“How Can My Training Create Real-World Value?” Advising INTERPOL on a 2020 Strategy

Jul 20, 2024 by admin

“How Can My Training Create Real-World Value?” A Conversation with Sarah Shirazyan about INTERPOL, teaching policy analysis, and life beyond law school

By Sarah Shirazyan (JSD ‘17), co-lead for INTERPOL Policy Practicum

Q&A with Luciana Herman, Policy Lab Program Director

Related Organization: Stanford Law and Policy Lab

“How Can My Training Create Real-World Value?” Advising INTERPOL on a 2020 Strategy
Student Research Team with INTERPOL Secretary General Jurgen Stock. The project is led by Professor Allen Weiner and Lecturer Sarah Shirazyan.  Left to right: Jimmy Ruck (JD ’18), Deanna Rafla-Yuan (JD, ’19), Samuel M Chang (PhD in Communications); Professor Allen Weiner, Secretary General Jurgen Stock, Lecturer Sarah Shirazyan(JSD ’17), John Preis (JD ’19), and Fara Abbas MA in (International Policy Studies ’18).

INTERPOL (linked here)—the world’s largest police organization—has been investigating international crimes for nearly a century. With 192 member countries, the International Criminal Police Organization is the connective tissue between different nations’ police operations; it operates from its global headquarters in Lyon, France, to support police forces with cyber analysis, communications, and shared data, investigating crimes occurring across national borders including identity theft, fraud, money laundering, smuggling, and trafficking.

Working directly with the INTERPOL General Secretariat, the Policy Lab INTERPOL practicum (linked here) research team recently returned from Lyon, France, where it briefed INTERPOL decision makers on possible reforms to its governance model. With rapid changes in technology and systems of international justice, INTERPOL launched the INTERPOL 2020 Initiative (linked here) to review the Organization’s strategy and priorities and develop a clear roadmap for strengthening its policing capabilities. The organization partnered with the Policy Lab practicum to help it innovate to respond to an evolving threat landscape and remain at the forefront of global policing efforts.

This Q&A with Sarah Shirazyan (JSD ‘17), the co-lead with Professor Allen Weiner for the INTERPOL Policy Lab Practicum, describes how Sarah’s path through Stanford Law School led to partnering with INTERPOL as a policy client on behalf of its 2020 Initiative.

Can you explain the goals of the INTERPOL 2020 Initiative?

“How Can My Training Create Real-World Value?” Advising INTERPOL on a 2020 Strategy 1
INTERPOL Strategic Framework 2017-2020

INTERPOL’s strategic initiative has five goals to ensure the quality of its leadership as a policing organization in coming years: (1) To serve as a worldwide information hub, (2) Ensure state-of-the-art policing capabilities, (3) Lead globally innovative approaches to policing, (4) Strengthen role in global security cooperation, (5) Enhance governance operations. These goals respond to the rapidly changing terrain of modern policing operations and evolving norms of international cooperation and governance.

What are students researching in the practicum?

Students from the law school, business school, communications department and international policy studies programs have engaged in comparative research with a wide range of international organizations (IOs) to explore how such organizations maximize the benefits they offer to, and in turn the political support they receive from, member states and other stakeholders. We are examining how to enhance governance policies across the global spectrum in response to rapid changes in today’s policing technology and how IOs can develop robust partnerships to share information and coordinate their actions. Our research has investigated 16 different parallel organizations, focusing on how practices among these organizations might inform INTERPOL’s 2020 strategy.

Based on your research, how do international organizations enhance strategic support from member states? How do they expand support among their stakeholders?

Our students’ inquiry has focused on six separate research themes: (1) the modalities of policy level engagement by IOs with stakeholders; (2) regional engagement strategies of IOs; (3) IO strategies for aligning missions and building relationship with other international organizations and key international actors; (4) IO financing and fundraising strategies; (5) the design of IOs external relations units or functions; and (6) strategic communication approaches of various IOs.  Six teams of students have submitted their final research memoranda on these separate themes and we are now harmonizing these memoranda into a comprehensive report for INTERPOL administrators.

It is unusual to see a Policy Lab practicum co-led by a recent SLS JSD graduate. Your experience with international organizations, however, make you uniquely qualified for this project. Could you tell us about your path through SLS to this practicum?

I received my law degree at YSU in Armenia and LLM from University of London. I started my career first as a human rights attorney with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (linked here), and then as a criminal law attorney for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Project in Armenia (linked here).

Then I worked as a Drafting Lawyer for the European Court of Human Rights (link here), designed the data protection and privacy curricula for legal professionals at the Council of Europe (link here), and worked on nuclear security issues at the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (link here).

Having worked in public interest sector, I sought opportunities to do policy work in tech industry.  When I started the INTERPOL practicum, I was wrapping up my work at Facebook’s Global Policy Team, where I developed company’s engagement strategies with inter-governmental organizations. I asked myself “How can I use my training to create real-world value? How can I give back to Stanford Law for the opportunities it has given me?” This was the motivation for the practicum.

Did your SPILS Master’s thesis intersect with your background work in the Rule of Law?

