People making a difference: Robert Quinn
When scholars face threats, this global networker finds them safer places to do their work.
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The second part of SAR's efforts focuses on finding long-term solutions. Through research, workshops, and forming partnerships around the world, SAR looks at the root causes of why some groups in a society (not just governments) want to prevent the free exchange of ideas. The reasons might include cultural divisions, commercial interests, gender prejudice, or religious differences. (Think of the Taliban throwing acid at young girls walking to school. Or the imprisonment of hundreds of professors following the elections in Iran.)Skip to next paragraph
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Sometimes, governments themselves will partner with SAR. In Colombia, for example, when paramilitary groups targeted certain scholars, the government couldn't help them, but SAR could.
Those applying for aid, Quinn says, must meet two simple criteria: They must be scholars and be at risk. "To me, education is the silver bullet," he says. "When we defend these scholars, we tap into the power of education to transform the world for the better."
"I grew up in a relatively privileged environment," he says. "But by the time I got to university, I saw a big disconnect between simple lessons like the golden rule that my parents instilled in me and the injustice I saw all around."
Quinn says he didn't have any thunderbolt moments of insight about his future. Rather, he just knew that "basically, I couldn't pretend I didn't see the disconnect. I had to do something."
The "something" that Quinn pursues changes lives. "I always say, 'It is a big difference to be at Harvard than to be in prison in my home, Syria,' " says Prof. Radwan Ziadeh, now a fellow at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. "SAR has given me the atmosphere to continue my research. I've completed my book, which will be published next year. And I've participated in more than 25 conferences and workshops, nationally and internationally."
If Professor Ziadeh tried to return to Syria, he would face a warrant for his arrest.
"These scholars keep going when most of us wouldn't," Quinn says. "Which is why I think of us as people making a difference to people making a real difference. They're courageous, extraordinary people."
Today, SAR manages between 50 and 75 cases a year. Even after 10 years, its caseload never shrinks. No sooner do Quinn and his team find placement for one scholar, when another threat or need arises.
The applicant might come from Burma, Zimbabwe, or Pakistan. But one thing's certain: A desperate call will come. And when it does, Quinn and his team will find the right place for that imperiled scholar somewhere in the world. Before the clock runs out.