Ashley Pritchard '09 credits Lehigh's international focus with helping launch her career in international service and defending human rights

Ashley Pritchard ‘09 has built a career dedicated to international service and understanding.

Ashley Pritchard
Ashley Pritchard

After working at the United Nations for two years after graduating from Lehigh University, she obtained her Master’s in international development in Thailand. Driven by rule of law protections, Pritchard then spent 8 years in Myanmar, working in 2015 to help shepard the country’s historic democratic election. 

Her commitment to human rights motivated her continued rule of law work in Myanmar, documenting human rights abuses in international refugee camps that housed the persecuted Rohingya minority. 

Emboldened to address the challenges of hate speech and misinformation she witnessed firsthand, she returned to the US and currently works for Meta Platforms, the company that owns Facebook, where she advises on elections, civil unrest, and crises in vulnerable countries, including how to combat hate speech that targets marginalized communities.

Pritchard credits Lehigh for launching her career. She values her involvement with Lehigh’s international education programs, her time in the Community Service Office (CSO), and the Lehigh University/United Nations Partnership, which helped her secure her first job at the U.N.

“I got my professional start thanks to Lehigh University,” Pritchard said. “Lehigh's commitment to international understanding and its network opened doors for me. It was the integral starting point that launched my entire career, enabling me to work on issues I deeply care about.”

Drawn to Lehigh’s international focus

Cheryl Matherly, Vice President & Vice Provost for International Affairs at Lehigh, said: “Ashley Pritchard exemplifies Lehigh's commitment to fostering global citizenship and impactful leadership. Her journey from Lehigh to tackling global challenges on the international stage underscores the power of international education in driving positive change in the world."

Originally from San Mateo, Calif., Pritchard graduated in 2009 with bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Economics, and a minor in Engineering. She received several awards while at Lehigh, including the University Service Award, the highest university honor award.

Pritchard actively engaged with the local and international community while she was at Lehigh. She competed as a NCAA Division I athlete on the rowing team and served as a program coordinator in the CSO to organize community events in South Bethlehem.

She credits this experience – coordinating Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week and Wonderful World of Sports – for sparking her interest in collaborative problem-solving and community development, which translated into her work in international development.

Pritchard's commitment to global engagement was further deepened through her studies in Lehigh’s international education programs. She studied abroad in London and, as a Martindale Scholar, conducted research in New Zealand on the economic impact of the country’s immigration policy.

“Lehigh’s international focus was a major draw for me,” Pritchard said. “The university provided a space where I could explore my passion for understanding different cultures and their impact on global affairs.”

A career out in the field

Ashley Pritchard receiving a diploma in Thailand
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand (left) handing Ashley Pritchard (right) her master's diploma from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

While working at the U.N., Pritchard was involved in large-scale international development planning. After two years on the job, she knew she needed a firsthand understanding of the communities and issues on which she was working.

“I was eager to move beyond theory to truly understand the realities on the ground,” she said. “I wanted to learn directly from the people I was working to serve.”

Pritchard was awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to pursue her master’s degree in international development at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. After graduating, she worked and lived in Myanmar for eight years, contributing to the country’s efforts to establish democratic processes.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a Southeast Asian country bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand. The nation began transitioning from military rule to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, with the establishment of a new constitution and more political freedoms. However, the military staged a coup in 2021, leading to widespread protests and military crackdowns.

“In the U.S. we grow up understanding the importance of voting, but in Myanmar it’s different,” she said. “How do you describe democracy to people who have lived under a military dictatorship most or all of their adult lives? How do you convince them to take several hours out of their day – to go stand in line for a process they’ve never seen before?”

One initiative Pritchard’s team led was a Monopoly-like board game that simulated elections and the inner workings of a democratic government. The game was played with military leaders, parliamentarians, and community members in all 14 states and regions of the country. The collaborative effort contributed to a remarkable 70% voter turnout in 2015 and resulted in a peaceful transition of power.

Returning to the United States

Pritchard went on to advocate for rule of law reform in Myanmar and lead large-scale human rights investigations, most notably in examining the alleged persecutions and killings of the Rohingya people, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group numbering 1.4 million in Myanmar. 

Back in the United States, a Facebook recruiter approached Pritchard for a job at the company’s Trust and Safety department. She was initially skeptical, knowing from her Myanmar investigation the role Facebook and other social media outlets played in spreading targeted hate speech that led to real-world violence.

After consulting colleagues that transitioned from development and human rights to the private sector, Pritchard decided to join the company to attempt to positively contribute towards change from within.

At Meta, Pritchard and her team focus on developing products aimed at combating hate speech and removing content that incites violence against minorities. They leverage advanced technology and artificial intelligence to identify and address risks that have an outsized impact on vulnerable populations, aligning with Pritchard's longstanding commitment to human rights and her experience in conflict-affected regions.

“In addition to the work we do in the Integrity space, I’m also very passionate about about what artificial intelligence can do in making education more accessible to marginalized communities,” Pritchard said, “It’s changing how we teach, and allowing us to simulate more on-the-job training kind of experiences and education that perhaps we couldn't have done as easily beforehand.”

Throughout her 15-year career, Pritchard has maintained strong ties with Lehigh University. She serves on the Martindale Associates Board, identifies Iacocca International Internship Program opportunities for students, and regularly hosts events for Lehigh students and prospective students in the Bay Area.