Yes, I built on my previous foundation when I came to the U.S. to undertake policy work, especially empirical studies in the Stanford Program in International Legal Studies (SPILS linked here).

My SPILS master’s thesis, “The Shrinking Alternatives to Incarceration in Armenia” (linked here), focused on how Armenian criminal justice sentencing meets international standards. The work was grounded in the research that I had done with the ABA. High costs of incarceration and prison overcrowding give impetus to policy makers to design alternative crime response mechanisms and innovate sentencing structures worldwide. Alternatives to incarceration are one form of this innovation, and turned out to be popular to deal with fiscal and overcrowding concerns in correctional institutions. Numerous international instruments promote a wider use of these alternatives, which are conceived to create a better environment to rehabilitate and reintegrate an offender. I investigated the lessons that the Armenian justice system can learn from  U.S. system and international standards.

One of my findings tried to explain why the imposition of community service as an alternative to incarceration is extremely rare in Armenia. I found that the legal culture, including old Soviet punitive perception of new norms, peculiarities in legal structure, economically disadvantaged backgrounds of offenders all contribute to the scarce use of community service and generally decrease alternatives to incarceration.

How did your SPILS research segue into research projects with Professor Allen Weiner?

Professor Weiner chaired my JSD thesis, “Combating Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction” (linked here). During my SPILS year, I began to work as a research assistant for Allen focusing on how states apply their criminal laws extraterritorially to thwart the trafficking of nuclear, biological and chemical materials. My JSD picked up this theme to ask: What is the role of international institutions in preventing such illicit trafficking? How do countries work with the UN Security Council to prevent Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism?

Was this the point at which INTERPOL entered your thinking?

Yes, I wanted to have an operational understanding how international organizations, such as INTERPOL, work to combat organized crime. The Levin Center helped connect me to Stanford alumnus and former INTERPOL Secretary General Ron Nobel. Nobel came to SLS to give a speech that spring and invited students to connect through him. I took him up on his offer and was fortunate to gain a summer position with INTERPOL. Over time, I developed a mentoring relationship with Secretary General Nobel.

I worked in the Drugs & Organized Crime Unit, working on a criminal investigation to detect methamphetamine trafficking from the Middle-East to central Asia. Ultimately, I drafted a purple notice notifying all the 192 members of INTERPOL of the new concealment methods and routes the criminals were using to traffick white powder.

How did this experience with INTERPOL catalyze your thinking about developing the practicum?

If you are a researcher, you need to find ways to use your research to create value for an organization. I was especially moved by a speech by Dean Larry Kramer calling on our community to take our training into the world to do good. I asked myself, “How can my training create value for an international organization?” Stanford Law School had given me funding and training and I wanted to give back to SLS. I could see how academia can serve the needs of organizations to help them think strategically and take a deep dive into areas they may not have time or resources to develop.

Do you have advice for students?

Oh, yes! Seek opportunities to apply your training in real-life environments. And diversify your experience to understand an issue you are passionate about from different perspectives. Having worked for both private and public sector enables me to understand the incentives and interests of both sides.  

Importantly, keep your contacts alive! Network. Stay in touch with your mentors. Cultivate trust across your network. I have stayed in touch with people over time. I send them articles and information that might be relevant to their daily work. When I am in the area, I call on them. I happened to be in the area of Lyon travelling after I completed my JSD. I reached out to my former colleagues and network of contacts at INTERPOL just to check in and say “hello.” They invited me to come visit and learn about new initiatives undertaken since I had left. This visit was the moment that led to the practicum.

What was happening at INTERPOL at that time?

INTERPOL realized the necessity to adapt to changing landscape and was open to learn about other organizations’ best practices. I met with the Strategic Planning Directorate and explained the mission of the Policy Lab. I emphasized the mutual partnership that the Policy Lab creates, as it allows students to develop policy skills that complement their legal training and it contributes to positive change for a partner organization. It was important to communicate the high caliber of the research Stanford students are capable of producing.

INTERPOL administrators were intrigued and they came up with a list of projects including one close to my JSD topic: How should international organizations think about governance. How do they evolve good governance models in response to modern social, political, economic, and technological pressures?

That became the research question for the project: How can INTERPOL enhance its governance policies and expand partnerships in response to rapid changes in technology and modes of collaboration? What can be learned from the practices and partnership models of other international organizations? All this with an eye to cost-effectiveness.

Can you tell us about your students’ recent briefing at INTERPOL?

“How Can My Training Create Real-World Value?” Advising INTERPOL on a 2020 Strategy 3
INTERPOL Headquarters in Lyon, France

Students were frontline representatives. They knew their research and answered high-level questions from INTERPOL administrators, including the Secretary General. We took an interdisciplinary team of students who have backgrounds in law, International Policy Studies, Communications, and Business. The briefing was very conversational but highly expert, probing the the lessons we learned from our study of other parallel international organizations. They asked us very detailed questions such as how other peer organizations engage with heads of states and how they staff their regional bureaus. Because our students had undertaken such a thorough review of peer organizations, they could answer the most detailed questions from INTERPOL. We gained a lot of pointed guidance from INTERPOL which we will now use to develop our final report (due at the end of Summer 2018).

See course details


Leave a Comment