Doru Toma, Project Manager of Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Leaders for Justice program, provides insight into the program’s values, goals, and structure.
CEELM: What is the Leaders for Justice program and when was it established?
Doru: Leaders for Justice is a leadership program for young Romanian legal professionals. Most of the people who participated in the program work as judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police officers, academics, public notaries, or as in-house counsel with NGOs and companies.
The program was conceived in 2009 under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, under its Rule of Law Programme Southeast Europe. The program was officially launched in 2010. My colleague Corina Rebegea, who subsequently received the Fulbright scholarship, was in charge of the program at its beginning. I took over as project coordinator in 2012.
The program receives funding mainly from the KAS, but we are also supported by external partners such as the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.
CEELM: What is the program’s mission?
Doru: Our mission is to inspire individuals to realize their potential. We want to bring together people of integrity who believe in a specific set of values, who want to lead in promoting the rule of law principles and enforce them in their work.
Our goal is to train young legal professionals and equip them with the necessary skills to become the leaders of tomorrow. This set of tools includes leadership, visioning, teamwork, decision-making, communication or project management skills, extensive knowledge about democracy, the rule of law, justice, as well as professional ethics.
CEELM: What values does the program stand behind?
Doru: During the selection process, we ask our applicants to submit their CV, a cover letter, and an essay about the change they would like to implement in their profession, organization, or the justice system as a whole. We then interview them about their views about values such as integrity, justice, respect for others, friendship, equality, and freedom. We turned down some very qualified applicants because they came across as too opportunistic and self-centered. Instead, we are looking for people who not only want to improve themselves, but who want to give something back to their community.
CEELM: How is the program structured?
Doru: The leadership program is taken by up to 20 Romanian legal professionals each year. We have had 12 editions of the program since its inception in 2009. The program is carried out in six training sessions from January to July. Every month, the participants spend four days in various training modules and workshops, where they gain abilities and tools with help from our trainers.
The workshops are focused on specific areas, such as vision and creativity, team leading, decision making and change management, communication skills, and project management.
CEELM: How large is your alumni network and what effect has the program had on them?
Doru: We used to be a network, but over the years we have truly grown into a community in the real sense, gathering 230 individuals with strong motivation to become change-makers. Our alumni share the same values, so they bonded very well and maintain regular contact. We also host different internal events throughout the year (open discussions with experts and personalities, personal and professional development workshops, informal gatherings such as hiking and other fun activities), culminating with the Annual Reunion of the Leaders for Justice Community. Having a similar experience throughout the program and being selected on the same criteria, inter-generation communication comes naturally.
We believe that the program has provided our alumni with experience, know-how, and tools and abilities that can help them improve their leadership skills. We believe that this gives them courage that they might not have had to take things into their own hands and realize their full potential.
CEELM: What are some of the projects your alumni worked on?
Doru: The first generation of our alumni founded the LiderJust Association, which has since functioned as a way to implement projects and initiatives of the members. Over the years, one of the main focuses of the Leaders for Justice members was judicial education, and several projects were implemented since, having thousands of beneficiaries. Mainly, practical judicial education workshops were designed and implemented throughout the country, having some thousands of high school teenagers as beneficiaries. The workshops are designed to teach the students about their rights and obligations, through study cases built on highly relevant topics for them: bullying, fake news, contraventions, environment, etc.
We have also filmed documentaries, such as People of Justice (2019) and Justice Unseen (2021), and have organized the Career Compass project, aimed at helping law students choose a career path by engaging in several internships of their choice, at law firms, courts, prosecutors’ offices, ministries, or other public institutions.
CEELM: What is the future of the program?
Doru: The Leaders for Justice program has been growing for the past 12 years and has recently been launched in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the first edition in 2020. Also, since 2017, through the INK Association and with support from the Romanian team of trainers, we are implementing the LEAD Moldova leadership program for Moldovan young legal professionals.
For the future, we aim at developing complementary formats in order to reach many more professionals from the justice system and have a greater impact.
I believe that the program will continue helping young people realize that they are the leaders of tomorrow. With them, the justice system is in the right hands.