GPG delivers specialist technical advice through a core group of retained Associates who are former Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants or parliamentary staff, and academics. We have built long-lasting relationships with Associates which we seek to highlight in this series of personal profiles.
This month’s Associate, Dr. John K. Johnson, is a comparative parliamentary specialist with 35 years’ experience working in and supporting parliaments. He discusses his background, experience, and his work with GPG in Sierra Leone.
Describe your area of work. What encouraged you to work in this sector?
I work in several areas of strengthening democracy, and my primary focus is on helping parliaments become more effective and responsive to constituent needs.
It was a happy confluence of opportunity and timing. I had served as Director of the New York State Senate Transportation Committee and learned Spanish as a US Diplomat in Mexico. In 1990 I learned of an opportunity with the State University of New York to manage a USAID project for the Congress of Chile – drawing on both experiences. I was selected to manage the project and that began a 33-year run of supporting parliaments across the globe.
Give us a short overview of what you consider to have been a key moment in your career. What brought you where you are today?
There are so many, but here are two. (1) Working as a teacher in Nairobi Kenya right out of college. I fell in love with Africa and working internationally; and (2) serving in Mexico as a US Foreign Service Officer. I was a small-town boy whose dad hadn’t finished high-school, and these experiences expanded my vision and helped me to realize the breadth of opportunity that exists in life.
What one thing about working in your sector do you wish was different?
Donor support for parliaments was robust when I began this work in the 1990s but has dropped off. I wish parliamentary support would grow again.
What work have you done with GPG, and what drove you to work with our organisation?
I designed and delivered a handbook and training programme for parliamentary staff in Sierra Leone with GPG, which went exceedingly well. I had met GPG’s Founder and Board Chair, Greg Power and used his material in my training programmes for MPs and staff through McGill University. When I learned about his associates programme, I asked to join.
How would you describe the impact of your work with GPG?
The Sierra Leone project enabled me to pull together pieces of several trainings I had conducted with MPs and staff in other nations to design a handbook and training programme on legislation – analysing government legislation, conducting policy research, and conducting legislative oversight – into a general programme able to be adjusted to different countries.
Beyond GPG, tell us about an organisation or a programme you feel successfully contributes to strengthening representative politics around the world.
The McGill University Parliamentary Programme. The McGill programme has been training MPs and staff for more than a decade, enabling them to learn from the professors, and from one another. It is a one-of-a-kind programme focused specifically on parliaments.