CASSANDRA LEE, CO-FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
I will never forget the first time I sat listening to war stories in an internally displaced persons (“IDP”) camp in Goma, the provincial capital in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”). Sitting on a rock for a chair, the stone edges digging deep into my legs, I sat there listening to story after story of war. I tried desperately to wrap my mind around some of the horrors that far too many children and families had been exposed to.
I was barely out of school when I started traveling around and living in various conflict areas. Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda, the DRC and North Korea, seeing for myself what was happening on the ground and learning some of the best (and worst) practices of aid. The more time I spent on the ground, sitting on those jagged rocks listening to stories, the greater my resolve came of “How can we bring lasting change? Not just a band-aid on a large problem, but truly empower a community to rise up out of war?” I didn’t want to keep returning only to hear the same stories a decade or two decades later.
It was then that I kept coming back to the power of education. All the research, all my experience, all the stories that kept pointing back to the transforming effect of educating those living in conflict, I couldn’t shake it.
Within six months I worked with a local team to start our first school in the Congo.
Our team saw the need and made it our mission to go deeper and deeper into war torn areas. To the places that most groups refused to go because of high-risk insecurities, our team leapt at the opportunity to venture into.
EDISON LEE, CO-FOUNDER & MANAGING DIRECTOR
In 2009, immediately after my university graduation, I found myself living in a place beset by crises and civil unrest. On the heels of a controversial presidential race, a public health crisis, and uncontained hyperinflation, Zimbabwe faced a long and arduous road to recovery.
As a freshly minted college grad, the challenges seemed insurmountable. Still, I worked to address food security issues at a local level, and worked with local community members to start small income generating projects. In that process, it dawned on me that as an outsider, I would never fully grasp the cultural mechanics and nuances to be an effective change agent. I learned that local problems required local solutions, and that I could best contribute by providing technical advice, where necessary, and working to build leadership and management capacity in these contexts.
Over the next few years, I spent time working as a strategy consultant, coming alongside SMEs to develop management capacity in high impact businesses in East Africa, and later, transitioned into investment banking, advising clients on strategic alternatives and equity/debt capital raises. In 2016, I left my job in finance to work full-time with Justice Rising.
Through my past experiences, I have developed a deep, personal commitment to the building up of local leaders, and I feel amazingly privileged to work with the incredible teacher and student leaders of Justice Rising.
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