Alumni Profile: James Fraser

James Fraser

James graduated from the Peace, Conflict and Justice (then Peace and Conflict) program in 1996. Aided by international experiences during his undergrad, he proceeded to work for Doctors Without Borders for several years, beginning as a logistician and later becoming a program coordinator. He then founded Dignitas International in 2002, growing it from zero to 130 people during his time there while effecting policy changes for better health access, training health care workers and spreading access to HIV treatment in Malawi. He is now President and CEO of ChipCare, a Toronto based diagnostic company that boasts a low cost, rugged, mobile and polyvalent (cells, immunoassay and molecular) blood testing platform to increase diagnostic access to the hardest-to-reach populations.


How would you say the program has helped you since graduation?

The Peace and Conflict program gave me a multidisciplinary background which has allowed for the entrepreneurial nature of my life trajectory so far. It has provided me with different modes of thinking of any given situation which gives me a more holistic perspective than someone trained only in, say, economics or political science. Even now, I still use concepts such as game theory—they remain relevant in my work today. Furthermore, opportunities available to me such as the international experiences I went on in the summers after my second and third year were integral to securing my position at Doctors Without Borders after graduation.


A key aspect of the program is providing opportunities for international experiences and entrepreneurship. Could you speak briefly about your experiences with one or both of these and their significance?

In the summer between second and third year, I was able to travel to Azerbaijan & Armenia to interview to conduct research on how people create enemy images. Before the war, there was plenty of inter-ethnic contact, while most places had been ethnically cleansed after the war. What was the psychological transformation that had occurred that allowed this to happen? To answer this, I was able to interview a multitude of different people with different backgrounds in the war.

The following year, I conducted an independent study in El Salvador. This was more abstract, studying how environmental degradation affects the process of democratization. The civil war had ended and the FMLN was now a part of the government, so it was a perfect case to study first-hand.

Overall, international experiences made my academic studies were much more grounded in reality. Choosing to go on them depends on goal your goals, but being young, travelling (at least to me) is more fun than staying in Toronto. One of the goals of a university experience is to expand horizons. When you travel, you see how different cultures, societies, bodies of law operate, and you absorb so much every day you’re traveling. This is why I think any international experiences and travelling more generally are highly important. Besides, part of the goals of this program are to analyze conflict and promote peace, and you can’t really learn to do this comprehensively without travel.


Would you care to offer any advice to current or prospective students?

I’ve noticed that people here in Canada tend to wait for permission before doing things, or wait for a group to form. I would say just figure out what you want to do and do it—don’t wait for permission. Use the unique skill set that you get from PCJ to affect the world—it gives you more power than you think you have to effect change.



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