Podcast by Leischen Kranick, Edge Managing Editor, and Isabelle Vladoiu, Doctoral Student
When AMU doctoral student Isabelle Vladoiu emigrated to the United States from Romania, she never dreamt that just a few years later she would receive not one but TWO Presidential Lifetime Achievement Awards. In this episode, hear why Isabelle founded the U.S. Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights and her work to educate people around the world about human rights.
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Leischen Kranick: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Leischen Kranick. Today, I’m joined by one of our outstanding doctoral students, Isabelle Vladoiu. Isabelle is currently enrolled as a doctoral student in the university’s Global Security program.
She also has had some amazing accomplishments. She was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by President Biden for her incredible work as the founder of the U.S. Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights. Her non-profit organization focuses on training educators, advocates and government officials around the world to help implement human rights education programs.
She is the youngest person to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and this is actually the second time she’s been honored with this award. She also received it in 2018. Just incredible. Congratulations, Isabelle. It’s wonderful to have you. Thanks for joining me.
Isabelle Vladoiu: Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m really grateful for being here.
Leischen Kranick: I wanted to start our conversation by talking a little bit about just your background and what led to your interest in human rights. So, can you tell our listeners a little bit about what inspired you to get involved in human rights advocacy?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Definitely. Thank you so much. My story is very interesting, and it started very simple. I’m coming from Eastern Europe, Romania, specifically. I trained my entire life to become a lawyer. I went to law school, did my master’s. When I started realizing that you don’t actually need to go to law school, necessarily, to start working in human rights advocacy, it’s about the work that you try to create on an everyday basis. That was part of my motivation, coming from a post-Communist—I was born immediately after post-Communist in Romania, but I could still feel some of the reminiscence of that.
For example, my grandparents were teaching me, “Don’t talk bad of the government when you talk over the phone.” Or, I was still surprised with the neighbors in my neighborhood and friends of mine, when their parents were telling me they went to jail just because their dad had long hair. All of these stories, somehow, they were deep inside me.
So, when I started going to law school, I started studying a lot about human rights and the status of human rights in the world, for me, it instilled this mission of not necessarily protecting and advocating for human rights, but promoting human rights for all.
Leischen Kranick: That’s fascinating. When did you realize that you wanted to start this non-profit organization? Was that after your law school career?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Yeah. Before I started my non-profit organization, I worked as a consultant, as an executive with different other organizations. I collaborated with the United Nations, with the Organization of American States, with many other NGOs in the U.S. and abroad. Then every time that I was trying to do something big, you still get the stops of bureaucracy when you don’t have something that is your own. It just made me want to create more into the society. I felt that it’s a need of promoting more education, so that’s why I created my own organization.
Leischen Kranick: The U.S. Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights, that really focuses on educating other educators about human rights and advocacy. Can you talk a little bit about how that arose? How you realized the need to educate others to educate others?
Isabelle Vladoiu: As a professional, as a practitioner in the field, I saw the need that other people do what I do. I was very successful at what I was doing, and I was getting a lot of questions from people, or even professionals in the same field working in human rights, “How did you succeed in promoting this human rights program to, let’s say, the city mayor? How did you succeed to get on board the Senator of the State of New York, to promote it throughout the entire state? How did you talk with that governor?”
I started realizing that, for me, things that were easy, let’s say, for other people, they had stops, so I thought, “Why not transforming and create more people that actually can help other people?” It’s a duplication method, because I realized I trained, personally in my life, over 15,000 people, in human rights, specifically. I realized, at one point, that it’s not going to serve me my entire life to make sure that I can reach out to everyone.
Looking at the solution for that was very easy, the answer. Because in order to succeed educating billions of people in this world that need to have more education and more awareness about human rights in general, not the activist portion, but more the advocacy aspect of human rights, I needed to teach others that can then teach others, and then those can teach other people.
Leischen Kranick: That’s wonderful. It really is a great way to spread this message about how important human rights are across the world and how to teach people how to even talk about it. Because part of it is, like you said, educating people about the issue, but then the other part is teaching people how to talk about it and how to engage others in that discussion.
I’m wondering, when you started sort of looking at human rights as a big-picture issue, were there elements of it that surprised you that people may not have known about? I mean, we’ll talk a little more about human trafficking in general, but were there really big significant gaps in terms of awareness of some of these issues?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Yes, and that was part of why I started this whole mission, and started and founded my organization. I realized that people are unaware. First of all, if you stop anyone on the street right now, doesn’t matter the age, doesn’t matter their level of literacy, and you simply pose them the question, “What are human rights?” Would they know what to say or give you a definition of human rights?
