Follow Vivek on Twitter here.
Vivek believes we can advance social and environmental justice by deepening democracy.
Vivek started Namati in 2011. Since then, Namati and its partners have supported cadres of grassroots legal advocates—sometimes known as barefoot lawyers or community paralegals—in ten countries. These advocates work with their communities to protect common lands, enforce environmental law, and secure basic rights to healthcare and citizenship.
In all ten countries, their grassroots work has led to improvements to entire systems: a new anti-bribery policy for the health sector in Mozambique, for example, improved sand-mining regulations in India, and greater protection for women’s rights in Sierra Leonean land law.
Globally, Namati convenes the Legal Empowerment Network, more than 2,000 groups from over 160 countries who are learning from one another and collaborating on common challenges. This community successfully advocated for the inclusion of access to justice in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Vivek is co-author of Community Paralegals and the Pursuit of Justice (Cambridge University Press). His TED talk, “How to Put the Power of Law in People’s Hands,” has been viewed over a million times.
Vivek is on the road a lot, but he has a home and family in Washington, DC. He tries to spend time in a forest or other natural place every week, wherever he is.
Vivek studies capoeira with Dale Marcelin at Universal Capoeira Angola Center.
A few other bits about Vivek:
Vivek received the Pioneer Award from the North American South Asian Bar Association in 2008. He was named an Ashoka Fellow in 2014 and a “legal rebel” by the American Bar Association in 2015. He, Namati, and the Legal Empowerment Network received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2016. In 2017, the Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum named Vivek and Sonkita Conteh, director of Namati Sierra Leone, two of its Social Entrepreneurs of the Year.
WORK LIFE BEFORE NAMATI
From 2003 to 2007, Vivek co-founded and co-directed the Sierra Leonean organization Timap for Justice, which has been recognized by the International Crisis Group, Transparency International, and President Jimmy Carter for advancing justice in the context of a weak state and a plural legal system.
From 2008 to 2011, he served as senior counsel in the Justice Reform Group of the World Bank. His work focused on rule of law reform and governance, primarily in West Africa and South Asia.
In 1997-1998 he lived in a hut of dung and sticks in a village in Kutch, his native place, working on rainwater conservation and girls’ education with two grassroots development organizations—Sahjeevan and Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghathan.
LEARNING, WRITING, TEACHING, SUPPORTING
Vivek graduated from Harvard College, magna cum laude, and Yale Law School. His undergraduate thesis was called Mohandas, Martin, and Malcolm on Violence, Culture, and Meaning.
Vivek writes regularly—see links to publications below—and co-teaches the Legal Empowerment Leadership Course, which is co-hosted by Central European University and the Bernstein Center for Human Rights at New York University School of Law.
Vivek serves on the board of trustees of the global advocacy organization Avaaz, the advisory boards of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the evaluation firm ID Insight, and the board of the Constitutional Accountability Center. He was an affiliate expert with the UN Commission on Legal Empowerment and is a member of the global Task Force on Justice.
ESSAYS AND OP-EDS
- “Give People the Law,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (2020)
- “Digital IDs Make Systemic Bias Worse,” with Laura Goodwin, Aisha Khagai, and Mustafa Mahmoud, Wired (2020)
- “Myanmar is confiscating land that people depend on,” with Nwe Ni Soe, Thomson Reuters Foundation News (2019)
- “The World Bank Shouldn’t Hide When It Funds Projects that Harm Communities,” The Washington Post (2018)
- “To Stop the Relentless March on Climate Change We Must Empower Those Most at Risk,” Wired (2017)
- “Only the Law Can Restrain Trump,” Foreign Policy (2017)
- “Why Norway Should Lead a Global Fund for Legal Empowerment,” Aftenposten (2016)
- “It’s Time Canada Makes Access to Justice a Reality for All,” with Adrian Di Giovanni and Lotta Teale, The Hill Times (2016)
- “Barefoot Lawyers, Communities, and the Earth: Legal Empowerment and the Struggles for Stewardship,” Article 3 Advisors (2016)
- “Skoll World Forum – Three Takeaways for the Legal Empowerment Movement” (2016)
- “Access to justice for all? Now that would be a measurably good thing,” with Stacey Cram, The Guardian (2016)
- “Law and disorder: rough justice rules in the developing world,” The Guardian (2014)
