Kim Azzarelli, chair of the steering committee for the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, has been called "a whirlwind of inspiration" by Judge Joanna Seybert of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, who sits on the committee. Seybert praises Azzarelli for her seminal role in making the center, which works with women judges across the globe to combat violence against women, a reality.
Seybert is right. When Azzarelli enters a room, her excitement is contagious. She has the ability to persuade her audience that the difficult is doable and that they can be part of making it a reality. "Everyone has value and something to offer," says Azzarelli, who found her core beliefs early on.
Azzarelli attended Friends Seminary, a small private school in Manhattan with Quaker roots. "I was encouraged to give back to the community and not measure people by who they were or what they had, but to look at each individual as a human being deserving of respect. That philosophy was later echoed in my work with the Virtue Foundation and helped shape my thinking."
At Cornell as an undergraduate government major, she volunteered at a nonprofit organization, now called the Women's Opportunity Center, where she helped unemployed women prepare to get jobs.
After she graduated, she took a position at J.P. Morgan in New York City, where she acquired the solid corporate background that opened doors for her later on. Even with a heavy work schedule, Azzarelli found time to volunteer at a halfway house in East Harlem for women who had been incarcerated and who were often victims of violent crimes themselves.
"That's where I learned about the power that the law could have over a woman's life; shortly thereafter I decided to return to law school at Cornell," she says. There, "I took traditional corporate law courses, but I also worked in the Women's Law Clinic and the Judicial Externship. I became interested in the judicial system, judicial philosophy, and in particular, how the law impacted women. Back then, there were fewer women judges, and I started thinking about what kind of a world it would be if there were more."
She joined Latham and Watkins after earning her J.D. degree because she was impressed with the firm's large corporate and pro bono practices. After six years at Latham, Avon recruited Azzarelli, where she served as vice president, associate general counsel, and corporate secretary. She was also asked to serve as vice president of public affairs for Avon. "It's a company dedicated to improving the lives of women, and it was a great opportunity to combine my corporate work with an ability to help empower women," she says.
"It was transformative for me to be in the board room with Andrea Jung (Avon's chief executive officer) and such an impressive team. I learned a great amount from the experience and had the opportunity to bring to Andrea ideas about what Avon as a company could stand for."
Azzarelli says that her thinking was also greatly inspired by her work as a member of the advisory board of the Virtue Foundation, a non-governmental organization with special consultative status to the United Nations. "The Virtue Foundation is a volunteer organization focused on improving the lives of the underprivileged through high-impact philanthropy. To that end, the foundation has focused its work on improving the lives of women and children, often in the developing world," she says. "When I saw the innovative work Virtue Foundation was doing, I was inspired to think of ways that Avon could make a larger impact for women on the world stage."
To that end, the Virtue Foundation partnered with Avon in 2007 to hold the first Global Summit for a Better Tomorrow at the United Nations, convening leaders to speak about health, education, and economic empowerment of women. Next, in 2008, Azzarelli worked with the U.S. State Department to organize the first Senior Roundtable for Women's Justice, attended by then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice; retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor; and Jung. The roundtable convened seventy judges and legal practitioners, both domestic and international, to develop solutions addressing violence against women and the need for increased access to justice.
Building on the momentum of the roundtable and working with the Avon Foundation for Women, Azzarelli co-founded the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School. "I was inspired by the incredible support I received from so many women judges and, in particular, Justice O'Connor. Her personal support and encouragement for the project gave me the confidence to believe that this project could have real and lasting impact."
In March 2009, the center was launched at the 2009 Global Forum for Women and Justice, held in part at the U.S. Supreme Court, with a $1.5 million grant from the Avon Foundation. The 2009 Forum convened over 200 women judges and legal practitioners, representing over thirty countries.
Azzarelli confesses that her actions to make the world a better place are actually mostly selfishly motivated. "I've found that the more you help, the better you feel," she says. Azzarelli currently lives in New York City with her husband, Mattia Filiaci.
--LINDA BRANDT MYERS