Cornell University

International Programs

117 Ives Hall, 607-254-7255


October 31 2008

Alumna Discusses Developing World Issues at ILR

Gender and Justice in South Africa1Ruth Cowan Screens Documentary on Gender and Race in the South African Judiciary

The screening of alumna Ruth Cowan's new film: "Courting Justice: South Africa's Transformation to Democracy as Told by 6 Women Judges" brought more than 50 Cornell students, faculty and staff to ILR School on October 22.  The screening was followed by a question-and-answer session with Cowan.  The ILR School and ILR International Programs were the main sponsors and organizers of the event.  Co-sponsors were African Development, Cornell Law School, Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and the ILR Global Affairs Club."
I was very impressed to see women judges in the court because that is certainly evidence of how proactively South Africa handles their gender discrimination issues" stated Stella Kim, MILR'09, after the movie.  She said that unfortunately apartheid and discrimination usually come to mind when one thinks about South Africa.  "But, the movie certainly changed the image of the country, very positively" Stella concluded.

Preeti Gill, BS ILR'09 and President of the ILR Global Affairs Club, said that she had invited members from the International Justice Mission to the event, and that the entire group came. "They said it was definitely worthwhile and they were very glad they showed up" Preeti added.

Cowan Discusses Microcredit with Members of IGAC

Cowan at Lunch

"Pro Mujer is a program of 'credit plus'...our purpose is to empower people...because of it people are less poor and for me that is victory."  ~ Ruth Cowan, BS ILR '53

On the same day 17 members of the ILR Global Affairs Club (IGAC)  welcomed Ruth Cowan back to campus by hosting her at a luncheon to discuss her role as founding President of Pro Mujer, a women's non-profit microcredit bank operating in five Latin American countries.  Microcredit is the extension of loans to the traditionally "un-credit worthy" poor so that they can launch an income-enhancing self-employment venture.  As a microfinance institution, Pro Mujer has had especially outstanding success in enhancing the quality of life for its clients.  Ms. Cowan stated that, "because of our program, people are less poor and for me that is victory."

The lunch was an excellent venue for discussing the state of economic development for the working class in Latin America.  This discussion fostered a type of learning which, "cannot be gained in classroom textbook reading" as ILR Senior, Katie Patrick had stated.  The ILR Global Affairs Club plans to network further with internationally oriented alumni in order to increase student exposure to the possibilities that an ILR degree creates.  After attending the luncheon, ILR Senior Abbey Brown stated, "Talking with Ruth Cowan got me so enthused about [Microfinance]."  IGAC aims to induce such enthusiasm in topics in order to facilitate new learning opportunities and to promote non-traditional career paths.

Katie Patrick asking a question Ms. Cowan spoke about how many microfinance institutions are poorly run and can be more of a detriment than an asset to the impoverished people they are trying to help.  As such, it is important that organizations invest in talented and well trained people with practical work experience.  Ms. Cowan advised, "For those [students] interested in pursuing a career in microfinance you have to bring something more than your degree in ILR, Government or Finance.  Instead we are looking for individuals who have gained prior experience in commercial banking and management which is a great stepping stone for a more challenging career in Microfinance."

The ILR Global Affairs Club thanks Ms. Cowan for lending her time for an interesting talk on her humanitarian work in the Microfinance sector.  IGAC furthermore lends special thanks to the ILR International Programs Office for funding the lunch.  More pictures of the lunch can be viewed at IGAC's online photo journal  or at its website

Written by Ana Stojanovic, Blair Lapres, Ben Roberts and Jillian Szymonifka