Then if you go furthermore, and you ask them, “How many human rights [do] we have?” They wouldn’t know the answer to that question. There are very few people in this world that know the answer to that question.
Next year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Seventy-five years since the Universal Declaration was adopted, and that declaration had, in its preamble, that every person should be educated, the keyword, about their human rights, but that didn’t happen.
When was the last time you heard a school having mandatory human rights education? Here, I’m not talking about university level, because here’s what I think: It’s unfair that we live in the 21st century, where you have to go to law school and get a master’s degree in human rights to actually know your human rights.
That’s why I started this whole mission, and part of my challenge was, how can I actually help more people understand and know about human rights, and break some of those myths or misconceptions about human rights? Because often time, when I start asking people—professionals, governments, regular people, community leaders—to make a difference between human rights, civil rights, political rights, all other types of rights, they won’t know to make that difference.
So, I think it’s also common sense that we start being more cohesive as a society, as a population, because the only country in the world that has now mandatory human rights education is Costa Rica.
That shows us that, even though we are 75 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, there’s still much more work to do. While we do have many organization around the world focusing on monitoring human rights violation, on showing and exposing the problem, we definitely lack more support and more organizations who are focusing on the prevention aspect. On educating people so that we can prevent human rights violations from even happening in the first place.
Leischen Kranick: Excellent. I’m actually really curious, how many human rights do we have?
Isabelle Vladoiu: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has 30 human rights that all states agreed and declared, that these are universal. What happened is, the Universal Declaration, it does not have the force of law. So, after the states declare that these are the 30 rights, they should have taken additional steps to implement some of those rights in national legislation.
In most of the countries in the world, they did that, but they selectively took whatever rights they wanted. Even the U.S. Constitution, they don’t have 30 human rights. They selectively selected only the civil and political rights, and not the economic, social, and cultural rights.
That’s why the United States still has to adopt other conventions, like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention Against Discrimination for Women. So, there are so many things that countries have failed, in a sense, to fulfill their obligation, or their acknowledgement that these rights exist, because they felt it’s not a need to put them back into the national law.
Leischen Kranick: You’re right, I don’t think I’ve really studied human rights since high school, and I don’t even remember it being part of my college or graduate school curriculum, so definitely a need there to just talk more with people about these issues.
I was wondering if you could walk us through just an overview of how you’re educating your educators. Do you have a general plan in terms of how each person becomes an advocate?
Isabelle Vladoiu: So, I created an entire program. I actually created an entire career, if we want to call it like that. I created a profession of human rights consultant, which is what I was before even realizing it. What a human rights consultant does, they become trained and certified by the U.S. Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights, not only that they are educators, meaning they are able to go out there and train other people, teach them, create workshops and seminars about human rights.
To give you an example, more and more corporates and companies, they need help and support. There is a demand for the profession of human rights consultant that is going to help those businesses implement human rights policies.
Recently, Facebook/Meta also created their first-ever human rights report, so they even went further than just having simply a human rights policy webpage. They went further, showing how each one of those 30 human rights in the Universal Declaration matches, or it’s implemented within their organization, and that’s going to be the trend. We already start seeing that.
I, daily, get requests from corporates, not only in America, but across the world, that want to implement policies, and who’s going to help them? Financial consultants, banking consultants? No, human rights consultants are going to be the ones who are going to be there to help these businesses implement.
So, more than just training the employees and training the people, the general population, a human rights consultant in its role is actually to help create an entire program, not only for a company, but maybe for a country, which is something that now I do. I travel the world. I go in different countries around the world, where I’m getting invited by the administration. The Minister of Human Rights, let’s say. They want my consultancy, my advice, how they can implement educational programs into their countries so that they can actually help more people be aware of what human rights are.
Leischen Kranick: When they invite you to help educate, whether it’s their employees or just citizens in general, are there particular human rights issues that you start with? Do you try to cover all 30, or are you really focused on select issues?
Isabelle Vladoiu: It really depends. There’s always somewhere where you need to start. For example, one of the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is Article 18, the Freedom of Religion. Any religion in this world, it’s a minority. Any country I go in this world, they would agree on this human right. It’s an uncontested right.
Then if I go with the right to work, for example. What the right to work means in America means different in other countries. I probably won’t necessarily go straight with such a right that is a bit contested or means different things in different cultures, but I usually like to go basic to establish a first understanding.
