Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."


Ben Spatz recalls being a teenager in the 1990s and watching images on television of conflict and brutality in the Balkans, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and more.

He was deeply moved by the images he saw and thought if he could document atrocities happening around the world, people would intervene. With a passion for photography, Ben decided to become a photojournalist. For nearly 10 years, he told stories through photographs, trying to humanize foreign and abstract ideas, and earned numerous awards and accolades for his work.

“I was doing everything I needed to do to build a lifelong career as a photojournalist,” he says.

But photography was never enough. Ben came to realize that people would look at and listen to news of conflict, but they were rarely inspired to act. “Photojournalism didn’t fit my personality,” he says. “It wasn’t enough to just take a picture. I needed to be much more engaged.”

After obtaining bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and international studies, Ben completed a master’s degree in foreign service with concentrations in conflict management and humanitarian emergencies. One of his first forays into peace work took him to Darfur, Sudan, during the genocide, and then to Sierra Leone and Liberia in the aftermath of their civil wars. In 2006, when Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female head of state in Africa, Ben was selected to serve as an advisor to her government as it tried to rebuild the war-torn nation. Subsequently, for four years, he was a United Nations Security Council sanctions investigator in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.

Over the course of a decade, he built a career in the politics of conflict and became a leading authority on war-to-peace transitions, international sanctions, and African politics, with particular emphasis on Liberia.

Ben says that he always wanted to see himself as an advocate for peace. To further that goal, he has paused his career to pursue a PhD at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, “where I’m learning rigorous research methods to analyze critical questions of peace.”

In addition to his doctorate degree, Ben also knew he needed to learn French to continue his work. But his current teaching and research requirements at Tufts make it impossible to take French classes during the academic year. “You can’t understand a culture or build trust without common language,” says Ben. “The intensive and supportive Middlebury environment is particularly appropriate for me at this point in my career. I didn’t want to enroll in a less rigorous or less structured course elsewhere.”

In the future, he hopes to work as a policy maker with the United Nations or the U.S. government in West Africa. “Progress is being made throughout Africa,” he says. “But there’s so much work to be done.”