Zama Coursen-Neff ’93 Changes the Game for Children

As executive director of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division and founder and chair of the collaborative, interagency Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Zama Coursen-Neff '93 specializes in issues including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, child labor, discrimination against women in girls, as well as to protect schools, teachers and students from targeted attack during armed conflict.

Coursen-Neff was profiled for the college's Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World campaign.


Game Changer: Zama Coursen-Neff '93

Sometimes changing the game means changing the law. That's how Zama Coursen-Neff does it. And in the process, she's improving the lives of young people around the world.

Consider the hundreds of thousands of children who might be soldiers. As recently as 1998, 300,000 children were fighting wars somewhere in the world. Then, Human Right's Watch's Children's Rights Division, working closely with others, mounted a campaign exposing the fate of children on the battlefield. Global attitudes began to change. Now more than 150 countries have agreed to standards that keep young people from the front lines, and about half as many children are fighting.

Child soldiers are just one of Coursen-Neff's priorities at Human Rights Watch. She also works to expose the widespread war tactic of targeted attacks on schools, teachers and students, and to make schools off limit to warring parties. "I draw on my Davidson education every day," she says. An international scholarship to study in El Salvador while at Davidson inspired Coursen-Neff to follow this path. "I met people who took extraordinary risks to live what they believed in," she says, "and it was transformative,"

Coursen-Neff extends similar opportunities to Davidson interns placed at Human Rights Watch by the Vann Center for Ethics. She hopes they, too, will be inspired by their Davidson experiences. "You want to see people with Davidson values in leadership positions," she says.


Learn about the campaign and Davidsonians who are changing the game locally and globally.





  • September 16, 2016