- “Obama Meets Koroma: Time to Talk Land Rights,” with Sonkita Conteh, The Huffington Post (2013)
- “From Bribery to Empowerment,” with Margaux Hall, Project Syndicate (2012)
- A Letter to Rio+20: Sustainable Development Isn’t Possible Without Land Rights, with Andy White, NextBillion (2012)
- Akbar, Birbal, and a South Asia Regional Meeting on Monitoring and Evaluating Legal Empowerment (2012)
- “Legal Power to the People,” Project Syndicate (2011)
- “For the Sake of Fairness: Justice in Development,” World Bank Governance for Development blog (2011)
- “Law for the Global Poor,” with Tiernan Mennen, letter to the editor, Foreign Affairs (2010)
BOOK CHAPTERS/POLICY DOCUMENTS/PRACTITIONER GUIDES
- Foreward, with Abigail Moy, Empoderamiento jurídico y abogacía comunitaria en Latinoamérica: experiencias de acceso a la justicia desde la comunidad,” Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia and Namati (2019)
- Foreward, “Guide to Organizing and Working with Community-based Paralegals,” foreward, Namati (2019)
- “The Case to Fund and Protect Grassroots Justice Defenders,” with Abigail Moy and Stacey Cram, Justice for All Policy Brief (2019)
- “Practice Guide for Environmental Justice Paralegals,” with Manju Menon, Meenakshi Kapoor, and Kanchi Kohli, Namati (2017)
- “Legal Empowerment and the Land Rush: Three Struggles” in The International Rule of Law Movement – A Crisis of Legitimacy and the Way Forward, Harvard University Press (2014)
- “Legal Empowerment and the Administrative State: A Map of the Landscape, and Three Emerging Insights,” with Abigail Moy, Justice Initiatives (2013)
- The World Bank: New Directions in Justice Reform, with Daniel Adler, Christina Biebesheimer, and others, World Bank (2012)
- Timap For Justice Paralegal Manual, with Simeon Koroma, Daniel Sesay, and others (2012)
- Framing Local Conflict and Justice in Bangladesh, with Maitreyi Bordia Das, World Bank (2011)
- Community-Based Paralegal Programs: A Practitioner’s Guide, with Felisa Tibbitts and others, Open Society Justice Initiative (2010)
- “Timap for Justice: A Paralegal Approach to Justice Services in Sierra Leone,” Access to Justice in Africa and Beyond: Making the Rule of Law a Reality (Penal Reform International, Northwestern University School of Law, 2007)
- “The Challenges of African Legal Dualism: An Experiment in Sierra Leone,” Justice Initiatives, Open Society Justice Initiative (2005)
- Ravaging the Vulnerable: Abuses Against Persons at High Risk of HIV Infection in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch (2003)
- “The FTAA, Access to HIV/AIDS Treatment, and Human Rights,” Human Rights Watch (2002)
- “Poetic Meets Tragic: Tagore in the Light of Max Weber,” The Poet’s Challenge to Schooling: Creative Freedom for the Human Soul- A Generative and Critical Analysis of Rabindranath Tagore’s Innovations in Shiksha (2001)
- How to Put the Power of Law in People’s Hands TEDGlobal (August 2017)
- Can Legal Aid Change Power Dynamics? Experiences from India, Sierra Leone, and Elsewhere, (October 27, 2017)
- Global Goals in an Uncertain World, Skoll World Forum (April 5, 2017)
- Rule of Law for All, Oslo Freedom Forum (May 2016)
- Access to Land, the Biggest Challenge for Women’s Empowerment, Trust Conference (2014)
- Economic and Legal Empowerment Through a Robust Rule of Law, World Justice Forum (August 5, 2013)
- Legal Empowerment and Justice for the Poor, Council on Foreign Relations (November 29, 2012)
- Constitutions, Institutions, and the Rule of Law, Stanford Business School (May 29, 2012)
IN THE MEDIA
- “5 Billion People Around the World Lack Basic Access to Justice. These Organizations are Out to Change That,” Ensia (January 9, 2020)
- “Funding access to justice, a ‘cross-cutting enabler of the SDGs’,” Devex (July 9, 2019)
- “The World Bank must clean up its act,” Nature (March 19, 2019)
- “India’s Barefoot Lawyers,” The New York Times (August 8, 2017)
- “Poor Law: The Rise of Paralegals,” The Economist (October 20, 2016), with Abigail Moy and Stacey Cram
- “When Land Laws are Not Enough, Enter the Barefoot Lawyers,” Place Animations (September 21, 2016)
- “New League of “Barefoot Lawyers” Will Transform Justice in the Next 15 Years,” Forbes (June 15, 2016)
- Leadership in Action, Sirius XM Business Radio (June 2016)
- “It Takes More Than a Law to Ensure Equal Land Rights for Women,” Reuters (April 15, 2016)
- “Vivek Maru and Namati: The Barefoot Lawyers Brigade,” Humanosphere (April 15, 2016)
- “Barefoot Lawyers’ Are Being Deployed to the Front Lines of Justice,” TakePart Media (April 11, 2016)
- “Leveraging the Law Is the New Way to Help the World’s Poor,” TakePart Media (February 19, 2016)
- “Land Rushes and the People Left Behind,” Boston Globe (February 20, 2013)
- Reverence and Transformation: Q&A on Legal Empowerment with Vivek Maru of Namati, Open Society Foundation (February 13, 2012)