On their way – Duncan Pickard

Duncan Pickard In Libya the night of the July 7 elections, the country's first democratic elections in over 40 years. — Photo courtesy of Duncan Pickard

On Their Way is an occasional series, in which The Times introduces local high school graduates who have moved on to establish themselves in careers on or off the Island. We are looking for young people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way you might imagine. Your suggestions will be welcomed by The Times.

In a telephone call to The Times last week, Duncan Pickard, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) class of 2006, said that after spending one week in Libya he was leaving for Cairo.

Mr. Pickard, 25, is currently working for Democracy Reporting International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Berlin that assists countries with democratic governance. He spends a lot of time in the Middle East, consulting on constitutional issues with leaders involved in the development of constitutions for the new Arab Spring governments.

Democracy Reporting International has field offices in Tunis, Tunisia, Cairo, Egypt and Tripoli, Libya. The major focus of his work is constitutional development. He works in Berlin exclusively on constitutions and visits the local offices monthly to help develop constitution programing in each country.

Tunisia is further along in the drafting process than the other countries, he said. “They have a finished first draft of a new constitution and we are giving technical feedback on different aspects of that constitution.”

Mr. Pickard pointed out that Libya elected a new congress a couple of months ago and they have not yet gotten around to appointing a constitutional committee. He said when they do he expects to help them develop a better understanding of what the key constitutional questions are.

“We run workshops to promote international standards of democracy as defined by key international treaties and to promote these standards in constitution making,” Mr. Pickard said. “We are working to get a sense of what the key constitutional priorities are here in Libya.”

He will then conduct workshops and write research papers around these different topics. “Tomorrow I am giving a talk to a group of civil society organizations (CSOs) and lawyers about the role of human rights in constitutions,” he said.

The Arab Spring

A revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that began in December 2010 has changed the face of the Middle East. To date, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

Mr. Pickard, in his first year of graduate school at that time, said he developed an interest in the Tunisian revolution and spent the summer there. “My second year of grad school I tried to spend as much time in Tunisia as possible. I was working on a couple of research projects including a constitutional project for a professor at the Harvard Law School.”

He worked for The International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Tunisia and received a grant from the United States Embassy there to support constitution making.

While an undergraduate student at Tufts University Mr. Pickard studied Arabic, and he had an internship in Damascus, Syria, working with human rights activists. He said he went to The Kennedy School of Government at Havard University to focus on Middle Eastern politics. “Just good timing I guess,” he said referring to the Arab Spring.”

“I was inspired to study Arabic after September 11 because I wanted to get involved and join the intelligence community,” he said. He spent time studying Arabic in northern Jordan where he lived with a Bedouin family about 30 miles from the Syrian border. He saw that this family’s style of life was being constrained by government policies and he developed more of an interest in human rights in the Middle East. Without elaborating, he said he no longer thinks working in the intelligence community is for him.

Mr. Pickard is applying to law school now and if he gets in he could defer for a year depending on the status of the constitution making process in the countries where he is involved. “I see myself continuing to work in legal-political reform and constitution building,” he said. “I am mostly interested in the development of legal institutions. Democratic institutions are strong when they are founded in international standards of democracy.”

Inspired early

Duncan was born and raised on the Vineyard. He said he was inspired early on by his parents’ efforts to help others.

His father, Paul Pickard of Oak Bluffs, is a former high school teacher and EMT who now works for the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. His mother Gretchen Mayher, of Vineyard Haven, is a nurse at the Vineyard Nursing Association and works seasonally at the floral shop at Donaroma’s in Edgartown.

Paul Pickard said his son has always been active in rights issues and community service. “He has always taken on leadership roles,” he said. His mother said that what has always impressed her was his independence, his ability to do things on his own.

Duncan attributes his interest in public service to “the strong sense of community on the Vineyard and the strong sense of public service that I think is sort of expected of everyone on the Vineyard.”

His early resume included working on raising funds for the YMCA, delivering holiday meals to the Island Councils on Aging with his mother, lobbying for the renovation of Veterans Park after a friend injured a knee playing soccer there, and earning his Eagle Scout badge.

He was elected MVRHS student council president, played soccer and basketball, sang with the Minnesingers, and participated in the Model U.N. He was also co-editor of The High School View newspaper. The list goes on and on.

Mr. Pickard has not slowed down. He graduated from Tufts University in 2010 magna cum laude with high thesis honors and three majors: history, Middle Eastern studies, and American studies. He was student body president. He received a full tuition public service fellowship to attend the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government where he earned his masters degree in public policy, international and global affairs. He was a founding co-editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy.

The future

Mr. Pickard speaks French, Spanish, Arabic, and he is studying German at night in Berlin. He enjoys living in Berlin and has spent some of his free time traveling around Germany.

While his most recent work has been international, he said he misses being grounded in the local community. He was involved in projects at Tufts as president of the student body and he did some research for Cape and the Islands State Representative Tim Madden to support a bill he sponsored to make it easier to slaughter meat locally. He said that he is interested in eventually working in government and doing public service work in Massachusetts. “I miss not being grounded in the local community.”

This summer was his first summer in 25 years without spending time back home on the Vineyard. “Which was really sad,” he said. He plans to be back for Christmas and said he doesn’t want to go through another summer without at least a visit to the Vineyard.