Gabrielle Belli

What do you do as programme associate at the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security?

We advocate for women's full inclusion at the UN Security Council, in peace processes and in the UN system as a whole.

I also run side projects as a consultant, working in digital advocacy and strategy. I find my own clients who are working in and around the UN Sphere and I build their websites. I help strengthen the digital presence of peacebuilders and civil society around the world.

How did you get your job at the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security?

I got to work here when I graduated from my master's programme in May of 2016. A friend of mine posted that there was an application for a policy & research fellowship at the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (NGOWG), so I applied. I started working here as a fellow right after graduation. My fellowship was extended three times because I enjoyed the work so much and I saw that there would be room to grow. 

My role as programme associate is new for this office. When they put up the call for applications, my supervisor gave me a heads up that they were looking for somebody and encouraged me to apply.

What are the most useful skills to be good at your job?

First, there’s a set of technical skills. Small NGOs have a limited capacity, so I have to be resourceful with my own processes and find something that works for me and for the office to reach our goals. Using technology, I automate as much as I can.

Another key is the ability to communicate complex thoughts and ideas and break them down so people can access the idea and message. That's the advocacy part. 

You also need patience to be successful in this role. At the moment, we are experiencing a global surge to the right. It takes patience and tenacity to communicate ideas and raise awareness, especially on issues regarding women’s rights and empowerment, to people who don't really want to listen.

You’re at the early stages of your career. How do you think about your career?

Thankfully I'm working at a place where my supervisor has prompted me to think about my career more than I would have of my own initiative. I don’t give myself hard goals. I am not in a mindset that “in 5 years, I'll be director of XYZ at this organisation”. Instead, I give myself broad goals and think about what I want to accomplish personally and professionally. 

My trajectory so far has been in digital advocacy, which is new for many organisations. It's combining social media, websites and other digital spaces. Opening up new avenues for conversation to connect people working on gender issues from conflict-affected areas with policymakers at UN Headquarters and state capitals, helps highlight their voices to make a lasting impact. My goal is to make sure that as many people as possible can access these ideas and recommendations. 

You’ve been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. How has it impacted your career? 

On a logistical level, the first thing that comes to mind is that I need to be somewhere where there's flexibility because I can’t do the same thing every day. I've never been able to make a routine, in school, in work, in my personal life. Going to the gym at 8 every day, taking the same train to the office just doesn't work for me. The NGOWG trusted me to make a schedule where I would get work done on time and that I would be working more effectively as such.

The other thing is that because I have ADD/ADHD, I look at things in a different light. I don’t focus on what other people in the room focus on. It allows me more creative thinking and to touch a lot more subjects. ADD/ADHD has allowed me to bring a lot of things in. Without this part of me I’m not sure I would be able to do that.

There are a lot of prejudices around ADD/ADHD. What would you like people to understand about it?

In the United States, people who feel distracted or are procrastinating tend to go “I'm so ADD”. But this isn’t what ADD/ADHD is. A lack of planning does not mean you're ADD/ADHD, it just means you have to reflect on yourself. 

ADD/ADHD is not a scapegoat, it's a thing that affects every single aspect my life. It can’t be fixed quickly with a little pill that your doctor gives you because you say the right things.

I have developed a 30-second pitch I give people that I hear misspeak on ADD/ADHD: “what you're doing is completely regressive to the progress people with this have actually made. By appropriating it in this way, you're just perpetuating the stigma”. 

What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve had to deal with?

Somebody tried to buy my prescription medicine. They said they needed it more because they had a big project deadline coming up. I had not offered anything or discussed it personally with them, they just thought that I had medication that I was taking for fun and they needed it more than I did.

You've got a master's degree from The New school. Studying can be quite routine - how did you dealt with that?

I made the work not routine. I chose courses that allowed me to reach a variety of subjects. 

For my graduate programme, we had concentrations and I created my own double concentration. One of them was conflict and security and the other one was media and culture. I chose diverse settings to do my coursework, I started consulting, I made sure not to put all of my eggs in one basket. The intellectual stimulation that I sought out helped with the routine.

How old were you when you got diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?

I was diagnosed when I was 11, and then again at 15 and then again at 20.

I had a retesting because there's a lot of research being done on ADD/ADHD, which means there are different tests and potentially, results. My parents are physicians, and they're up on all of this.

Being a teenager when you were diagnosed, did you have specific worries about your studies or future career related to ADD/ADHD?

When I was a teenager, I was worried about depending on the management techniques I was going to choose, whether it's regular therapy or medication. I was concerned it would impact me and my career. I didn't want to be dependent, but in the end, I found that my best balance includes medications. As I’ve gotten older and defined what I wanted and who I am a little bit more, I’ve realised the dependency doesn't have to be negative. I can use these tools and modify them and it'll empower me for the better.

How do you manage the healthcare aspect of ADD/ADHD? I assume that living in the USA, there is a significant cost attached to knowing that you’ll take medicine all your life.

It can be very difficult, especially with healthcare in the United States. I get support from my parents because I have had a gap in my health insurance before. I had to choose a health plan where ADD/ADHD management is covered. I have to make sure my prescription is always with me and I don’t lose it. I have to make the same appointment with my doctor every month. It's a really big challenge to manage it.

Fiscally not so much anymore because the health plan I'm on, which is sponsored by work. If I consulted full time, I wouldn’t be able to afford that.