Caroline Ndindi is Legal Counsel for WWF International and a Lawyers Against Poverty (LAP) trustee. She spoke with our Media Volunteer Emma Pomfret about her experience with LAP.
Your experience of LAP includes the Justice Fund and becoming a trustee; can you expand a little on both?
“I was organising a strategic litigation conference with the University of Nairobi in October 2019 and we wrote to LAP [about funding delegates’ places]. The conference reached people from almost 15 countries across Africa and beyond.
“Being a trustee is a big learning opportunity for me; LAP is a UK charity aiming to grow into an international NGO. I think my perspective differs not from a legal point – because all laws are generally the same – but from having a different cultural and social background.”
You’re also paired on LAP’s twinning programme…
“I got involved because I wanted to learn or to hear from somebody else how they are running their lives and to be able to pass my ideas on career progression through someone else. Sometimes people get to see you more than you can see yourself as you are talking… identify your strengths. So I was interested in doing it as a way of figuring out what my next move would be.
“I’m twinned with a lawyer at Marie Stopes International in the UK. We adopt a coaching model; we take turns going through each other’s objectives. People can also do a project together – we’re considering safeguarding. I think there are not enough lawyers doing safeguarding as an area of practice and there are gaps we could identify and do something around.”
You were a corporate lawyer for six years before joining the non-profit sector; what inspired that move?
“What drew me was, of course the issue of social justice and equality and all the good work Oxfam [in my first non-profit role] does. I was working closely with the University of Nairobi at the time – mentoring students, giving some lectures – so I thought, it’s time for me to give back and do something more than making money for the big corporates.
“I would say since joining the non-profit sector, I’m more alert to the different forms of power abuse and how the world works to perpetuate inequalities. Some things look like they’re just part of life. In this part of the world especially, we are very capitalistic and everyone’s chasing the dollar. So bringing in the notions of social justice and tax justice, it’s not always very popular.”
But you believe lawyers are in a position to make a difference in practical ways?
“Yes, first in terms of policy formulation. Lawyers are always invited to give feedback, or they’re consulted in terms of bills before they become law. That’s where we could have a direct impact to reduce poverty.
“Second, strategic litigation is a way to challenge governments and in mature legal systems that’s possible. We’ve got some tangible examples from countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe on how strategic litigation has led to changes or access to certain services.
“And lawyers can also create awareness with [education] sessions, in terms of what people’s rights are and how they can start a movement…”
What differentiates LAP as a legal movement for social justice?
“Ordinarily lawyers provide pro bono support, but for LAP it’s more than just offering pro bono services. It’s about taking an active position to fight poverty or do something about making the world a better place. What I find unique is how LAP works with members on things that matter to them. For example we have members working on women’s rights; others work with refugees or with land rights. It’s member-driven. If you have an expertise in that area and you can draw enough others to work with you on that area, then it’s possible.
“I hope that as we grow into the organisation we envisage ourselves to be, this will grow into other jurisdictions beyond the UK, to Europe, Asia, middle-income countries such as Kenya and others. That would be a big win because in many societies, lawyers have a privileged position and we are able to do more, especially challenging government to take action.”