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April 30, 2015

Director’s Message: Reflections at 25

April 2015

As highlighted in the articles and video contained in this month’s issue, we kicked off a year of 25th anniversary events this month with a rich week of staff trainings, strategic planning, our board meeting, a wonderful alumni reception and a public conference on “Access to Justice and the Rule of Law: The Next 25 Years.” I came away from the week in equal parts immensely proud of our team and the work we do and challenged by the rule of law obstacles before us. Celebrating our successes and grappling honestly and rigorously with challenges will be recurring themes over the year, including at a special gathering at the CEELI Institute in Prague from June 27–29. The three-day agenda will include important stock-taking and brainstorming new strategies, as well as time to catch up with old friends and colleagues.

An anniversary is an important moment for reflection. Thinking about rule of law development over the past 25 years, one thing is clear: building stable, sustainable, prosperous societies founded on the rule of law is a much more complex and difficult task than it seemed when ABA CEELI launched in 1990. As we reflected during our conference, success requires both supply and demand for justice—appropriate, clear and transparent laws and effective institutions on the one hand, and a broad-based and empowered civil society capable of demanding accountability on the other. We now also appreciate that the path to rule of law is long, arduous, winding, perhaps never-ending—a dimension to our work that poses real challenges in a big data era when short-term quantifiable deliverables are the fashion.

In addition, we increasingly understand the complex interconnectedness of rule of law to other dimensions of development and human well-being: that factors such as poverty, health and education affect whether and how rule of law takes hold, that rule of law is equally critical to strategies to address these issues, and that all of this work requires integrated and interdisciplinary approaches. We have begun to develop such approaches, for example those outlined in the recent ABA ROLI-authored U.S. Agency for International Development guide to integrating rule of law in development, but much remains to be done to implement and evaluate these strategies.

Finally, and most importantly, we are increasingly aware of and frank about what we don’t know. I recently celebrated a landmark birthday (let’s just say … not 25), and I can’t but reflect on what I thought I knew at 25, yet now know I didn’t. Given how the world and our rule of law work has changed over the past 25 years, it stands to reason that 25 years from now, the landscape will be equally transformed, in ways we cannot possibly anticipate. Accepting that reality and committing ourselves to being a flexible, learning organization will be essential to maximizing the impact of ABA ROLI’s work in the future. Thus, even as we celebrate our achievements this year, it is moving very intentionally into that challenging and exciting future that our anniversary events are really intended to mark. I hope you will join us!