Pernille Ironside ’02

Front and Center

Fall 2011

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For many Columbia Law School graduates, workplace productivity is measured in the form of hours billed, or cases successfully litigated. But for Pernille Ironside ’02 LL.M., that measure comes in the form of children—specifically, the number of children whose lives she has helped save.

Between 2005 and 2008, while working as a child protection specialist with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission and then with UNICEF in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ironside was able to successfully negotiate the release of thousands of child soldiers.

“Law, for me, has been a framework for understanding rights, especially children’s and women’s rights in situations of armed conflict, and for preventing and responding to abuses; war zones are precisely where rights are violated in the most grave way,” she says. “Columbia allowed me to further sharpen my tool kit for those challenging contexts.”

After 10 years of working in some of the world’s most war-ravaged territories, Ironside has settled into a more managerial role on child protection in emergencies at UNICEF’s Programme Division in the organization’s New York City headquarters. But the next humanitarian crisis (she cites the Horn of Africa as the world’s most pressing currently) is always just around the corner.

“After being so deeply embedded in one country, this new role, in which my team and I work on 15 to 20 ‘hot spots’ at any given time, has been a fantastic transition and given me a much deeper overview globally,” she says. “I am very happy to help my colleagues on the front lines, as I know what it feels like to need support in those difficult and isolating situations. But I fully intend to return to the field once this assignment is up.”

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Photographed by Sophie Kinachtchouk