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Profiles to Inspire: "A Day in the Life of an International Democracy Builder"

Ever wondered what it's like to help other countries build democratic institutions? Mark Lenzi, country director of a democracy-promoting organization in the Republic of Georgia, recounts his fascinating day's events.

Brief Bio

Mark Lenzi is the country director for the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Tbilisi, Georgia.  IRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advances freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law. 

Mark is originally from Barrington, NH. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1997 with a major in Civil Engineering and minors in Hydrology, Political Science, and Water Resource Management. After graduating he worked for a year with the U.S. State Department as an intern at the U.S. embassy in Budapest, Hungary and then in Washington, DC on Balkans issues. From 1998-2000 he was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Kielce, Poland working as an environmental engineer for the city government's department of environmental protection. From 2000-2002 he was a Fulbright Scholar in Vilnius, Lithuania studying Lithuania's relations with Poland. From 2002-2003 he worked as an environmental engineer in Amman, Jordan and Baku, Azerbaijan with a British engineering/consulting firm.

A Day in Mark's Life

10.00: Start work at our office in the middle of the capital city, Tbilisi. (The Georgian workday does not begin until 10 a.m. because Georgians usually work late hours - sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning. One of the most infamous Georgians in history, Josef Stalin, kept hours like this).

Meet with New York Times reporter for two hours and discuss the current political situation in Georgia ahead of the October 5, 2006 local elections.

12.15: Check email in office and see if Washington has sent any tasks that I need to respond to or anything that I may need to answer before DC staff starts getting into the office in about 3 hours from now.

12.45: Meet with representatives of IRI's local youth partner in Georgia to discuss the details of their upcoming observation mission to monitor the local elections. They will also conduct a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) which will help ensure that the government does not try to commit fraud when counting the results reported from each polling station.

Georgia had a revolution in November 2003 that was sparked by the government trying to steal and fraud parliamentary elections. The observation and PVT is a large endeavor which involved a high degree of coordination and computer data entry. There will be a lot of focus placed on their results. As IRI (with US government money) is funding this operation, I want to make sure the preparations are going smoothly which they seem to be. The name of the youth group is called New Generation New Initiative and they are indeed that - they represent some of the brightest and most motivated youth in Georgia and make me optimistic for this country's future.

13.30: Meet with the Lithuanian Defense Attache for lunch. We discuss Georgia's progress on trying to get into the NATO military alliance and the situation in two breakaway regions of Georgia - South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These two regions are part of Georgia but have declared themselves independent, and tension remains high between the government of Georgia in Tbilisi and the de-facto "governments" of these regions. Georgia is located in a tough region - Russia to the north and Iran is very close to the South.

15.00: Meet with the leader of the Freedom Party Konstantin Gamsakhurdia about his upcoming trip to the US. Konstantin is the son of Georgia's first president after independence from the Soviet Union, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was deposed in a coup and later died under mysterious circumstances. Their party is fledgling but I believe with a little support and assistance they have some potential - especially in the west of Georgia near the Black Sea.

16.15: Review and choose designs for 10 huge "Get Out The Vote" billboards we will be putting up all around Tbilisi encouraging people (especially youth) to vote in the elections. Local elections usually have lower turnout than national elections and I hope that these billboards we are designing and funding (that have Georgian pop stars and popular models saying "I am going to vote in the elections - will you?") will raise voter turnout.

17.20: Back at the office, work on mundane administration things such as quarterly reports for Washington and accounting and discuss political events in Georgia with my program officer here who has worked for IRI in Georgia for eight years and knows Georgian politics as well as anyone in the country.

18.30: Run to a dinner with my wife for a U.S. diplomat who is leaving the American embassy here to return to Washington.

20.15: Meet for drinks with a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who specializes in local governance reform. Good to hear his insights in the runup to local elections here as it assists us in our work helping political parties in Georgia to be more competitive.

21.45: Talk to a friend via skype who is working in Afghanistan. He is in charge of an NGO that runs a counter-narc program, and it sounds like pretty difficult conditions. He was recently pinned down in a firefight in the middle of Kabul. I count my blessings that I am not working under such difficult conditions here.

22.20: Watch Spike Lee's excellent film "25th Hour".

01.35: Go to bed. 

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