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As an aspiring journalist in Russia during the 1990s, Anna Sevortian MC/MPA/Mason Fellow 2014 had the opportunity to report on many of the social and political changes taking place in her country. It was a fascinating time for a nation in transition, and it was also a time in which Sevortian began to hone her intense interest in civil social and civic advancement.
"My work has always been centered around social and rights-based issues, be it reporting on human rights in early years of my career or – at a later stage - educating NGOs on campaigning techniques, coordinating efforts to counter hate speech in the public sphere, researching and consulting on civil society development in Post-Soviet countries," she writes.
Sevortian later joined Human Rights Watch (HRW) Russia, serving as director of the office between 2010-13.
"I was almost daily involved in international and domestic advocacy on pressing human rights issues in Russia and Belarus. These were two priority countries at the time. I am glad that during my time in the office we were able to expand our research on Ukraine," she explains. "Obviously, there were a number of leadership and management-related challenges as well since the climate for public activism in Russia kept deteriorating."
During her time at HRW, Sevortian and her colleagues were monitoring and reporting on several significant issues, including post-election protests and a crackdown on civil society in Russia and Belarus, human rights situation in the North Caucasus, migrant workers' rights and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
"On top of these we launched a research project on palliative care and access to morphine for terminally ill cancer patients," she writes. "It sounds shocking, but tens of thousands of people are dying from cancer every year in Russia – the majority experience strong untreated pain and only twenty percent have access to proper pain treatment."
Sevortian applied to the Kennedy School in hopes of upgrading her professional skill set.
"I was willing to synchronize my rich professional experience with high-quality international mid-career education," she writes. "The educational field has changed immensely since 2000s and reconnecting with the academia felt essential to keep up with the pace of technology and relevant fields."
As a Ford Foundation Mason Fellow at the Ash Center, Sevortian found herself surrounded with many other accomplished and dedicated public servants.
"Such programs give you a much needed overhaul and a sense how to capitalize best on your own potential while working for the public good," she writes. "If thinking of my personal gains - there is no other way I could have known so many exceptionally gifted individuals - from all walks of life, from all over the world. These friendships are truly invaluable."
As for Sevortian's next challenge, she will join the EU-Russian Civil Society Forum this summer as executive director.
"The Forum is an NGO that acts as a platform for dialogue between the Russian and European civil society actors," she explains. "It has 125 NGO members now and is rapidly growing. A few days ago, on May 20, CSF organized a first dialogue between civic activists and NGOs from Russia, Ukraine and Europe – and this is exactly what I believe needs to be continued and expanded."