Returned Fellows 2016 - 2017


Matt Hamilton


Yangon, Myanmar


Developing inclusive economic policies


Matt Hamilton, from Fairfield, Connecticut, graduated in May 2016 with a Program II degree—an option offered to Duke undergraduates who wish to design their own courses of study. Matt's program, entitled "Ideological Frameworks and Economic Institutions," allowed him to study both the theoretical frameworks and the political and economic institutions that structure societies. While at Duke, Matt served on the Duke Chronicle's Independent Editorial Board, wrote on issues of political economy for an English-daily newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey, and worked on developmental finance at OPIC, the U.S. government’s developmental finance institution.


For his fellowship, Matt Hamilton went to Yangon, Myanmar to work with the Renaissance Institute, a new policy organization that is working to support national economic reform. Myanmar recently underwent a landmark election—for over half a century, the country had been ruled by a repressive military dictatorship. However, in November of 2015, Myanmar transitioned to a civilian administration, allowing the country to begin the process of creating economic and democratic reforms.

Myanmar faces significant challenges, such as ethnic violence, deeply entrenched military, and a daunting policy agenda, which serve as barriers to robust economic revival. In Matt’s fellowship reports he said that working in Myanmar often left him feeling confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed, but it also allowed him to see a world of opportunity and possibility for Myanmar’s democratic future.

For his research, Matt helped create a report on state-owned enterprise reform in Myanmar that detailed how the country could transform its vast resource wealth in oil, gas, and gems into a foundation for broad economic and social development.

Rifat Rahman


Bangkok, Thailand


Community-based HIV/AIDS services


Rifat Rahman, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, was a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar who graduated in May 2016 with a degree in Biology and minors in Global Health and Chemistry. While at Duke, Rifat worked extensively on global health issues, conducting research with the Duke Global Health Institute, the UNC School of Public Health, and the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Bangkok to explore approaches for reducing the global burden of malaria. He also volunteered with the Community Empowerment Fund in Durham, a nonprofit working with residents of local recovery shelters to sustain transitions out of homelessness.


For his fellowship, Rifat Rahman partnered with the Raks Thai Foundation, a non-profit organization in Bangkok that works on health, education, the environment, economic development, and human rights issues. Rifat worked with the Local Capacity Initiative of the Raks Thai Foundation, a project funded by USAID that aims to build HIV/AIDS advocacy capacity in communities.

Rifat was initially interested in how to train non-medical professionals and community members in performing HIV testing to more effectively reach marginalized populations. He soon realized that funding for community-based HIV interventions was a much more critical issue. The two largest sources of funding for HIV/AIDS interventions in Thailand, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund, had announced that they would withdraw their funding by 2019. In anticipation of this funding shift, the Thailand National Health Security Office (NHSO) established an HIV Prevention Fund, to which organizations providing HIV interventions could apply. However, many civil society organizations encountered logistical barriers when applying, which significantly limited the fund’s performance initially. The Thai government is now closely monitoring the fund’s success, to determine whether and how they can extend it.

For his community-based research, Rifat met with both community and governmental organizations across Thailand, trying to identify the challenges they face in forming contracts for NHSO funding. Based on the data from these field visits, Rifat developed a report outlining the key challenges by region, and offering recommendations for how community service organizations could increase their chances of successfully applying for funding in the future.

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