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April 22, 2016
The Consequences of Serendipity: From Peace Corps to USAID
Is anything ever truly up to chance? Or are these moments of chance instead a culmination of one’s hard work? Possibly both? Regardless, these moments of chance—or rather, serendipity—are something with which former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Counselor Kelly Kammerer is familiar. Throughout Kammerer’s career in the Foreign Service, he describes several notable moments of serendipity that substantially changed the trajectory of his life. While it is possible that these moments were simply a result of Kammerer being in the right place at the right time, it is undeniable that his persistent work ethic and charisma were a large factor for why Kammerer received these opportunities.
Kammerer began his Foreign Service career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia where he worked in the “most isolated and poorest” part of the country, Chocó State. Here Kammerer was primarily concerned with assisting the community to build infrastructure such as schools, teaching English at the public schools, and volunteering at the tuberculosis hospital. After two years, Kammerer went on to law school where he obtained his degree before joining the Peace Corps and then eventually applying for a position with the U.S. Department of State. Upon leaving this interview, Kammerer serendipitously ran into USAID Assistant General Counsel Denis Neil, an old college friend. In learning that Kammerer was looking for a job, he offered him a position.
After this chance encounter, Kammerer forgot about the State Department job and went to work for USAID, where he stayed for the remainder of his career. At USAID Kammerer focused on numerous pieces of legislation, most notably the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA)—or the so-called “New Directions” policy—which was designed to “promote the foreign policy, security, and general welfare of the United States by assisting peoples of the world in their efforts toward economic development and internal and external security” (U.S. Senate). In working on this act, which took a considerable amount of time, Kammerer experienced yet another moment of serendipity.
Early one Sunday morning Kammerer was working on the FAA on Capitol Hill when, “Mark Ball, who was the [USAID] general counsel at the time, showed up. He was on his way to church and had left something in his office . . . he came up to get it and there I was at 9:00 am on a Sunday working away.” This left such an impression on Ball that he then promoted Kammerer to deputy general counsel. In this new position Kammerer continued to work on legislative affairs. He later went overseas, serving in Nepal as mission director. Following the Nepal assignment, Kammerer returned back to USAID where, through another serendipitous moment, he was appointed to the position of counselor to USAID where he finished his career.
In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that overall, Kammerer had an extremely influential career as he travelled the world, focused on meaningful legislation, and formed meaningful relationships that he still maintains today. Kammerer’s hard work led to various serendipitous opportunities, which he parlayed into an enjoyable thirty-seven year career with USAID.
Kelly Kammerer’s interview was conducted by Alexander Shakow on December 16, 2016.
Read Kammerer’s full oral history at https://adst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Kammerer-Kelly-1.pdf.
Read more about the Foreign Assistance Act at https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Foreign%20Assistance%20Act%20Of%201961.pdf.
Drafted by Madeline Thompson
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