Profile with Gabrielle Emanuel

Gabrielle Emanuel (Illinois & St Edmund Hall 2011) is a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford studying Comparative Social Policy. In college, Gabrielle worked with the homeless in Boston, on microfinance in India, and on access to higher education in Uganda. She holds an MPhil in Comparative Social Policy from the University of Oxford, and a BA in History from Dartmouth College.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Gabrielle Emanuel: I’m from Chicago. Even though I actually haven’t lived there in 8 years, it's definitely my home base. It’s vibrant, tough, friendly, and all sorts of good things.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Gabrielle Emanuel: At one point I remember wanting to do lighting for theatre. I had gone to a great play and felt like the lighting had a critical role in making it great. Now I’m most interested in being a journalist and a writer. 

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ll be doing next year?

Gabrielle Emanuel: I just finished my MPhil in Comparative Social Policy, and I am hoping to turn it into a DPhil.

Rhodes Project: If you could reframe the debate on global development, is there anything you would change about the way we think about it?

Gabrielle Emanuel: When I was living and working abroad it became increasingly important to me that the local community was in charge. I felt like progress would only be sustainable if they were in the lead and pursuing their own vision for their future. I struggled greatly with the issue of whether you could change a culture in order to get what we consider better results. It’s something I still don’t really have a good answer to, but I’ve come to believe that we need a paradigm that places more emphasis on local, community-led solutions.

Rhodes Project: Who are some of your role models?

Gabrielle Emanuel: Growing up, I really admired Ida B Wells and Nellie Bly. I was drawn to their gumption, their passion, their courage. They were both self-assured women who did what they believed in, even if it wasn’t popular or socially acceptable. And they both used writing as a platform for change. A century or more later, we’re still benefiting from their sacrifices.

Doctor Jim O’Connell has also become a role model for me. He founded an organization that provides healthcare for homeless people in Boston and I was lucky enough to work for him. The first thing that struck me about him was that he treats every single person with equal respect. He makes everyone feel dignified and valuable. His leadership ability is also truly impressive; he is humble and soft-spoken but somehow inspires others to work their hardest and to really commit their energy to what can be thankless tasks.

Rhodes Project: What’s something interesting you’ve done in the last year?

Gabrielle Emanuel: I worked at a woodshop in Oxford. I’ve done woodworking for years, and as soon as I knew I was heading to the UK I started looking up furniture shops and woodworking studios. I found a great one where I took lessons for two years. It was a great experience. In an environment where we’re very much working with our minds, it was great to work with my hands. Also I got to see a whole different side of Oxford – a different community, a different set of people, a different set of ideas and expectations. Town-gown divides have always made me uncomfortable, so I really valued feeling comfortable in some of Oxford’s various different worlds.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

Gabrielle Emanuel: I would tell myself to be passionate and to really think about how I want to contribute to the world. Also, you don’t have to follow one of the predetermined paths that many of your peers will start marching down; you can make your own path and figure out your own steps and destination. And regularly take a step back to think about what really matters.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to devote to any one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?

Gabrielle Emanuel: I would do something to improve the opportunities available to the most disadvantaged kids in our society and across the world. In the US, one of the wealthiest nations, 42% of children that are raised in poverty stay in poverty as adults. And those that make it out don’t make it very far. We should be cognizant that this is wholly unacceptable in a place that claims to have equal opportunities and I think we should be working to change it.

Rhodes Project: What do you do for fun?

Gabrielle Emanuel: Whenever I have free time, finding something creative to do with my hands is a priority. That could be cooking, furniture building, pottery, or paper cutting. I also love meals: hosting dinners, having friends over, being able to simply sit around a table and have a good conversation.

Rhodes Project: What’s something you’re looking forward to right now?

Gabrielle Emanuel: I’ve been living abroad for three years, so I’ve been really excited to come back to the US this summer and reconnect with family and friends.

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