. She was immersed in an international curriculum, community service, student leadership and government, and interacted with students from over 70 countries. The Israeli-Palestine conflict was at its peak during her tenure. Palestine and Israeli youth were invited to share their experiences and this further inspired Karelle to pursue a Political Science career.

Blessings continued to follow. Karelle received a full 4 year undergraduate scholarship to study Political Science at Washington and Lee University. While there, she was very involved in international student life and public health. Alcohol abuse was a problem at the school at the time. Her work at the University’s public health office involved alcohol consumption campaigns.

Igniting the Fire to Reach the Vulnerable

During her final year at Washington & Lee University, Karelle spent a summer in Jamaica volunteering at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation. This Centre functions as a halfway point for teenage mothers who are trying to get their lives back on track. This experience fueled her interest in understanding schooling outcomes for children born to teen moms. Subsequently, she did a lot of work related to gender issues. This work culminated with an Organization of American States (OAS) internship through a fellowship by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area and a master’s degree in Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Karelle then chose to develop some professional experience in global development. She interned at a Think Tank at the Centre for Global Development in 2006. This Centre focuses on foreign aid and how it can be used in global development. The team specifically analyzes how the policies of rich countries impact poorer countries. Karelle’s internship lasted for a few months. She was then offered a full-time job as the President’s Special Assistant in that same year. She worked there for 2 years and deemed this opportunity as a time for tremendous growth.

She didn’t stop there. Her thirst for knowledge about international governance resulted in her accepting a job offer at a small non-profit called Leadership Africa USA. While there, she worked on a USAID-funded project in Senegal. The aim of this project was to develop a youth leadership curriculum. Empowered youth create an empowered nation. There are parts of Senegal that have intermittent civil conflict. The aim of this program was to reach as many youth in these vulnerable areas and provide them with the knowledge to make a positive contribution. Two types of curriculum were developed. One focused on violence and conflict and the other was customized for city children.

This experience proved to Karelle that she needed more technical knowledge in order to truly help youth. Consequently, she enrolled at the George Mason University to pursue a Doctorate in Public Policy. She was offered a fellowship at the World Bank while pursuing her doctorate. She spent about a year and a half in this fellowship and worked on research involving countries with rich natural resources. This research focused on identifying strategies these countries can use to invest in education so that their people can still earn a living when these natural resources are completely depleted.

She returned to her dissertation after the fellowship. Her dissertation focuses on how politicians allocate money in their constituencies and more specifically on how constituency development funds are used in Jamaica and Kenya. Research on how these funds can be effectively used to help the vulnerable is critical to her research.

Global Inspiration

Karelle identifies 2 African leaders as her main source of inspiration outside of her family. The first is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. President Sirleaf is a strong example of the power of a woman. She was the first democratically elected president of Liberia post-civil war. Her resilience, and ability to completely transform Liberia, is what inspires Karelle. President Sirleaf ushered Liberia into a state of stability after a tumultuous war that left much of the nation in abject poverty. Powerful.

Karelle’s second source of inspiration is Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso (1983-1987). Although he was often described as a militant leader, he was a strong supporter of women’s liberation and children’s health, through his various economic and social programs. He emphasized the important role women play in society long before female empowerment became commonplace. His constant message essentially was, “If we don’t treat women right, our country won’t progress.” It was rare to hear such emphasis on women’s liberation during that time.

The Way Forward

There is so much left to do in the world. Karelle is inspired by the potential she sees for Jamaica’s growth through the Jamaica House Fellowship she is presently embarking on. The fellowship encourages smart young people to become involved in public service. Her journey after the fellowship is uncertain. She wants to gain more international experience in an African country, but is open to staying in Jamaica if there is an interesting job opportunity in the development of public policy. A woman like her is what this country needs.

Karelle has 3 inspiring thoughts for anyone reading this article.

1. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Her life has been filled with risks, but those risks have provided tremendous growth opportunities.

2. Always plan. Planning may seem counterintuitive to taking risks. However, having a general idea of what you want your life to look like will help you better assess opportunities.

3. Dream BIG. Don’t allow your circumstances to limit you. A way out of your situation may not be clear to you now, but you will get out. Hold on to hope and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.


Karelle 1




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