Alumni Spotlight: Kate English, Educator’s Institute for Human Rights

Kate English is the Executive Director of the Educator’s Institute for Human Rights (EIHR), and participated in our Spring 2016 Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Kate about her work with EIHR and her experience in the Certificate Program.

CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast with many important causes to champion, what led you to pursue a career in your particular field?

English: There was a hole that needed to be filled, that’s the best description I can offer. As educators, we realized this hole needed to be filled, so we did it ourselves. We need a deeper understanding of how atrocities prevention and response fits into education. There is a way it fits into education, and it is a topic that needs to be addressed.

CPNL: Your work with the Educator’s Institute for Human Rights focuses on delivering content and strategies for teaching mass atrocities history, genocide prevention, and sustainable peace. What strategies has EIHR employed in the past year to address the US’s history with genocide and human rights abuses? Have you adapted any of your work as a result of the pandemic or movement for racial justice?

English: I would say that all of the things you mentioned go hand in hand. The pandemic, in many ways, offered silver linings for us. It allowed us to connect with people globally that we thought we would have to wait years to be introduced to, and now the opportunity was given to us due to the virtual environment. It is not as if Zoom wasn’t there to begin with, but people weren’t using it very much pre-pandemic. When it became the accepted practice, that quickly allowed us to be able to connect people directly from all around the globe. We had already had it in our strategic plan to focus on teaching America’s history with atrocity. With the number of connections we were making during the pandemic, it was an opportunity to really start embedding that thinking into the curriculum and structure for American teachers, and also consider how to fill that same hole for our colleagues overseas. There was a great degree of interest from our international partners, particularly from our partners in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in American social justice.

We are a community of teachers. Ninety percent of us are currently in the classroom or have a substantial amount of classroom experience. We all know that the best staff training often comes from within your community. We looked around for the people we knew who had expertise in the field and looked to others who were leaders in the field. We reached out to folks from African-American communities here in Alexandria who were leaders. We also reached out to the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition to start a dialogue with that community. We included both of those voices in our global webinars to address American history. And when I say global, I mean it is truly global, we focus not just on American teachers, but teachers all around the world.

We also updated our mission and vision statement. We wanted the ability to describe our work in a broader way. We now focus on conflict and atrocities, as opposed to genocide and mass atrocities. We aren’t open to all human rights abuses, because we are already maxing out our bandwidth. However, this statement allows us to address conflicts that may not have been classified as genocide or mass atrocities. For example, something might have occurred among a smaller population, but it still requires attention. Our current mission statement reads that: EIHR cultivates partnerships among educators globally, we create materials and deliver training based on best practices in Holocaust and human rights education. Together we deliver content and strategies for teaching conflict history and prevention, and sustainable peace. So it is not too far off from our previous mission statement, but it is an important clarification. We are actively seeking more opportunities to develop materials, work with more educators, to expand our footprint with social justice and atrocities in America. Whether that is enslaved peoples, whether that is Indigenous peoples, whether that is Japanese internment camps, and many more that we don’t give enough attention to. We want to make sure we are spending our time looking in our own backyard as we collaborate with our partners around the world.

CPNL: This January was the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp Auschwitz. What lessons do the next generation of nonprofit leaders need to know about this period of history? How can the sector work to address Holocaust education in the coming years?

English: The first thing I’ll say is that in January of 2020, our Board President and I (who is also a classroom teacher) were honored to accept an invitation from Education International to be present at the 75th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz onsite. We gave a presentation representing US Holocaust education in that setting, and that was a very powerful experience. We had both been to Auschwitz for our own educational purposes before that, but being there for this milestone event was incredibly impactful.

One of the lessons of the Holocaust is to remember the words of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights who said that eight of the fifteen people who planned the Holocaust at the Wannsee conference in 1942 held PhDs. So they may have been accomplished academics, but they lacked ethics, they lacked empathy, and they lacked understanding. We would concur with his statement that education of any kind, if it doesn’t include a strong universal human rights component, is flawed and we need to make a change. If we are cold and clinical in our approach and we leave out humanity, we have not solved the problem.

CPNL: What is one accomplishment you are particularly proud of since leaving the Certificate Program?

English: As a result of my participation in the Certificate Program, I was invited to become the Executive Director of EIHR. That happened during the program. One of the founders, who was serving as the Executive Director at the time, was taking on a greater teaching load. And the fact that I was completing the Certificate Program instilled confidence that he was leaving the organization in good hands. Subsequently, a donor came forward who had also participated in the Certificate Program. The Bylo Chacon Foundation formed a family foundation and EIHR is one of their very grateful beneficiaries. They offered us a 5 year capacity building grant and we are now 1 and ½ years into that grant. This allowed me the opportunity to leave the classroom and pursue this work full time. It was like lightning striking, and it taught us that we need to be prepared when opportunity strikes. The Certificate Program gave me essential preparation to take on the role of Executive Director and make that kind of massive change in our organization.

CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?

English: Right now I am valuing the program for two reasons. One, I have the confidence that I have the skill set and knowledge to take on this challenge with humility. I both know what I am capable of and what I need help with. And the program continues in terms of networking throughout the years. We have received so much help from John Trybus, Michael Gellman, from Kathy, and Luisa. The network continues to support us to this day. My learning cohort still meets up through zoom to socialize and support each other. We have a meeting planned next week I think! Beyond the concrete learning, which is phenomenal, the support that I’ve continued to receive after the program has been equally substantial, if not more so.

CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program?

English: Apply, take the step and just do it. I can’t tell you how many people I have recommended the Certificate Program to already. It is a consistent message from me that this is a fantastic program. No matter what area of the nonprofit sphere you come from, there is something to be gained from this program. Something I came away with was diversity, not only in terms of demographic diversity or gender and race, but also in terms of experience. There are so many different people who take part in this program. You have people with decades of leadership experience, and people who are new to the sector creating a startup, and everyone in between. The program seeks to have a diversity of voices, and that does not go unnoticed.