Marie Besançon

Aug 19, 2015 Founder, Executive Director, Board Director

Research Fellow, University of Khartoum
Associate Professor, Portland State University
Post Doctoral Studies, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government
PhD Political Science (specializing in intrastate conflict), Claremont Graduate School

As a fellow at the University of Khartoum, Dr. Besançon is now doing research for a book, and working with the students and faculty on creating innovative new programs. She concurrently is an associate professor at Portland State University. While in the Sudan she is spearheading a collaboration between the University of Khartoum and Portland State on a certificate program in social entrepreneurship and leadership for the Sudanese students. The strategy is to jump start the innovation skills of the local young folks to form their own organizations or businesses to rebuild conflict affected areas in the rest of their country.

While in country, she is also planning new classes and workshops on the earth-building, and technical training in collaboration with the local university programs on architecture and engineering. For this Homes for Sudan has and is collaborating with local businessmen and non profit organizations.

From 2010 to 2013, Marie was the lead officer for the Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team at the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti where she did research, writing, and training in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya. While in Djibouti, since she was unable to work in the Sudan, she took the opportunity to introduce the earth-building (eco-dome) to the local Djiboutian population, the Djiboutian military, and the US military. Together with some instruction from Calearth and some Homes for Sudan funding, they built a two story double dome structure that is now being used as a safe haven from storms, and to store grain for the nomads. This dome and the dome in Tonj South Sudan, are two out of five domes built in partnership with Homes for Sudan that are not prototypes and are still being used by the locals. Long term projects, where the indigenous populations build the structure themselves instead of someone else doing it for them, engender pride of ownership; thus the buildings are cared for, used, and preserved. We plan that the next workshops and training domes will follow this model.

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After earning her PhD in Political Science from Claremont Graduate School, Marie was a post doc with the Women and Public Policy Program, the International Security Program, and the Program on Intrastate Conflict at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government (2002-2003). Following the post doc, she was a  research fellow, and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government from 2003-2009 in various departments. It was during this tenure that she first visited Darfur Sudan and the idea for Homes for Sudan crystalized. From 2005-2009 with the help of a Sudanese American organization (the American Sudanese Council) and some Harvard colleagues, she organized the logistics, permissions, and partnerships with local organizations that it takes to work in the Sudan, as well as the Sudan country license and the OFAC license. Homes for Sudan completed four projects together with their local partner NGOs and universities, training more than a hundred locals in the earth-building technique. Dr. Besançon was also privileged to be a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars concurrently while a fellow at the Hauser Center for Non Profits at Harvard in 2008.

Raising funds for work in a sanctioned country like the Sudan continues to be challenging; nevertheless, the internally displaced, the refugees, the young folk, and the future generations deserve a chance to grow their country and to improve their lives.