Covering striking Air France mechanics in Paris early in her career as a reporter, Sarah Chayes was hit hard by a wave of inferiority.

“I remember seeing this army of striking mechanics crossing the runway . . . and they were all wearing their uniforms, their mechanics’ uniforms, and I looked at these guys . . . and I said, wow, when you wake up on a bad day, at least you know how to fix an airplane.”

She continued: “You’ve got a skill that you know you’ve mastered, you’ve got a community that you’re a part of . . . and I was jealous. What do I know how to do? And what community am I a part of?”

In fact, her questions held within themselves their own kind of answer. Ms. Chayes’ ability to tolerate this destabilization of identity is a skill that has defined her career.

Living and working in Afghanistan, first as a reporter for NPR, later as the founder of a manufacturing cooperative, and ultimately as special assistant to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her outsider status allowed her to piece together and communicate patterns of governmental corruption and their deleterious effects.

She will speak on the topic of corruption, widening her scope to the global stage, in a lecture as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute on August 10.

Ms. Chayes’ career began, in characteristic fashion, with a bold move.

“I didn’t get into journalism . . . until I bailed out of graduate school,” she recounted. Because she didn’t have background in the field, she applied for a research job at MonitoRadio, the broadcast arm of the Christian Science Monitor.

“This was a research position, and as a graduate student, it looked like I knew how to research,” she said.

After the collapse of MonitoRadio, she made the leap into reporting, moving to France and working freelance. She eventually became a correspondent for National Public Radio in Paris, a position she held until 2001, when she relocated to Afghanistan to cover the fall of the Taliban.

In Afghanistan, she had a moment of reckoning. “I think any reporter at some point asks him or herself, you know, what am I doing about it? Like, I’m talking about it a lot, but what am I doing to make a difference?”

She decided to leave journalism behind. “I was saying goodbye to one of my sources, who was President Karzai’s uncle . . . and as he walked me to the door, and this was a Karzai classic, he just dropped this apparently innocent question, wouldn’t you come back and help us?”

She continued: “Basically I thought with my mouth and said yes.”

This led to a job with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai’s older brother.

“I ended up working for him for a couple years and really came to understand from the inside what the Karzai family was really up to . . . I therefore had a real, close up, inside view of how the family node of a corrupt network operates.”

After Ms. Chayes left the job, she founded Arghand, a skincare cooperative. “Villagers kept on saying to me, why don’t you foreigners produce some jobs for us?”

Through Arghand, Afghan men and women work side-by-side (which is, in itself noteworthy in modern day Afghanistan) to create sustainably sourced and made soaps.

“It was never designed to be a big operation. It was designed to be a sort of example of the type of economic activity that could flourish,” she explained. The hope, she said, is for others to adapt the model, producing a cumulative effect of economic development in the region.

“Now this is Kandahar, Afghanistan . . . We set it up in, you know, I think we started in the summer of 2005 and stuff really hit the fan starting in 2007 or 2008, so it was just about the most difficult environment that you could try to set up a small business.”

She laughed. “I could do a whole talk on how to expand your business in an active theatre of war, but I’d rather not.”

Shipping the collective’s product out of the military base in Kandahar, Ms. Chayes got involved in trainings for incoming military units. As her contacts on base grew, she said, “Word of me spread upwards, and at some point I get a call from the Office of the Commander in Chief of NATO, who wants to talk to me the next time he’s in Afghanistan.” She later became a special adviser to two commanders of the international troops in Afghanistan (ISAF), David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal, and then to Admiral Mullen. For 18 months she traveled between Afghanistan and the Pentagon.

“I was always toggling back and forth between Afghanistan and the Pentagon. I would go from the Pentagon to Kabul . . . then I’d go down to Kandahar . . . and back and forth like that. And that’s really what the chairman wanted, was an independent ground’s eye view of what was happening on this campaign.”

In this role, and now as a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ms. Chayes was not and is not afraid to voice criticism of American interventions abroad.

“I got into this line of work living in Afghanistan, watching people join the Taliban because of their indignation at the corruption of the government, which the United States was supporting. So they got pissed off at us not because of some age old Afghans-hate-the-Westerners thing. That didn’t exist at all, it was, they actually got increasingly irritated at us because of our association with their own government and their practices.”

She added: “It’s a different way of looking at corruption. Corruption is usually thought of as kind of the sneaky things that a certain number of people do on the side, taking bribes or something like that, and I think actually what we’re looking at is intertwined networks of people in the private sector, people in the public sector, sometimes out and out criminals, working together to serve their own purposes, as opposed to the needs of the people.”

The problem, as she sees it, is widespread. “If you kind of scratch the surface of a lot of the terrorism that’s been happening in the last decade or so, you find indignation and corruption. If you look at the revolutions that rocked the Arab world and Ukraine, you find indignation and corruption, if you look at protests that are breaking out . . .” she said, it’s more of the same.

“We’re experiencing it in America. That framing of the problem gives us insight into both the 2016 election but also into what we got as a result of that election, because perversely, you know indignation and corruption have actually landed us in a more corrupt situation.”

“I want to kind of put some of the dynamics that we’re seeing both in the United States and overseas into a kind of context,” she said. “What we’re actually experiencing is . . . the flourishing of a new form of basically kleptocracy.”

Sarah Chayes will speak at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center at 7:30 p.m. on August 10.