What sort of scholarship did you receive?
Corina Ajder: In 2010, I was awarded an Open Society scholarship to pursue my legal studies and obtained an LLM from the Europa-Institut in Saarland, Germany. I decided that I wanted to explore a career in international human rights, and so I applied for the Open Society Human Rights Internship in 2012, which led me to the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest.
Your research on statelessness among Roma has also taken you to Rostov Oblast in Russia and now Odessa, Ukraine. What drives your commitment to this issue?
CA: At the heart of my pursuit is a curiosity to investigate and discover what it is that unites people despite the layers of prejudice and perceived differences that keep us separate. The Roma people in Europe are the most demonized and excluded population, and my personal quest was to better understand the nature of this animosity and to help build trust between Roma and local authorities.
At the European Roma Rights Centre, you were the local coordinator for a legal empowerment project. What did your work involve, and what progress have you seen?
CA: After 12 months in Budapest researching stateless Roma in South Russia, I was promoted to coordinate our work in Odessa, Ukraine. From February 2013 to January 2014, I led a community-based program to help stateless Roma from four isolated communities acquire identification documents. Without their identity documents, they couldn’t work, go to school, or access critical social services. A year into the project, with the help of local lawyers and community-based Roma paralegals, we obtained personal identity documents for over 30 Roma individuals.
Khatuna, what sort of scholarship did you receive?
Khatuna Ioselani: In 2008, I received an Open Society scholarship available to students in Georgia to pursue postgraduate studies in education at Columbia University in New York. The program in International Education Development at Columbia’s Teachers College matched my academic interests and my practical needs. After I graduated, I returned to Georgia and looked for ways that I could contribute to improving the educational, social, political, and intellectual environment there.
You now work at the Open Society Georgia Foundation. What's your focus?
KI: Since 2010, I have managed a program that supports civil society organizations working to foster youth engagement, integrate minority groups into mainstream society, and support Georgia’s integration into the European Union. This year, I’ll also be working to ensure that young people from underserved rural areas, internally displaced persons, minorities, and students with disabilities have better access to higher education.
There are over 2,000 Scholarship Programs alumni working in civil society or academia across Georgia and countries in Eastern Europe. What potential does this cohort have to strengthen open society?
KI: Many Georgia alumni have substantial understanding of educational systems, the capacity to think critically about education inequality and reforms, and the knowledge necessary to analyze policy. They have played key roles to strengthen civil society in the region.
For example, many scholars were engaged in monitoring the implementation of government commitments vis-à-vis the European Union. Alumni wrote papers about media freedoms, the fight against corruption, and the development of electoral standards. They are now contributing to the debate around higher education reform, creating policy recommendations, and drawing attention to the needs of underserved students.