Nell Bolton is Senior Technical Advisor for Justice and Peacebuilding at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She has supported CRS's peacebuilding and governance programming in various ways since 2003, working on staff or as a consultant in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.
Prior to joining CRS, Nell worked on social cohesion and the promotion of equitable democratic governance with a number of prominent organizations, including The Carter Center, the Ulster Project, and Habitat for Humanity. Following a return to her native New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she led a variety of advocacy initiatives and headed Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana.
Of her current role at CRS, Nell says, “I have the great joy of working for peace in many different contexts, but this also presents a few challenges. I'm very clear that I'm rarely around for the long, hard slog of bringing a vision of peace to life; at the same time, this increases my sense of responsibility to help devise or support strategies that have promise to bring about real change.” Always present, too, is the challenge of navigating the tension between peace and justice--goals that “are, of course, intimately connected at their roots, but often require trade-offs in the short run.”
Before arriving at the Kroc Institute, Nell earned a master’s of theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where her thesis focused on the intersection of religion, gender and peacebuilding. She continued to focus on religion, conflict and peace at Kroc, grounding herself in peacebuilding frameworks and approaches while completing the master's degree.
It is the practical application components of her Kroc coursework that Nell now finds most valuable. “These skills and approaches come immediately to mind: John Paul Lederach's simulations, George Lopez's negotiation scenarios as well as his shepherding of our group through meetings with relevant agencies in New York, Hal Culbertson's NGO management course--all have provided useful reference points in my work.” With time in the field and some distance from coursework, she now has the opportunity to step back and connect the dots between field practice and academic theory. “That gives me a chance to reflect back on the many debates we had, both in the classroom and after hours.”
Nell adds, “One pleasant surprise about my work in the peace studies field has been just how valuable the Kroc alumni network is!” Being able to contact fellow Kroc alums is a true asset in any setting, and the chance to catch up with classmates--sharing updates as well as discussing pressing issues in their context and around the world--“enriches my field work on both personal and professional levels.”