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Christie Roberts

A photo of Christie Roberts
Find the place you want to work.”

JD/MSEL 2006

Staff Attorney, Grameen Foundation

 

Christie Roberts is one of only three attorneys on the legal staff of the Washington, D.C.-based Grameen Foundation (GF), but Grameen is known worldwide for making the most of any asset. The Nobel-winning organization, founded by laureate Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, is dedicated to helping the world's poorest gain self-sufficiency through microlending and technology projects.

 

"I'd always wanted to practice public interest or environmental law," says Christie, whose preparation at VLS included work in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic on litigation against the owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. That experience honed an invaluable ability to work independently. She says of clinic mentors David Mears and Pat Parenteau, "They gave you a task and expected you could handle it, but they were always available to advise." Another hands-on opportunity came with the World Wildlife Fund: While taking a VLS summer course taught by a WWF director, she approached him about an internship—and got it.

After graduation, the bar exam, and months of job-searching in D.C., she got her break at Grameen Foundation through a temp agency. "The job they sent me to was just part-time, not even a legal job. My boss didn't feel she could ask a lawyer to do it, so she hired me as a temp for one month, then a second month. When Grameen Bank won the Nobel Prize, money started coming in that enabled them to hire me full-time." She recalls the aptness of David Mears' job advice: "He said, 'Find the place you want to work, even if you're not starting in a legal position, and work hard.'"

Since joining GF, she's done a lot of legwork to help open the foundation's fifth regional office, in Bogota, Colombia (the foundation works in 36 nations with offices in Ghana, Uganda, Hong Kong, and the Philippines). "Part of my job involves general nonprofit law, and I've learned a lot about microfinance," she notes. The legal department handles such issues as capital markets transactions, compliance with nonprofit regulations, and employees' immigration, visa status, and employment issues. For in-country legal advice, the foundation relies on local pro bono counsel, with some urging. "The pro bono concept doesn't translate everywhere," Christie says.

What does translate is opportunity that seems small by western standards but that moves poor people farther from the ever-present edge. GF sponsors technology projects in which, for example, a shop owner with a cell phone links her village to the outside; where a woman loaned a tiny amount can start a bakery; where farmers can receive a cell phone notice of a truck headed to market with room for their produce; where poor people have a secure place to bank any savings. One project, Mobile Midwife, reminds pregnant women of their medical appointments and fields concerns about pregnancy, starting the next generation on the road to better health.

In her four years at GF, Christie has experienced the rewards of putting her legal skills to work improving lives, and it's work she plans to continue. "My boss is an amazing mentor who wants me to be able to run a nonprofit," she says. And would that appeal? "Absolutely."