Alumni Interview with Zack Fowler

This interview was conducted over email with Zack Fowler, Head of Strategic Partnerships for AMPLIFY Girls, by Gargi Mahadeshwar, a third-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. Fowler earned a bachelor’s degree in Global Health and Cultural Anthropology along with a certificate in Human Rights Studies from Duke in 2016.

What has been your path to your current position? 

While at Duke, I was heavily involved with WISER - an organization the Duke community might recognize as a DukeEngage host and nonprofit focused on girls' education and well-being in rural Kenya. Near graduation, WISER was ready to hire full-time staff in the US to support fundraising, operations, and evaluation and I jumped at the opportunity. In time, I became WISER's US-based Executive Director, and while in that position, I was involved in the early founding of my current organization - AMPLIFY Girls. AMPLIFY Girls supports a collective of more than 40 organizations like WISER, but carries a broader global scope and has an additional focus on international research and advocacy efforts. When I was finally ready to move on from WISER after 10 years of working and volunteering, AMPLIFY Girls was there, waiting with my next step.


Which human rights issues do you engage with most directly and how?

Gender equity, poverty alleviation, and the right to a quality education, most prominently. I work with a team of researchers and community-driven organizations in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Malawi that are studying local founders' own definitions for success when measuring the effectiveness of girl-focused programs. Years of research has led to the understanding of girls' agency, as a psychometric measure, as essential to the success of girls when navigating patriarchal and potentially violent environments. The work that I do helps support this team of researchers and local founders measure girls' agency, understand what programs most affect girls' agency, and explore how agency interacts with other key outcomes like school enrollment.


How has your study of/passion for human rights influenced your life personally and professionally?

It's undoubtedly the driving force behind every professional decision I make. If we're candid with ourselves, our professional lives take up a massive amount of our mental and emotional energy, not to mention our time. And, because of this, it can be hard to separate what is personal and what is professional. But if we're going to commit that much to something we're required to do to sustain ourselves, I think it makes all the sense in the world to try to do something with that time and energy that fights injustice if you possibly can. It's not a privilege that is accessible to all, and we should be cognizant of that. I'm lucky to say that this pathway has been accessible to me thus far, and I certainly hope it stays that way. 


How did your Human Rights Certificate courses at Duke prepare you for your career?

I think the human rights courses I took at Duke were an excellent source of exposure to the sheer scale of human rights crises around the globe. Someone could spend their entire career working to end a single rights violation in a single community within one country and one context - and many have! Understanding that, and knowing that there's honor and power in having an impact on something very specific was a theme for me in my coursework, and it stuck with me beyond my time in undergrad. 


What would you recommend to undergraduate students interested in pursuing a career in human rights?

Stay flexible and see value in human rights actors you may not know. The field of "human rights" is vast and there are thousands and thousands of actors in it, from the two-person community organization in rural North Carolina to the multilateral agency worth nearly $1B per year. There is a place for you in this ecosystem, and you don't have to start at any particular level. If you end up starting your career on the bigger scale side of things, don't forget the smaller scale partners that may know the issues best and, at times, hold the whole sector afloat with that knowledge.