Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2010


College dedicates Green to Jean C. Tempel ´65

Visitors enjoy a shady spot in the new Outdoor Classroom on the Jean C. Tempel ´65 Green, dedicated on the Saturday of Commencement Weekend,. Photo by A. Vincent Scarano.

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A Growing Partnership

A Growing Partnership
The Tree House project, an Afghan-run training center opened in 2008, is helping hundreds of women and men receive agricultural and horticultural training.

How an activist lawyer helped Afghans plant more than 8 million trees, against all odds

by Lisa Brownell

From her corner office at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, on the top floor of the Condé Nast Building, Dana Hartman Freyer ´65 looks out on the imposing cityscape of New York City. Here, since 1977, she has built her reputation as one of the top women litigators in America, as well as one of the most highly ranked arbitrators worldwide. Yet it´s not a collection of awards and citations that dominates the largest wall in her office but photographs of villagers and farmers in Afghanistan.

How a corporate lawyer in 2003 co-founded Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA), an organization that empowers men and women in that war-ravaged land to restore their agricultural livelihood, is a story that has its beginnings four decades ago. Anyone who meets this social entrepreneur will learn that she is as proud of the successes of Afghan women and men — rebuilding their orchards, woodlots and vineyards — as she is of her own many awards and achievements.

In a recent interview for CC:Magazine, she spoke about GPFA´s successful Tree House project, an Afghan-run training center opened in 2008 that is helping hundreds of women and men receive agricultural and horticultural training. The programs will enable them to plant and run orchards, keep bees, raise turkeys, and manage many other operations that help build economic independence.
Earlier this year, 15 rural women from conservative, security-challenged Wardak Province traveled to the Tree House by bus under difficult circumstances to learn what GPFA´s women farmers were doing and how they too could become entrepreneurs,” Freyer says. “It was said they could not travel without male relatives — but many of them did.” As their efforts bore fruit, and they replicated what they observed, they also defied the stereotype of Afghan women as subservient, secondary wage earners.

And GPFA´s successes are highly quantifiable: The organization has helped Afghans to plant 8 million trees in 12 provinces since 2004, starting 12,000 farm enterprises and forming the roots of a comprehensive support system that includes agricultural and business training, strengthening university programs, and improving water management.

“We´re focused on building the capacity of Afghans,” Freyer says, noting that years of warfare had destroyed the entire country and displaced thousands of farmers who no longer had livelihoods. But the training is done by Afghans themselves, not Americans. “Our organization has an Afghan face,” she notes. Of the 150 Afghans on the GPFA staff, 40 are women.

In 2008, Freyer and GPFA were honored at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. Two years earlier, the organization founded by President Bill Clinton had committed funds to GPFA to help farmers start 100 new orchard and wood lot businesses, commercially successful enterprises that would help many of them resist the poppy trade.

Clinton told the audience, “(Freyer) not only kept her commitment, she did more than four times what she had promised to do, helping 9,000 people instead of 2,000.”

A seminal idea

GPFA came into being after a brainstorming session in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Dining with two Afghan-American friends, Freyer and her husband, Bruce, a rabbi and businessman, were discussing what course of action could help restore their friends´ homeland.

“So how did a rabbi, a lawyer, an economist and a diplomat end up founding an organization based entirely on agriculture?” Freyer says. “We identified the need to restore Afghanistan´s agriculture economy. We´re all problem-solvers in our own way, and that´s what we brought to the table.” Freyer, who headed Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution and Corporate Compliance Program practices at Skadden, describes herself as a quick study; complex international arbitration often required that she learn everything about a company on very short notice.

One of those original founders and co-chair of GPFA is M. Ishaq Nadiri, Jay Gould Professor of Economics at New York University. He praises Freyer´s effectiveness as a leader but also her sensitivity.

“She has a wonderfully subtle but at times pointed leadership style that makes her almost anointed to lead,” Nadiri says. “Her other great attribute is that she truly believes in the Afghans. She tries to find out what the Afghans are thinking. And she sympathizes with their needs.”

