Advocating for diverse representation in climate change policy

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Dilafruz Khonikboyeva, BA ’10, MS ’14, grew up during the civil war in Tajikistan, and said it was her experience of living through conflict that motivated her to study at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. In April, she received the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

“The Carter School means so much to me personally and professionally,” Khonikoboyeva said, adding that she keeps in touch with professors who have been like mentors. “For me, this award is a promise that I will live up to it.”

So far, she’s on track.

Since graduating, Khonikboyeva spent eight years working at USAID, doing the same work she said people did for her as a child living through war. Following four years at the Aga Khan Foundation, where Khonikboyeva developed communications and policy strategy for countries in conflict, she was appointed Senior Advisor, Policy, Planning and Learning for USAID under the Biden-Harris Administration in February 2021.

“We are thrilled, but not surprised, to see Dilafruz getting the recognition she deserves,” said Carter School associate professor Terrence Lyons. “Her appointment will allow her commitment to social justice and her understanding of how transnational processes of advocacy and development shape policy at the highest levels to make a lasting difference.”

“This is about giving back to this country that means so much to me, and as a Muslim immigrant woman, it’s important to show that there is a space for us in leadership,” Khonikboyeva said.

She said her new position calls on her to coordinate with global partners, including the United Nations, in support of the Biden-Harris priorities. At the same time, she is focusing on climate change at the intersection of diversity and inclusion, looking at issues around environmental justice, and ensuring diverse voices, including indigenous populations and racial and ethnic minorities, have a place at the table.

Diverse representation is critical, she said, as multiple perspectives help strengthen the nation.

The skills she learned at Mason also come in handy.

“Conflict resolution helps you at the interpersonal, organizational, and certainly for my career, at the international level,” Khonikboyeva said. “The need for the Carter School grows with every single moment and every single year.”

Khonikboyeva’s story was also chronicled by former President George W. Bush in his book, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants,” which was released in April.

Each chapter opens with an oil portrait of one of the immigrants, painted by President Bush. The chapters are written from his perspective, telling the inspiring stories of immigrants, and their contributions to America, Khonikboyeva said.

The portraits and stories are on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas through Jan. 3, 2022.

The book’s potential impact is what excites Khonikboyeva most.

“I’m deeply touched by this book,” she said. “It doesn’t try to hide how difficult it is to immigrate, how difficult it is to build back up from absolutely nothing.”

“It’s a celebration of that hard work and it doesn’t feed into partisan politics,” she said. “It’s very much a celebration of people and immigrants who are critical to making this country succeed.”