IIJS Founding Members Claudia S. de Windt, Sheila Abed and María Amparo Albán. Courtesy of IIJS.
“In times of fast paced emerging and evolving challenges on environment, climate, health, economic and social wellbeing, our mission to strengthen the rule of law and good governance is all the more important”. These are the words used by the Inter-American Institute on Justice and Sustainability (IIJS) to describe its mission – the contribution that it wants to make to society.
In the vast panorama of public and private actors working on these topics, the IIJS is a rather innovative kind of organization, presenting itself as an “institutional start-up” – that is, an organization that is private in essence, but operating in the public interest. Operating throughout the Americas and relying on a wide network of experts, the IIJS has decided to channel its efforts towards three major goals: strengthening the role of judicial systems; ensuring the sustainability of businesses, financial operations, and markets; and supporting the relationship between sustainable development and trade.
Diplomat Magazine had the pleasure to interview IIJS’s founding members: Ms. Claudia S. de Windt, who is also the organization’s CEO, as well as Ms. Sheila Abed and Ms. María Amparo Albán.
DM: Thank you very much for being here with us. Just to introduce IIJS to our readers, can you tell us what are your goals, and who will be the beneficiaries of your efforts?
CdW: We aim to strengthen the rule of law and good governance to protect the environment, people, and society. It may look like a simple goal, but it is actually a great challenge in a world filled with uncertainties and major socio-economic shocks. In these critical times, where we see fragmentation in societies and innumerable risks like the current pandemic, we are building bridges between diverse stakeholders and disciplines to address the fast-paced, evolving environmental, health, economic and social well-being challenges. We focus on environmental and climate justice, as well as the sustainability of business, development, and trade. Best practices in these fields are critical for compliance with human rights and environmental law, as well as with social norms in the Americas. We are private in essence but with a public interest mission to positively impact sustainability. Our webpage shares concrete examples of the services we offer.
SA: At IIJS, we work at the country level to build social investment, strengthen collaboration and partnerships with international stakeholders such as International Financial Institutions and International Governmental Organizations. Our success is measured as a result of bringing agendas together to develop and implement public and private sector policies, secure funding as well as improve measures that build a broader sense of justice, sustainability and prosperity that our region needs.
DM: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a defining event for our times. How has the pandemic impacted sustainability in the Americas?
CdW: The COVID-19 pandemic highlights how climate change and human interaction with the environment calls for a holistic commitment to sustainability.
MAA: Already before the pandemic we were seeing a slowdown in global trade, finance and productivity following the boom brought by globalization up until the nineties. Geopolitical rivalry between East and West, coupled with trade tensions has cast doubts on globalization, impacting financial and trade flows. In our region, the economic model is vulnerable, and the pandemic has enhanced the fragility of the multilateral system. The intensification of industrial processes in the past led to higher natural resource extraction rates and pollution, which has stoked underlying social tensions that are a central challenge in the Americas today.
SA: The problems we face are complex and are no longer simply distant enemies. Now we face multiple immediate threats in an economic system that continues to fuel growth, but also inequality and environmental degradation. Harmful production practices pressure ecosystems, contribute to climate change and fail to improve the livelihoods of rural communities. If the region wants to prevent and avert future crises, we need a unified perspective of prosperity based on the role of justice and responsible investment for a sustainable future. Strengthening the rule of law across sectors is the necessary foundation.
DM: Were the region’s institutions prepared for the challenges that COVID-19 brought about? And especially, what will you do to drive change?
CdW: If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is that there is an urgent need to factor risk into how we approach daily decisions as nations, communities, and individuals. The severity of climate risk has been overshadowed by the global health crisis, testing all social and economic priorities and systems. Sadly, we see that neither modern society nor our institutions are prepared for the risks we face on a global, regional, and local scale. Laws are being challenged, public decisions scrutinized with more accountability demands and judiciaries are increasingly becoming the guardians of democracy and sustainability.
MAA: What the Americas needs is a Sustainable Path. Truly moving from the Social Contract to a Green New Deal. We created IIJS to overcome segmentation and break down barriers. Key to this is a change in narrative, confidence and building the trust needed to develop common knowledge and add value. The IIJS proposal calls for empowering new leadership. Our future, as a region and as a planet, depends on the capacity to change assumptions—to create new priorities that fuel a shift to a broader notion of justice, innovation and social investment, while forging partnerships.
CdW: Our “Bridging Justice, Sustainability and Prosperity” approach enables driving change through our leading expertise. We bring unique diversity in our board’s geographic composition and background and at the same time gender differentiated perspective, innovation, and contextual knowledge. These are the basis for critical thinking, planning and adapting cutting-edge solutions. All aimed at enhancing rule of law to face the unconventional challenges of today’s risk-filled world. Bridging the multilateral and domestic systems while maintaining each countries’ uniqueness and identity is part of the value IIJS adds.