Binita Raval

About Binita Raval

Binita Raval currently serves as the Associate Program Manager at the Institute for Defense and Business (IDB). She supports the programs and operations for the Center for Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction (CSER) and the UNC-IDB Strategic Studies Fellows Program (SSFP). She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she double-majored in Peace, War, and Defense and Political Science and minored in the languages of Hindi and Urdu. Her interests include national and international security, the South Asia region, cooking, and traveling.

Breaking down borders during crisis response

When disaster strikes, horrific images of the damaged environments and upsetting stories of the lives impacted and lost flood media networks across all platforms. We are lucky to live in a world where there are thousands of organizations and their dedicated employees who are among the first to respond to the devastated locations. However, it is important to also note that everyday citizens are also anxious and curious as to how they can help whether on the ground or from a distance. We have seen, disaster after disaster, everyday citizens from around the world coming together to show support through monetary donations, canned food and clothing drives, and even hashtags.

41hB8s8gCIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSuzanne Bernier’s book, Disaster Heroes, captures the incredible journeys of everyday citizens who assist in a crisis situation. Bernier shares the stories of a man in Louisiana raising funds to send a fire truck to replace damaged equipment from 9/11 to a New York City Fire Department in Brooklyn, to a Pennsylvania-based drilling company sharing valuable knowledge and equipment with the 2010 Chilean Mine Collapse effort to extract the 33 trapped miners, to a Hudson River ferry captain acting on his immediate instincts and professional experience to aid in several relief efforts. The book captures an important theme seen amongst both formal and informal actors in crisis response:

 “There are no borders when it comes to disasters. We’re all in this together.”

This mantra is what demonstrates the goodness in our globalized society and I would argue it also illustrates the necessity of cooperation in crisis response. As people from all over the world aim to assist a crisis-impacted community, the borders, whether they are geographical, cultural, functional, or temporal, should not disrupt effective cooperation and instead should foster partnership and support.

What physical or conceptual borders have you experienced that have challenged effective cooperation in the crisis environment?

Highlights from the 2014 UNC-IDB Strategic Studies Fellows Program

The UNC-IDB Strategic Studies Fellows Program (SSFP) recognized its third class of graduates with a graduation ceremony on July 25, 2014 at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC. The details of the ceremony were published in our press release, along with information on SSFP and the Fellows’ Capstone Team Project. The 49 graduates (a number twice as large as in the years before) included Army Majors, Captains, Warrant Officers, NCOs, and Civilian Strategists. While they certainly enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the journey they had completed together, it is hard to determine if the graduation event was the climax. The five weeks spent together on campus were filled with so many high points many said they were not ready for the experience to end.

Hitting The Ground Running

UNC-IDB SSFP 2014 Odierno

Photo: IDB 2014.

The first week of school is generally regarded as the easy week or the “calm before the storm”; this was not true for SSFP. Top IDB faculty used the first week of class to build the foundation of the strategic thinking and national security curriculum.  That Friday they were granted a unique opportunity to talk candidly with one of their own. On June 27th U.S. Army’s 38th Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno held an intimate conversation with the students. He spoke to them about the development of the force and how promotional boards are conducted, a topic very important to them as the Army faces downsizing. He stressed how critical education will be as they move forward and work to maintain readiness with small numbers.  Students were able to ask General Odierno questions about current issues, such as regional alignment, and the rationale behind Army leadership’s decisions.

 The Ties That Bind Us

As part of laying a solid foundation, students spent the first Saturday of the program engaged in academic and service activities outside of the classroom. These events facilitated extraordinarily strong, life-long bonds within the 2014 class of Fellows which proved critical to their success in the program.

UNC-IDB SSFP 2014 Students at the Guilford Courthouse Battle Ride.

Photo: IDB 2014.

Twenty-nine students attended the Guilford Courthouse Battle Ride led by the Chair of the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Wayne Lee and drove down to Greensboro, NC early Saturday morning to walk the trails of the historic Revolutionary War battle and understand the significance of the 1781 Battle at Guilford Courthouse.  With fresh perspectives from the week’s academic sessions, the students recognized the decisions made on the battlefield impacted the greater strategies of both sides during the Revolutionary War.


UNC-IDB SSFP 2014 Students at the Jim Wall Challenge Course.

Photo: IDB 2014.

The remaining twenty students traveled to the campus of North Carolina State University to conduct a service project at the Jim Wall Challenge Course.  In partnership with the U.S. Veteran Corps, the Fellows assisted in beautification projects for a Wounded Warrior Project event this fall at the course.  Service to others is a crucial component of being a great leader and these students were given the opportunity to not only give back, but to give back to their own military community.

 Corporate Visits – Charlotte

The IDB is in a unique position in that its able to bring together the worlds of defense and business.  This is what sets the UNC-IDB SSFP curriculum apart – the emphasis on developing not only the strategic thinking but also the executive skills of these young leaders.  For the past three years, the Fellows have traveled to local North Carolina based private sector organizations to hear more on how the private sector overcomes similar challenges.  This year, the SSFP group traveled to Charlotte, NC to meet with two large organizations – Duke Energy and the Carolina Panthers (a National Football League team).

UNC-IDB SSFP 2014 Students at Duke Energy

Photo: IDB 2014.

At Duke Energy, the students met with the senior risk management team, including the Chief Risk Officer, the Vice President of Emerging Technology, the Vice President of Project Management and Construction, and the Director of Enterprise Preparedness Services.  The leaders provided the private sector perspective on risk management and various other components of the business world.  However, the students most appreciated the candidness of the conversation. The discussion ranged from the challenges that the Fortune 250 company was facing to managing a work-life balance to speaking about the facets of a successful career.

UNC-IDB SSFP 2014 Students at the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium.

Photo: IDB 2014.

The positions The Fellows hold within the Army require them to develop and guide the younger talent in their units towards a successful path.  Therefore, the IDB arranged a meeting with a professional sports team whose focus is to do just that (and also win football games).  The students met with the President of the Carolina Panthers, Mr. Danny Morrison, and he spoke on the topics of leadership and talent management. The visit with the Panthers concluded with an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the locker room, team meeting room, the suites, and other facilities in the Bank of America Stadium.  The core takeaways from the afternoon were the importance of developing and taking care of young talent as well as taking care of the individuals that support and motivate the talent – like the Panthers fans and the greater Panthers community.

Connecting the Dots

During the last week of the program, the Fellows had the opportunity to speak in person with Pulitzer Prize Winner Mark Mazzetti about his New York Times Bestseller, The Way of the Knife. This book was assigned as a pre-course reading assignment to launch the students into the course material and subject areas. The book discusses the blurred lines between the U.S. Military and the U.S. Intelligence Community in the battlefield. The strategic implications of this blurriness were discussed both in and outside of the classroom. The open conversation with Mazzetti included students questioning the author’s perspectives as a journalist on strategic national security issues and Mazzetti reciprocally asking the Fellows’ perspectives on the same issues and the way ahead. This event allowed students to bring together all the theories, concepts, and debates central to SSFP’s national security decision-making curriculum.

Broad Horizons

The July 25th graduation ceremony served as an opportunity to acknowledge all of the students’ hard work and growth over the previous five weeks. At the end of her time in Chapel Hill, one student summarized her experience by saying, “we were encouraged to go as far as possible and were not put ‘in a box’ regarding our potential thinking processes” We hope the creative thinking drawn from the non-traditional, low-threat learning environment will continue to drive them as they advance through their careers.

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For more information on UNC-IDB SSFP,
please contact Zebrina Warner