In his former role as senior economic adviser to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Nadiri was intimately involved with the reconstruction of his country. “Among the NGOs that have done well, GPFA stands out. Dana has worked with a model of rural development that is quite remarkable. The best part of it all was that it was very simple, and its physical results are observable.”

Freyer has been named a 2009 Purpose Prize Fellow, a national honor for social entrepreneurs over age 60 who are using their skills to tackle some of society´s toughest problems. In February she received the Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University´s Global Leadership Institute. And at her 45th Reunion at Connecticut College this month, Freyer was awarded the Harriet Buescher Lawrence ´34 Prize for outstanding contributions to society.

The road to Afghanistan

As a government major at Connecticut College, Freyer had both a life-changing professor — Marjorie Dilley — and a life-changing experience — study abroad.

“Miss Marjorie Dilley was my mentor. I was forced to succumb to her Socratic method of teaching,” Freyer says with a smile, recalling the professor of government. “She was tough. She taught me how to write, and that has served me well in my law career.”

Freyer found lifelong friends at the College, including her roommate Karen Ganz ´65. “I met Dana in the early weeks of freshman year in a core course in world history. We became friends immediately and have stayed loyal to that friendship for almost 50 years,” Ganz says. “I liked her then because she was smart, fun, warm and had a taste for adventure. She has fortitude and determination that few can equal.”

In 1963 Freyer decided that she would like to study abroad for an entire academic year (she had to seek permission from the board of trustees to achieve this back then) and spent a year in Geneva.

“I studied international law and that really sealed my desire to be involved in that area,” Freyer says. She never planned to work at a large corporate law firm — instead, she dreamed of working at the United Nations. After graduation she moved to New York City and, while job-seeking, shared an apartment with Ganz and several other young alumnae.

Even without the benefit of e-mail, Facebook or cell phones, alumni networking was alive and well in the mid-1960s. Another Connecticut College alumna who was working for Abdul Rahman Pazhwak, the Afghan ambassador to the U.N., told Freyer that she´d be leaving the position and invited her to apply.

“It wasn´t a high-level job — I was running the office for the ambassador — but soon I was writing his speeches as well,” Freyer says. Pazhwak became president of the U.N. General Assembly when U Thant was Secretary General. “I had one of the most remarkable experiences of my life,” she notes. She also made lifelong friends in Afghanistan.

After three years at the U.N., Freyer applied to Columbia University´s School of International Affairs, where Professor Louis Henkin, often called the father of human rights law, quickly persuaded her to pursue a law degree. She earned her J.D. from Columbia in 1971, and the following year, she and her husband drove from Europe to Afghanistan, travelling through the country for two months in a Volkswagen bug. The trip planted the seeds for her later involvement in that land.

“When we … all of our friends … were so busy pursuing the fast track, she and Bruce decided to take an early break, and they stored their belongings and went around the world,” Ganz says of her friend. “We all thought she was nuts, but trust me, she was the smart one.”
Prior to the three decades of war that have destroyed much of its farmland, the Afghanistan of the early 1970s was one of the world´s leading producers of nuts and dried fruits and had earned the reputation as “the Orchard of Central Asia.” Freyer´s knowledge of the pre-war country allowed her to understand the level of devastation and the need for rebuilding. She also knew that GPFA had to go into communities to meet with the shuras or village councils. “No development program would succeed in Afghanistan unless you partnered with the local leaders,” she says.

GPFA´s budget has almost doubled every year since it was founded and is now $6 million. For its funding and support, GPFA has formed a long list of partnerships, including the U.S. State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense, foreign governments, the European Union, the World Bank, Cornell University, the Clinton Global Initiative, Albironi University in Afghanistan, private family foundations, and other donors.

Freyer just retired as a partner at Skadden after 32 years and is turning her energies to the success of GPFA. “The biggest challenge now is building GPFA´s capacity to meet the demand for our services,” Freyer says.

Following the College motto, “Like a tree planted by rivers of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in season,” Freyer is using knowledge to make the world a better place.

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