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April 30, 2014

Ask an Alum: Kristine Herman

Kristine Herman

How did you get involved with ABA ROLI?

Many years ago, I became aware of the existence of ABA ROLI (then ABA CEELI) through a former colleague who had spent a year or so in Kosovo through the program. As an attorney with a long-held interest in working internationally, I was fascinated by her experience. It was clear that she had been deeply moved by it herself, which helped lead me to begin work as the gender and human rights liaison in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2006.

In Azerbaijan, my work included a very robust portfolio of collaboration with local anti-human trafficking non-governmental organizations on capacity building, on supporting women in the legal profession, and on fostering public dialogue on draft legislation to address domestic violence.

What was your most memorable moment while at ABA ROLI?

All of it. I can honestly say that the memorable moments are too numerous to list, and that this one experience with ABA ROLI changed me on a fundamental level that is hard to explain other than to say that it seemed to be the perfect convergence of time, place and people. Those I met in Azerbaijan are today my closest friends (many of them my inspirations!). Although I have worked in numerous countries since then, Azerbaijan holds a special place in my heart for what it taught me, for who I met and for who I’ve ultimately become as a result of it.

Did your career change as a result of your service?

Before my service with ABA ROLI, I had an interesting legal job working on issues related to domestic and sexual violence at a successful U.S.-based non-profit. It was very good work, but I knew I wanted to pursue a career at an international level. After returning from Azerbaijan and my service with ABA ROLI, my career and my focus dramatically changed. Not only did I immediately identify an opportunity to return to continue to work on gender-related issues in Azerbaijan, but I continued to make international human rights work a priority.

What have you learned from this time?

My professional goals crystalized after realizing that I had discovered the work that seemed to make a positive impact on the people and communities I worked in partnership with. From that moment on, I have sought out and had the privilege of working in places such as Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Armenia, Fiji and Denmark, and of contributing toward international conversations on human rights and gender equality. My perspective as a professional has been influenced and affected by the numerous incredible people and organizations I have worked with around the globe, and I often feel so fortunate to have had the ABA ROLI experience as my introduction to this path.

Are there ways in which your ABA ROLI experiences benefit your current position?

Less than a year ago, I returned to New York, after a short international whirlwind with my toddler, and I recently joined a phenomenal large Brooklyn-based non-profit defense organization where I am serving as their policy analyst. While I am not working outside the U.S. in this role, the interesting challenges remain—finding creative ways to apply rights-based concepts in an environment that is often resistant to change and working with numerous and diverse stakeholders to try to facilitate meaningful change in pursuit of social justice. This position, and returning to New York, signifies another shift that is influenced on several levels by my three-year old son.

I am confident that my experience with ABA ROLI served as the perfect entry point into what has since become a career in international human rights work. Not only did it give me fantastic experience and comfort working in new cultural and geographic contexts, but it also trained me in a language and network that is unique to international development. I would bet that every day I have drawn on my experience and information I acquired during my time in Azerbaijan with ABA ROLI—whether it’s through my emphasis on stakeholder engagement and community buy-in, my comfort interacting with high-level authorities and government representatives, my familiarity with policy and legal reform movements or general relationship-building skills. I am always benefiting from experience with ABA ROLI and building on that knowledge base.

Among ABA ROLI’s current work, is there a particular program or initiative that you think is particularly important?

I think all of ABA ROLI’s programming is important, with much of the thematic areas crossing over into one another. Of course I am always pleased to see importance placed on women’s rights, access to justice and human rights as these areas are closest to my heart. The global epidemic of violence against women, for example, is critical and should inform every initiative that aims to address gender inequities and women’s participation in society and the rule of law.

Share why you think this type of work is critical for improving the rule of law globally.

In addition to the personal and professional growth that ABA ROLI offered me, I think that the program itself is so important in the efforts to improve the rule of law globally because it offers up experienced, passionate and highly qualified legal professionals to be part of local movements. For better or worse, the presence of an international outsider sometimes forces governments, media and other systems to speak to/answer for certain issues, which can be a valuable tool in supporting the work of local communities. There are so many critical ways that ABA ROLI and other programs are important resources in improving the rule of law internationally: as conveners, facilitators, trainers, mediators, implementers, planners, commentators, analysts and supporters.

Where do you want to be in 10 years from now?

When I contemplate where I expect to be in 10 years from now it is a continuation of the path I embarked on the day my plane landed in Baku in 2006, identifying places and spaces where I can contribute my expertise and unique perspective in rule of law issues domestically and internationally. I know that working on issues of human rights, gender, vulnerable populations and access to justice are areas that not only make positive impacts on others but also feed me, allowing me to continue to grow personally and professionally.