It marks the on-the-ground start of the new partnership that was announced last year.
The 2017 OSF program cohort.
2017 OSF program cohort. Bhatia is back row, center (red/white shirt). Lopez Rodriguez is front row, center (blue/black shirt).

Harris student Jaspal Bhatia is spending the summer in Rome helping with a effort to monitor and improve juvenile prison facilities in Latin America, thanks to a partnership between Harris Public Policy and Open Society Foundations, a nonprofit organization focused on human rights and governance.

Bhatia says he applied for the internship because he knew how well regarded Open Society Foundations (OSF) has become for its work around the globe and he saw it as a golden opportunity to learn directly from human rights practitioners. “The program gives you the experience of working on the ground and learning from some of the best in the field,” he says.

Bhatia is one of two Harris Public Policy students participating this summer in international human rights internships provided by OSF: Bhatia, who is with Associazione Antigone in Rome, Italy; and Alejandra Lopez Rodriguez, who is with the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. Their OSF internships mark the on-the-ground start of the new partnership that was announced last year.

An elite opportunity

Harris and the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government are the only two U.S. universities among 15 overall participating in the OSF Summer Internship for Rights and Governance program in 2017. A total of 24 students are taking part, including those from universities in Turkey, Colombia, Hong Kong, Palestine and Lebanon.

Anne Denes, program lead for the Open Society Internship for Rights and Governance, says OSF knew Harris would produce impressive students and that those who interacted with Bhatia and Lopez Rodriguez at the two-week orientation program in Budapest had that belief confirmed. OSF also saw parallels with Harris’ curriculum and overall philosophy in terms of the interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to public policy, she says.

“Our hope is that the students have a rich experience with their host institution and produce something of use to the institution,” Denes says. “We hope they will collaborate with their hosts, take the project they’ve been assigned and really make it their own, so there’s buy-in from both parties. It was clear that partnering with Harris would be a really strong match, and this first year has proven our instincts correct.”

Pressing issues

Lopez Rodriguez’s work at World Resources Institute has been within the organization’s Environmental Democracy Practice. WRI has a mission “to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.”

Her specific project has addressed the issue of violence against environmental human rights defenders. “The objectives are to create a mapping of organizations and networks working to reduce violence against environmental defenders and to develop an advocacy agenda to address the issue in the specific context of Colombia,” Lopez Rodriguez says. The WRI chose Colombia because it’s listed among the countries with the highest number of deaths among environmental defenders, according to Global Witness, she adds.

The mapping exercise is designed to allow diverse groups working on protecting those defenders to connect, share information and collaborate, as well as informing potential donors, Lopez Rodriguez says. “In turn, the advocacy agenda will shed light on the main risk factors [and] best policy practices, in addition to proposing lines of action at the national and international levels,” she says.

Lopez Rodriguez applied for the internship to gain experience in the NGO sector, where she would like to work upon graduation, and more importantly for the specific focus.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work on a project that I believe addresses two of the most pressing global issues: protecting human rights defenders and working for environmental sustainability,” Lopez Rodriguez says. “As a Latin American, the region’s [status] as the most dangerous in the world for environmental defenders represents an immediate call to action, which I am proud to become a part of.”

An insightful experience

Bhatia’s project with Associazione Antigone, an Italian NGO focused on human rights in the criminal justice system, is part of the work the NGO has been doing for the Inter-American Development Bank to monitor juvenile prison facilities in eight Latin American nations. The organization completed a literature review and direct observation in the prisons, and this summer Bhatia is helping to develop recommendations on best practices.

Bhatia spent time studying the Italian juvenile justice system and the work performed by Antigone to date, then has been analyzing the qualitative data collected in Central America to help develop the recommendations. “Associazione Antigone has been hired to do a comprehensive look at the juvenile facilities--what conditions are like and what practices they use,” Bhatia says. “We’ll aggregate data we’ve collected from countries in central America, lay out what’s happening there and put together a best practices final report.”

Bhatia’s career to date has been mostly U.S.-focused, including a year as a policy and research associate at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund before enrolling at Harris, so he saw the internship as an opportunity to gain international knowledge and experience. “It’s a different focus on similar issues of justice that I’ve been working on at home,” he says. “It’s a privilege and an honor to be selected for this program.”


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The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people. To learn more about the Open Society Foundations and the OSIRG program visit: