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For the Greater Good

Anastasia Herasimovich ’06 goes home to Belarus to work for the United Nations

Anastasia Herasimovich ’06 never planned to attend Swarthmore. She was traveling in the United States in 2004 when the Belarusian government shut down the European Humanities University (EHU), where she was an undergraduate law student. Stranded in the U.S. with an uncertain future, she had no idea where to go.

She found support at the U.S. State Department, which offered a merit-based scholarship, and at Swarthmore, where she was accepted. “My first foreign language was German. I had no plans at all to study in the U.S.,” Herasimovich says. “I had only my summer clothes. This was a huge transformation in life. The level of understanding and the kindness of people at Swarthmore had no limits.”

In particular, she recalls former dean Bob Gross ’62 offering one-on-one advice to help her adapt from a European system, where law is pursued as an undergraduate course of study. To overcome her limited English-language skills, Herasimovich met with professors before class to go over lectures and lesson plans one-on-one. Then she’d attend class to hear the same information again.

Political scientists Ben Berger and Dominic Tierney and Peace and Conflict Studies’ Lee Smithey were particularly helpful. “They believed in me, and I could not disappoint them. Basically, in one semester, I started talking and writing,” she says. In just two years, she earned her B.A., majoring in political science and German.

Ever since her student days at EHU in Minsk, Herasimovich has been interested in “spreading the knowledge” of individuals’ rights under the law. In Belarus, she says, “Often, people don’t know their rights. I was very surprised when I came to the U.S. that everyone knew what to expect from the justice system. I wanted to achieve the same level of awareness in Belarus.”

Herasimovich landed a job as a paralegal in an international private-sector law firm in Chicago, where Eric Sievers ’92 served as her supervisor and mentor. He guided her toward the Northwestern University School of Law.  

 With J.D. and LL.M. in hand, she became a private-sector international lawyer and consultant in the U.S., United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Russia. She found the body of law surrounding infrastructure development and public-private partnerships particularly interesting, as it dealt with state ventures that leverage the investments of private firms to build new bridges, power plants, buildings, or other infrastructure for the public good.

“You can apply it in the private sphere and, at the same time, you have a social aspect too, because you are helping many governments develop,” she explains. “As a result, you make a positive difference in many people’s lives.” 

When Herasimovich heard that the United Nations was seeking an experienced professional to coordinate, advise, and lead the UN mission in Belarus on high-level strategy planning and policy development, among other tasks, she jumped at the opportunity. Ironically, this new job, which she began in 2014, brought her into a partnership with the same government, led for more than two decades by President Alexander Lukashenko, that shut down her university in 2004. (The pro-Western EHU has since been re-established in Lithuania as a university in exile). 

One of Herasimovich’s tasks with the UN has been to help more than 20 UN agencies, including the World Bank Group, to develop a joint UN-Belarus strategy for 2016–2020.

She has been pleasantly surprised by the receptiveness at every level of Belarusian society, including government officials, and hopes to continue to share what she’s learned about the transformative power of global public-private partnerships. 

“My eye-opening experience was that people here are very interested to cooperate and learn,” she says.