Gene has been involved with Justice Without Borders almost since the beginning. Now a donor and Chairman/Treasurer on its Board of Directors, Gene’s journey began soon after he moved to Singapore. As part of his firm’s pro bono initiative, Gene volunteered to help register non-profits who were just getting off the ground. It was then that he met JWB founder and Executive Director, Douglas Maclean.
“I find it really hard to say ‘no’ to Doug,” said Gene, laughing as he recounts his friendship with Doug. “I was really impressed with his passion, desire and energy, and just his willingness to do whatever needed to be done.”
But Gene’s journey with JWB is a little more personal than that.
Until he moved to Singapore, the concept of live-in domestic workers had been foreign to him and his family. It was that introduction to and experience in dealing with bad employers’ and other people’s harmful attitudes towards the women that worked for them that tied Gene to JWB’s mission.
“Frankly we were kind of thrown by some of our initial interactions about migrant workers, and some people’s actions and attitudes towards them,” he said. “When we were first looking to rent a place in Singapore, a room that’s essentially two metres by two metres was considered a suitable domestic worker’s room by some, we were horrified. The kind of huge discrepancy between normal society and the way some people treat their domestic workers was just mind boggling and upsetting to me.”
While the nearly ten years marked many “first steps” in the long journey towards access to justice, JWB’s achievements are to be applauded, he said.
“JWB has developed a proof of concept – migrant workers can in fact seek compensation, even after going home.”
“We are now a living breathing entity in four jurisdictions and the effect we have had with people directly and indirectly, with caseworkers and raising awareness among pro bono lawyers, and the success stories, that’s pretty amazing,” he added. “Seeing the impact we have on people’s lives makes me really grateful to have been given this opportunity.”
New challenges lie ahead as JWB moves into its second decade next year.
“We are now at that second step of growth: teaching caseworkers that cross-border claims are a real option, and to raise awareness with migrant workers that pro bono lawyers can help.”
After four years in Singapore, Gene and his family relocated back to the U.S. Gene is a “recovering lawyer,” now working to produce and preserve affordable housing in Washington D.C. His connection with JWB, though only grew stronger as he took on a dual role as the organisation’s Treasurer and Board Chair.
As the Chair, his responsibilities include guiding board meetings, and talking through major organizational matters including the direction of JWB’s policies, strategic plan and budget. As Treasurer, he works with the organisation’s auditors and bookkeepers to safeguard the funds JWB receives from donors.
“One of our concerns is to always make sure we are growing in the right way and in the right direction, as opposed to trying to do 100 things and not doing any of them correctly. We need to make sure that we stay true to our mission and that we are growing responsibly,” said Gene.
“Ultimately, the goal is, that we become unnecessary, that behaviour changes so drastically that there’s no more need for us,” he added. “I know that’s pretty hopeful, but that’s the goal.”
Platinum sponsor series features our platinum sponsors in 2021. They share their experience in teaming up with JWB, why they are passionate about helping migrant workers and how this partnership makes a difference.