Staff Spotlight: Julia Smith

Development Lead


When did you first become interested in development work?

I come from an incredibly fortunate background that provided me with eye-opening cultural opportunities.  In fact, I was placed in a Spanish dual language immersion program in kindergarten. During my childhood, my family hosted over 20 exchange students in our home. In these experiences, I learned early on that I was a global citizen; and have always had an appreciation for travel, learning about cultures, and understanding different perspectives of life.

Did you ever volunteer abroad?

I did. Upon graduating from high school, I decided to be an exchange student in a Gap Year Program with AFS International. This decision took me to Paraguay, where I lived with a host family and taught English to first through sixth graders. During that year, my life changed. Ever since I’ve pursued opportunities to volunteer and work with several organizations in the international development field.

Did you study abroad in college?

Yes! I studied abroad in Paris, France and Beijing, China where I studied French and Chinese Politics, respectively. Then, after graduating, I completed a certificate program at Mama Hope. This was a nine-month professional training for social entrepreneurs, and is focused on personal growth, human connection, and global impact. I learned how to fund and launch sustainable partnerships with communities around the globe. I was matched with a Community Based Organization in Budondoiondo, Uganda -- a rural village where I lived for 4 months while supporting community-directed development initiatives.

What is your philosophy of how international development should work?

I firmly believe that by putting communities in control, sustainable solutions are bound to follow. I experienced this firsthand during my time in Uganda where I was introduced not just to the human side, but to the broad topics that the local community deal with daily; involving the government, health, education, and environment. I realized how interconnected these issues are and how sustainable development requires a well-rounded approach with a variety of skill sets -- something I know FSD replicates in its ABCD, ground-up model.

What about FSD’s model excites you the most?

The immediacy of the work we do is thrilling to experience. That, coupled with the long-term, sustainable solutions we always endeavor to share with community members, makes our approach uniquely and especially rewarding to me.