I have trainings that I used to teach nine-year-olds, and then I used to teach government officials, and it’s the same level of training. Because I feel I don’t have to bring forward all my master’s degree and human rights legal education to actually educate something so simple as human rights, because the more complicated you get there and the more terminology you use, the more difficult it’s going to be for the person to understand it.
Leischen Kranick: How many human rights consultants have you trained through your organization?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Just in the past year, we certified over 5,000 human rights consultants.
Leischen Kranick: That’s amazing. Do you, essentially, send them out to specific areas to work? Do people come to you asking for consultants? How does that work?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Right. We maintain a centralized directory of all our certified consultants. Any employer or potential client, let’s say, corporations, can go and verify or call us, or verify on the website if indeed somebody was certified by us.
But at the same time, part of the training when I’m teaching them is to show them what are the next step steps after they become human rights consultants? Who do they have to reach? We do have organizations who reach out directly to us. So, rather, let’s say if I get an opportunity to deliver a training in Florida, I live in Washington D.C., so it’s going to be much easier to send one of my consultants in Florida to go out there and deliver that training.
But at the same time, I also encourage them personally, because if you don’t live in that area or that state, you don’t know the opportunities. So, I want them to go out there and be involved in the community.
Many of my consultants, they have had successful stories. For example, one of them, after the Uvalde shooting happened in Texas just recently, she teamed up with another friend of hers, and then together they went to propose law enforcement in Texas to deliver them gun violence training and human trafficking prevention training. Others of my students, they went up and even created their own non-profit organization, and now they are focusing on a specific human right.
It’s just a multiplying effort that, together, we are advancing or advocating for human rights education, but at the same time, allowing them also to spread their wings and go out there and actually be in the field, because that’s the need where it is right now, in the field.
Leischen Kranick: So, I’m wondering, what’s next for you? Are you hoping to keep growing this organization, and what’s your international objective?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Definitely. My vision, it’s very big. I would like to, obviously, continue to travel the world and help each country. As I said, there’s only one country in the world that I was happy somehow to be involved on the side with the project, of helping Costa Rica put it into their laws to have mandatory human rights education in schools for elementary school. I think the trend is going to be in that sense.
At the same time, I am expanding. I’m always expanding our programs. Right now, we are looking at organizing and hosting the first-ever International Summit on Disability Rights, which is going to bring together three pillars of society, which is governments, businesses, and civil society, to talk and create a plan of action on how we can include more people with disabilities in the workplace, at school. To provide them more education and more healthcare, as well. We do have projects like this all the time.
We organize also the Diplomacy and Human Rights Summit. At the same time, part of my big dreams is creating more consultants, obviously, who then can inspire others to be educated about human rights.
Leischen Kranick: And so, if someone out there is listening and wants to get more involved, how can they learn more about your organization?
Isabelle Vladoiu: They are welcome to visit our website. Our main website has a lot of general information. Even if you don’t take one of our trainings, you can still read some of the blogs or some of the research articles that we post out there. The website page is www.usidhr.org.
Leischen Kranick: Are there candidates that you’re looking for in particular? Is it any kind of age group, or is it just anyone with an interest in human rights?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Anyone who not necessarily has an interest in human rights, because a lot of people who have come to our classes, we realized they did not even think about themselves working in human rights before. Anyone who has a passion of helping other people and want to make a difference in the world, I would say.
Leischen Kranick: Well, you’ve done some amazing work. I just wanted to ask one last question. I know that what brought you on our radar really was receiving that award, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Can you just tell us what was that like getting that award?
Isabelle Vladoiu: Definitely. Well, it was definitely a surprise. I received this award from the President of the United States, President Biden. This is a Lifetime Achievement Award that acknowledged all my career and my life work for dedicating for human rights education.
When you work and you’re so passionate about what you do, you never have goals such as getting an award, or being acknowledged, necessarily. You just want to see your method or your solution, it’s workable, it’s out there in practice. For me, having this award is going to open up more doors. Because sometimes, people are just stuck in a phase where they need to see validation and authority, and that’s definitely going to help me, I think, open more doors internationally, as well.
Leischen Kranick: Congratulations again on that, and congratulations on all your hard work. It just sounds amazing. Well, again, thank you so much, Isabelle, for taking some time to talk to us and share information about your organization. I really appreciate you taking this time.
Isabelle Vladoiu: Thank you so much, as well.
Leischen Kranick: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. Be well and stay safe.
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