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CWSL Alum Authors Book on Lessons Learned from U.S. Foreign Assistance Projects

Jade Wu

Jade Wu ‘03 always had an interest in international development.

Wu, who currently lives and practices law in Washington, D.C. has recently become a nationally recognized author. Her book, Flashpoints, about her experiences working on U.S. foreign assistance programs, received an Honorable Mention in the 2017 Foreword Book Prize in Political Science. 

It was through an internship she took while at California Western that helped re-emphasize her fascination with international affairs, laws, and issues.

Her third-year legal internship at the Asian Development Bank, Office of the General Counsel in the Philippines left a lasting impression. “That was a great experience,” says Wu. “I was able to work first hand with lawyers from all over the world—Turkey, Malaysia, the U.K., the Netherlands, China—and I was able to see how an international organization functioned at its core. I also learned about the application of international law.”

After Wu received her M.A. in political science from the University of California Santa Barbara, the U.S. Peace Corps accepted her and sent her to teach English in Malawi, Africa. She spent a little over two years there living in a small village learning about that part of the world, its way of life, and also about herself. After Malawi, she went to Kosovo for a paid job to help in the humanitarian crisis during the Serbian-Albanian fighting and ethnic cleansing.

“That was another eye-opener too,” recalls Wu. “Not only to the issues in Eastern Europe but to the myriad of organizations that do this kind of work in unstable parts of the world. I saw firsthand how many of them compete for these often lucrative, though not always effective, contracts.”

After Kosovo, Wu went on to work on similar projects in the Philippines, Germany, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Her time at California Western and the Philippines overlapped.

Shortly after she left Afghanistan Wu arrived in Rhodes, Greece. It was there that she first got a very strong inclination to write—to put down on paper what she saw and the lessons learned from her experiences.

“By the time I left Afghanistan, I had already worked in six developing countries, three of them war zones,” says Wu. “I had seen repeated American mistakes from one country to the next: the waste, the misunderstanding of local cultures, the challenges of gender dynamics, and the corruption.”

Wu says she felt compelled to record these on paper so that the U.S. might not make the same errors again. “I started out just typing on my laptop, and soon the words became an essay, then a longer essay,” she says. “It was not until months later that I saw I had a manuscript for a book. That was how Flash Points was born.”

Today, Wu is an independent contractor in Washington, D.C. working with a law firm that does civil litigation. She has been counsel on many different types of cases: federal internal investigations, product liability, fraud, medical malpractice, contract dispute, unions, and Freedom of Information Act issues. She also gives author talks and writes foreign and domestic affairs analyses for newspapers and specialty journals.

However, the lure of foreign lands is ever present as Jade Wu readily admits, “Irrespective of where I practice in the U.S. I will always make time to go overseas and be part of a development assignment.”