Flash interview with alumna Liz Kool about her choice for a career with social impact
Kool made a conscious choice to work for a non profit organisation. Recently, inspired by the pandemic, she also made a career switch.
Alumna Liz Kool: 'If Planet Earth is destroyed, there’ll be no one left to save'
What did you study and when? Why did you choose Leiden?
I did a bachelor’s degree in Dutch law and a master’s degree in Public International Law. Leiden has a good international reputation and I had friends who were already studying there. Besides that, my aunt, who inspired me to study law, also studied in Leiden. So the choice for Leiden was a given more or less.
Did it meet your expectations? What did, and what didn’t? What were you like as a student?
I didn’t find my bachelor’s in Dutch law very exciting and I often only started seriously studying at the very last moment. I only became really interested in my studies during my master’s, partly because international law brings both law and politics together. It was challenging and I was very curious to learn new areas of law on the international level. Somehow I could and can express myself better in English and I saw that reflected in how I handled my studies. So it’s not surprising that I started working for an international organisation. In the end, my master's degree gave me what I expected when I started law school.
Do you have one memorable moment from your time as a student that you would like to, or dare to, share?
During a criminal law tutorial, the faculty was hermetically sealed off by the police because of a threat and we all had to stay inside. Suddenly criminal law became very topical!
What was your favourite restaurant/pub/place in Leiden and why?
My favourite place in Leiden was Café de Keyzer where I used to go for drinks with people from the SIB (Dutch United Nations Student Association, ed.).
Looking back, is there something extra that you might have wanted to see in the law curriculum? Perhaps a specific subject that wasn’t taught, or an internship or something else you missed?
Internships weren’t mandatory in my time. When writing my master's thesis, I did an internship at the Dutch Red Cross at the humanitarian law department, which was a very valuable experience. It also helped me tremendously with my thesis. In hindsight, I would have liked to have done an internship somewhere during my bachelor’s, for example at a law firm. I would also have liked to have undertaken a second study in international relations, that was still relatively easy to do at that time.
Can you give us a brief outline of how your career has gone, and if this was always what you wanted/aimed for? Where are you working now?
I actually came to Greenpeace International by chance. It was only supposed to be for a period of 5 months, but I've been here for almost 11 years. I worked for the legal department for more than 9 years where I was in-house counsel with a focus on governance, contracts and trademarks – the ‘classic’ in-house counsel. A few months ago I switched to a different path in my career. After having been seconded for 1.5 years to our People&Culture department, where I led a duty of care team in response to the pandemic, I realised that my heart lies with our people. Without our people, we’re nowhere and our mission can’t be achieved. I’m eager to contribute to giving our staff the opportunity and space to reach their full potential.
During my studies, it became clear to me that I wanted to work for an international organisation or in the non-profit sector. After leaving university, I planned to go into the humanitarian field at the Red Cross, but then Greenpeace International came along. I remember very clearly that just before I started at Greenpeace International a friend of mine said, ‘Liz, you can try to save every single person on Earth and try to improve their living conditions, but if planet Earth is destroyed, there’ll be no one left to save – so why don’t you start at the core’ and that’s Greenpeace.
Can you explain why you chose not to work at a law firm?
After my internship with the Red Cross, my plan was to go into the field of humanitarian law. I graduated in the middle of the financial crisis and jobs in the humanitarian field were and still are scarce. I still did an internship at a law firm and also applied to law firms, but at every interview I thought, this isn’t for me. When Greenpeace International came along, the idea was that I would only stay for 5 months and would then look further. What appealed to me immensely from the beginning, and still appeals, is that you work for a ‘cause’ and not for the money. It's a completely different mindset and one that suits me.
What has been most useful to you from your degrees, most applicable in your (current) job?
Analytical skills, how to argue and substantiate a case, focusing on solutions, and how to separate the main issues from less important ones.
Your alma mater aims to have an impact in society. Your work is all about impact in society. So do you have a tip for us?
In my time there wasn’t much attention for NGOs and how the law can play a role in social issues. During my master’s, such issues were discussed now and then. What we’re now increasingly seeing, and Greenpeace is playing a leading role in this, is strategic climate litigation. Our legal team even has a separate pillar that focuses primarily on this. I think a course on how to conduct and approach strategic litigation for social issues would be an idea and how to support communities in filing these lawsuits. It's great to see how my old team built that from the ground up and how we can serve our common interest by using the law.
For the parallel sessions at our alumni event Leiden Revisited (9 September, see here), we have asked alumni to give input: issues they encounter in their work and for which they would like academic feedback for example. So far, we’ve received little response from the non-profit world. Do you have something you would like to discuss at such a session?
From a governance point of view: How can you effectively set up the governance structure of an international NGO with the desired checks and balances, without sacrificing decisiveness. From a maritime point of view: The question of whether it would be desirable to establish regulations for NGO vessels.
To end, and to get to know you a bit better, a very personal question: what’s your guilty pleasure?
If I’m feeling stressed, I put Aretha Franklin on, turn up the volume, and dance the stress away.