Profile with Nina Hall

Nina Hall (New Zealand & St. Anthony’s 2009) is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin. Her research focuses on change in and performance of international organisations, in particular the UN. Nina holds a PhD from the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. Her doctoral research examined how the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration have changed in response to climate change, an issue outside their mandates. She also holds an MA and BA (Hons) in Political Science from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Nina Hall: Home is New Zealand, but after having lived in England for four years, that became a real home and community and now I’m trying to create a new home in Germany.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite memory at Oxford?

Nina Hall: There are so many! One that’s stands out is during my first year with a bunch of Rhodes Scholars. We got on a punt and had a surprise birthday party for Alysia, a fellow Rhodes Scholar from Canada. We picked her up from University Park and she had no idea that she was going to be picked up in a punt! Then we played music all the way down the river and danced; she ended up falling into the river while punting. It was just one of those sunny warm Oxford days and we had this wonderfully crazy boat ride.  That was the thing about Oxford: it was such a rich experience, both intellectually and in terms of friendships, so it’s hard to narrow down to any top experience.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about your current research?

Nina Hall: I am about to start a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.  The school teaches a Masters’ course in Public Policy which I will be teaching. This coming semester I will teach a course on international organizations, while continuing some of my doctoral research and taking on some new research. My work essentially looks at the performance and effectiveness of international organizations such as the various UN agencies, programmes and funds. I’m also working with Ngaire Woods [Professor of Global Economic Governance and and Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford] on a project for the World Economic Forum focusing on these questions. So, I’ve got a research element, a teaching element and a policy element to my work.

Rhodes Project: What can inter-governmental organizations and grass-root level NGOs learn from each other when it comes down to organizational practice today?

Nina Hall: There’s a lot going on. One area we’re working on is leadership and how you create good governance in international organizations. We’re asking organisations like UNHCR and UNDP –“Do you advertise publicly the terms of reference of your leader?”  Often, these leaders aren’t being selected based on specific, meritocratic criteria but for political reasons. For instance, a European is always the head of the IMF and the World Bank is headed by an American. Although these leaders may be very able what we’re saying is that they should be selected primarily for their skill sets and their abilities to lead these organisations, not by their nationality. The broader lesson really is that we should think about how to ensure that we select good leaders and that they should be held to account - just like any other member of staff – and have performance management and ensure that they deliver results.

Rhodes Project: What one thing should governments consider in regard to forced migration due to climate change?

Nina Hall: My own research challenged the term “Climate Change Displacement” which has become very popular in the policy world. The underlying problem is that people are being displaced as a result of natural disasters and floods - that’s a big issue - but we do need to be careful about the language used. Climate change is a trigger but it is not in and of itself the only factor. Standing back and thinking more broadly about displacement and forced migration, lots of gaps exist in what we call “the International Protection Framework”. This framework protects refugees, and to a lesser extent people displaced internally, and had its origins after World War II. We now have soft international law to protect these [traditional] refugees, but people displaced by natural disasters haven’t had as much focus. There’s a lot of discussion in policy circles at the moment on the extent to which new protection frameworks need to be developed for them or existing ones can be used.

Fundamentally I think there needs to broader change in government policies towards displaced people as a whole. There needs to be more proactive, inclusive policies towards them.  Policy debates shouldn’t focus on singling out the people displaced by disasters or by climate change.  There are many economic, political and environmental reasons that force people to move and all of them deserve our attention.  We shouldn’t have a knee jerk “stop-the-immigrant” kind of response as we’re currently seeing in Australia.

Rhodes Project: What is a memorable learning moment that you have had recently?

Nina Hall:  Learning German has been really interesting, a shift from the Romance languages I speak. When you learn a language, the odd idiosyncratic things, the mistakes, when you’re trying to express yourself and it all comes out wrong- that’s been pretty funny! What I find amusing is that quite often I end up putting Spanish into my German. For some reason, when my brain goes “Other Language”, the dominant other language that comes up is Spanish and I get this very bizarre mix of words coming out.

Rhodes Project: If you could change one thing about the way students learn political science in school today, what would it be?

Nina Hall: Well, I don’t know if a lot of students do learn political science in school. Coming from the New Zealand system, we certainly didn’t do any politics. I remember it being conspicuously absent and not really talked about at all. History as well - in New Zealand it’s taught, but not the same way as here in Europe. In New Zealand some schools have a year or two of compulsory study while some don’t at all. There’s a perception that it’s a new country and has no history at all so it doesn’t need to be examined.  To me politics and history are very entwined and should be taught more.  Obviously, how you teach them should be about relating to people’ own experiences and making it relevant to them.

Rhodes Project: If you could meet a global leader today, who would it be and why?

Nina Hall: It would be an activist of some description. At the moment, I’d be interested in meeting a leader of the gay rights movement because I think that’s a movement that is just so incredibly alive and there’s been relatively fast-paced legislative change in the last five to ten years. New Zealand, in the past few months, passed legislation to enable gay marriage. I’d be interested to see some of the interesting complexities of activism in countries that have conservative or religious or other groups that don’t support homosexuality. I’m thinking particularly of David Kuria Mbote, a Kenyan MP who visited Oxford earlier this year. He is the first African MP to stand as an openly gay MP and was fascinating!

Rhodes Project: Do you have a favourite hobby?

Nina Hall: My favourite hobbies are biking, swimming, climbing, hiking, camping - a lot of outdoor activities. I just moved to Berlin and here, in about a half an hour’s bike ride, you can be swimming in lakes surrounded by forests. It’s brilliant!

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

Nina Hall: I’m looking forward to the next time I go to New Zealand and do a big summer hike with friends. Every year I go back over the New Year, and I get out into the mountains for a week and have no connection to Internet or anything. It’s a wonderful, reinvigorating get-away.

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