David Peyton

From road construction to public policy

If, during high school he spent summers working road construction on the streets of Minneapolis, his hometown, that seems like a long time ago to David Peyton. He now spends most of his days near Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., working at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

As a policy coordinator/project manager, he studies and writes on a range of foreign policy topics, drawing on his degree in International Relations from Wheaton College. Although AEI does not always coincide with his own political preferences – Peyton was a fervent Obama supporter – he describes his work in the more conservative surroundings of the institute as a valuable learning experience. "Ultimately, our personal politics should transcend the left-right dichotomy," says Peyton.

David graduated from high school with the goal of joining the U.S. Navy, but a foreign exchange year in France altered these plans. Instead, he enrolled at Wheaton College, where he became close friends with two other HIA fellows. David decided to apply and ended up participating in the HIA Fellowship in Berlin.

At first, he was uncertain how other HIA fellows would receive his Christian background and his work with church groups in Chicago. He was pleased to discover that despite HIA fellows' different nationalities and life experiences, there was a surprising unanimity of mission present in the group. "There is a common language spoken around the HIA table," he reflects. "Even though we come from different perspectives, in the end we want the same thing - to identify human rights problems and then to tackle them."

After the program, Peyton decided it was his turn to tackle a big problem. As president of the Student Global Aids Campaign at Wheaton College, he worked on HIV/AIDS advocacy campaigns in the Chicago area. He then traveled to Rwanda to work with a microfinance institution that was extending credit to HIV positive clients. During his seven-month stay, he also had the opportunity to observe UN organizations and other foreign assistance programs up close. He realized that in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda was working through issues of justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness similar to those that Europe faced after World War II. His project also convinced him of the importance of economic development as a "first line of defense."

"I've become more of a realist when it comes to the UN and humanitarian organizations," he says about his experience in Rwanda. “It is a step forward that the international community recognizes that major mistakes were made. We've got a long way to go." And where will David Peyton go next? He hasn't sketched that out yet. Maybe the UN, an NGO, or even American politics. "So much is happening in DC", he claims enthusiastically.

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"David realized that in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda was working through issues of justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness similar to those that Europe faced after World War II."