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Alumni Profile: Kathleen Keene Jones '99

Pursuing Peace

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Perched on the shores of the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Oman is the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, a country forged from seven sheikdoms. Formed in 1971, the country is relatively new, yet it commands a vast amount of mineral and oil wealth. With this growing prosperity, the UAE has emerged as a leader in foreign aid, having spent more per capita than any other country in recent years. At the heart of these spending decisions is Kathleen Keene Jones, senior adviser to the UAE ministry of foreign affairs.

As a senior adviser, Jones lives in Dubai and leads the team drafting the UAE’s first foreign aid policy. Jones ensures that the UAE is strategic in how resources are allocated to less fortunate countries, humanitarian efforts, multilateral organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.

“Foreign aid is partially about being benevolent, but also about aligning aid with foreign affairs and what is best for regional security,” Jones says. “The security of this region impacts the world, so the purpose of the policy must align with the UAE’s strengths.”

A large component of Jones’ job is capacity development, where she works to empower Emiratis to obtain the skills necessary to achieve future development objectives. Since 2010, she has lived and worked throughout the Middle East, moving from Afghanistan to South Sudan to the UAE. Before joining the UAE government Jones enjoyed 10 years with the United Nations (U.N.), a career she says is instrumental to her current occupation.

Working at the U.N. had long been a dream for Jones, who was deeply troubled by the thirst for war in the years following the 9/11 attacks. She longed to play a role in global processes and to use diplomacy to prevent engagement in unnecessary wars. Jones joined the U.N. in the Office for the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, where she participated in humanitarian responses for various crises, including the Pakistan earthquake in 2005 and the Lebanon War in 2006. Leaving OCHA, Jones transitioned to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, where she worked in the Peacekeeping Situation Center in New York City. Jones and her colleagues monitored crises from around the world, from earthquakes to assassination attempts and everything in between.

“Our job was to manage the initial stages of crises,” Jones says. “Whether it was a natural disaster or a sudden outbreak of conflict, the bottom line is to save as many lives as possible and to mobilize the resources on the ground to make that a reality.”

Jones’ ability to delegate effectively and to keep calm under pressure earned her the recognition of superiors, and she was appointed to a U.N. political mission in Afghanistan. What was supposed to be a three-month stint became a two-year assignment where Jones developed and implemented an early warning system to mitigate political and security risks. As an information analyst, she gained the perspectives of various actors on the ground and was the officer in charge of the analysis unit. For Jones, the most gratifying moments happened when measures, based on advice from her team’s briefing, stopped an incident from happening.   

Back in Dubai, Jones says the lessons she learned on the ground in Afghanistan, and later South Sudan, have allowed her to see war-torn countries as more than grisly news reports, but as diverse nations with complex and captivating peoples. Jones believes it is her ability to see a long-term, big-picture perspective that enables her to excel.

A communication and English double major, Jones says Trinity not only taught her valuable critical-thinking and writing skills, but also trained her to listen effectively, a skill she says has served her well many times over. Whether in cabinet meetings with high-ranking Emiratis, conducting reconciliation with insurgents, or in the Situation Center in New York, Jones underscores the importance of “keeping an open mind and being an active listener.” In addition to being a manager, Jones considers herself a mentor to many of the junior members of her team.

Far from her native San Antonio, Jones is motivated by her fascination with other cultures and the commonalities that link seemingly disparate peoples. Recently, Jones was chatting with an Emirati coworker about their childhoods because Jones had just given birth to a daughter. The two women, although raised in completely different cultures, laughed as they realized just how many similarities their childhoods shared. These are the bonds that keep Jones steadfast in her hope for a peaceful, nonviolent future.