November 15, 2023

By Kate Lovas, UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair; and Spencer Kitchen, UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Member

We at UNA-NCA had the honor to sit down with the 2023 F. Allen “Tex” Harris Human Rights Diplomacy Honoree, Allison Lombardo, Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS), Bureau of International Organizations, U.S. Department of State. DAS Lombardo gave us an inside look at how she built a career advocating for human rights by keeping people at the heart of policy.

The best way to follow DAS Lombardo’s journey is to discuss her two pieces of advice for young professionals looking to make an impact in the field of human rights. First, do what interests you. DAS Lombardo’s dedication to the field of human rights highlights these words well. Early in her career, she understood that while administrative work might not seem like the most riveting use of time, even the smallest role can help make a difference. DAS Lombardo explained how she often felt like a cog in the machine but found solace in helping to make incremental changes. She was intrigued by difficult choices without clear answers. The most impressive decisions required thorough contemplation of complex and delicate environments. DAS Lombardo knew that to aid those without a voice, she had to learn to navigate the intricate geopolitical landscapes. She shared that the victories in human rights are few and far between, requiring resilience from those who choose this field.

Her second piece of advice is to remember that career paths are never linear. When you look at DAS Lombardo’s career, you see just that. She came to D.C. as an intern and waitressed at night. DAS Lombardo spoke about how she jumped in, made photocopies, and listened to the people around her. She underscored how paying your dues is vital to starting any successful career. One of the turns DAS Lombardo took was working as a strategy consultant at Deloitte. She reflected on her time away from the human rights field, highlighting how it taught her valuable organizational and management skills that she brought back to the Department of State. DAS Lombardo’s heart for policy work and human rights ultimately led her back from the private sector, but the skills she gained improved her ability to succeed in her human rights work.

DAS Lombardo spoke highly about the people who helped her along the way. She described her former bosses as impactful leaders who put people at the heart of the work. Ambassador Princeton Lyman was one of those people whom DAS Lombardo described as having a strong moral compass. She distinctly remembered his ability to keep the principle of helping others at the center of their efforts, which fueled their late nights and long hours at work. Her work at the National Security Council also showed the importance of keeping people at the heart of policy decisions. DAS Lombardo stated she will never forget about the letter President Obama received from a South Sudanese child asking for help. The child expressed concern about the safety of his family still in South Sudan, and how his grandma was tired of running. She remembered how President Obama said it was so painful to hear about all this personal tragedy and that the hope we can make that a little better is motivating.

As a DAS in the Bureau of International Organizations, DAS Lombardo knows firsthand the impact of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Through discussions about her experiences working on peace talks between Sudan and South Sudan, she explained how the UDHR is more important than ever in today’s distressed world. DAS Lombardo underscored the importance of the UDHR for international actors to find common ground. She said the UN remains an indispensable global mechanism that countries work through to solve global problems. It is an essential platform to discuss human rights topics and a neutral partner to help execute efforts. She noted how global problems today require a multilateral solution, and that the UN Charter and UDHR are core documents for actors to reference.

We applaud DAS Lombardo’s work and commitment to human rights. She is a role model for young professionals and reminds us that we advocate keeping people at the heart of policy.

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