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Alumni Update: Mike Brand ’07, Human Rights Minor

BY Johanna Debari


I can confidently say that I would not be where I am today, doing what I am doing, had it not been for the Human Rights minor at UConn. I was fortunate to have some very influential professors, and the support of the Human Rights Institute, while I was in school. The good news for present students is that many of the professors that I had are still teaching at UConn today!

Currently, I serve as the Director of Policy and Programs at Jewish World Watch (JWW), an anti-genocide mass atrocities prevention organization focused on Sudan, South Sudan, and the Great Lakes Region. Jewish World Watch works to end genocide and mass atrocities worldwide by educating and mobilizing individuals, advocating for policy changes, and funding projects to support and build resilience in conflict-affected communities.

As the Director of Policy and Programs I oversee and lead on all of our advocacy, policy, and grantmaking to programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and eastern Chad for Darfuri refugees. In many ways working at JWW is my dream job. In my position I create campaigns, engage with elected and other government officials, educate communities, direct our advocacy priorities, and oversee life-changing projects.

While I love what I do, working in the atrocities prevention field can be very frustrating. With no shortage of mass atrocities around the world, it is easy to get burnt out. For instance, I’ve been working on Sudan issues since I was at UCONN speaking about the genocide in Darfur, staging die-ins in front of the library, going to STAND conferences, and organizing Human Rights Awareness Week. Nine years later, I’m still advocating for an end to the violence in Sudan. But you count your wins where you get them. Like the recently introduced Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, that I, along with many friends and colleagues, worked hard to get introduced.

Along the way I’ve had some great experiences and plenty of lessons learned. Studying the Rwandan genocide in school led me to travel to Rwanda a year after graduating. I’ve since been to Rwanda five times, spent an entire year living and working there, and made lifelong friends. I worked in the Special Envoy’s Office for Sudan and South Sudan at the State Department, and had the opportunity to work abroad in South Sudan during the ongoing civil war. In my current position I get to travel to the DRC, and hopefully this year eastern Chad, to evaluate the programs we support.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give graduating students interested in international human rights it would be to live abroad. I don’t mean for a few months. Really live abroad. Move somewhere for a year, join the Peace Corps, get a fellowship, or if you can a job! You learn so much from living abroad, lessons that cannot possibly be taught in a classroom or in an office.
The other thing I’d say is keep your passion alive, and don’t get discouraged. It took a lot to get where I am today, and it wasn’t always easy. Generally the human rights field is quite competitive, with so few jobs it’s hard to get exactly what you want right away.

If you’re interested in the work I do, have questions about the field, or would like to get involved in the atrocities prevention movement, feel free to email me at mike@jww.org. Good luck!