Noelle Pourrat: “Our degree of success in working and collaborating together is going to define what the 21st century looks like”
After graduating from a Sciences Po dual degree, Noelle Pourrat joined the Carnegie Corporation of New York as a program analyst in the international peace and security program. In this interview, she shares her memories of Sciences Po and Paris, insight into her work in international security, and her passion for dialogue across differences.
Noelle Pourrat is a program analyst at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, who completed a dual master’s degree between Sciences Po and Columbia University. Always interested in diplomacy and looking at things from multiple points of view, Pourrat was particularly drawn to the dual program. She had previous studied abroad in France and welcomed the opportunity to “study at such an internationally well-respected school in Paris” while getting another opportunity to use her French.
At Sciences Po, Pourrat pursued a regional focus on Africa. After a gap year to gain professional experience, she continued studying conflict resolution at Columbia and focused on the Middle East. She describes a process of trial and error, “exploring some different topics and sectors and thinking that there were so many interesting things that [she] could be focusing on.” Eventually, she circled back to her original regional interests in Europe. Throughout this process, though, she found that “the learning along the way is never wasted.”
Outside of her studies, Pourrat especially enjoyed participating in the National Model United Nations, a yearlong undertaking of preparing policy positions and papers culminating in a week-long trip to New York. Her team won the Best Delegation award, the result of “one of the really rewarding, very student driven experiences that Sciences Po is all about.” Pourrat also experienced student life in Paris that was highly connected to city life. She describes going to cafes, taking advantage of some of the wealth of cultural experiences, and really just enjoying Paris. “I love France, the language, the history, and the culture,” she says. “For me, it was wonderful to be immersed in all of that in my backyard.”
Pourrat was hired by Carnegie Corporation of New York after graduating to work in the international peace and security program. She works on three portfolios. The first, Euro-Atlantic Security, focuses on relations between Russia and the West with the goal “to deepen American expertise on Russia and facilitate engagements among American, European, and Russian expert communities.” Her second portfolio is Expanding Congressional Knowledge, which works to provide educational opportunities for members of Congress and their staff to dive deep into national security and foreign policy issues in a bipartisan setting. Her final portfolio is Emerging Security Challenges, a portfolio that seeks to foster new thinking about U.S. foreign policy priorities and international norms. According to Pourrat, “it is a really interesting opportunity to think about the major trends that are defining the context in which all the other more specific issues are playing out.”
Pourrat enjoys “the opportunity to meet so many people doing really great and different kinds of work.” She especially values the focus on helping to train the next generation of experts, which means she has “gotten to meet a lot of graduate students and young professionals who have so much passion and dedication, and it is always very inspiring and motivational for [her] in [her] own career path.” Another thing Pourrat has realized in her role is her passion for projects that bring people together to create a dialogue across differences. She thinks that “goes back to choosing a dual degree program and doing things where one is bringing different perspectives together.”
Working in philanthropy, Pourrat also appreciates the challenges of defining value. “We are trying to think about, what are our values? How do those show up in what we fund and how we decide what to fund? How do we define impact?” Andrew Carnegie, the founder of Carnegie Corporation, set the mission of doing real and permanent good in the world, “so we are always trying to figure out what that looks like in our work,” she says.
When asked about the challenges and changes she foresees arising in international relations, Pourrat says the U.S. first needs to “be clear about what it wants from relationships with Russia and China, and how to balance competition, confrontation, and cooperation to achieve those goals.” She predicts that “the U.S. relationship with its allies will be a major determinant of how well we are able to deal with issues and minimize instability.” Faced with threats like global pandemics, the existential threat of climate change, and the disruptive effects of new technologies, in many areas, nations will have to work together, rather than trying to address challenges on their own. “Our degree of success in working and collaborating together is going to define what the 21st century looks like,” Pourrat adds.
For students and young graduates who, like herself, “want to work in spaces that inherently bring together people from very different backgrounds,” Pourrat believes that the Sciences Po experience, with its diverse mix of professors, is especially useful to gain “different perspectives and ways of looking at issues.” She adds three additional pieces of advice. First, “look at how you spend your time, not just the things that you have to do, but the things that you sign up for because you just really enjoy them.” Because there are lots of different ways to be involved in the field, “it is going to be the most successful and rewarding experience if you are basing it on what you really enjoy and what you are happy to spend time doing.” Second, Pourrat advises students to remember that the field is “always really about people.” Finally, “just be open to possibilities that you never expected,” she says. “For me, it never crossed my mind that I might end up working in philanthropy, and it has turned out to be a very wonderful and informative experience.” She pauses, then adds “sometimes the path you take can be better than the path you would have scripted for yourself in advance.”