By Karen Kelly
Regional Head of Strategic Analysis, Middle East and North Africa, HSBC
Master of Arts, Central/East European and Russian-Area Studies (’00)
In 1999, Helen Belopolsky was preparing to attend law school.
She had earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and history at McGill University and had already been accepted to a law program when she sent an application to Carleton’s Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (EURUS).
“International relations was something I had always been interested in doing,” recalls Dr. Belopolsky. “Then I received a phone call from Professor Joan DeBardeleben, who was the director at the time. Her passion was contagious and she laid out a pathway that I hadn’t even considered at that point. Her call changed the course of my career.”
Dr. Belopolsky’s experience in EURUS laid the groundwork for a one-year internship at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, where she researched the arms trade in Northeast Asia as well as Russian-Japanese relations. The internship also reinforced her lifelong fascination with Russia, which she first visited on a family trip in 1991.
“At that time, there were huge lineups outside the stores. By the year 2000, Chanel and Dior had opened shops on the main street,” she recalls. “Russia has a fascinating history filled with tragedy, drama and the ability to overcome. Every time I go back, it’s like a different country.”
After finishing a PhD in international relations at the University of Oxford in the U.K., Dr. Belopolsky was offered a consulting position with the Department of Foreign Affairs back in Ottawa. From there, she provided international analysis to the Department of Public Safety before taking a job as an advisor to the Privy Council Office.
“When I was offered that job, I was ecstatic. There aren’t many positions for international advisors and I felt quite privileged to be offering analytic support to the National Security Advisor,” she says.
The job required Dr. Belopolsky to travel frequently to Russia and Central Asia, where she met embassy staff as well as representatives of nongovernmental organizations and environmental groups. Her analysis caught the attention of leaders in the Canadian military, who asked her to conduct political assessments on behalf of Task Force Kandahar during the war in Afghanistan.
“I was using the same research skills I used over the course of my academic career: identifying a problem set and pulling disparate information together to create a cohesive narrative,” says Dr. Belopolsky, who also spent five months as a special advisor to the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division in the U.S. military. “It was more stressful work, but it was also rewarding. I felt proud to be supporting them.”
Today, Dr. Belopolsky is applying her research and analytic skills to identifying potential criminal activity in the Middle East and North Africa for the HSBC bank.
She can’t give too many details, but says, “there’s lots of excitement in the region.”
It’s just one of many new challenges she’s embraced along her career path.
“I believe there’s no direct path to success,” she says. “I advise students to take good opportunities as they come. They never know where they’ll end up.”
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