Jean Geran PhD’01

2006 Distinguished Young Alumni Award Honoree

When Jean Geran first came to UW-Madison to earn her PhD, she brought with her some impressive experience: field appointments in Africa and Asia for international nonprofits, and previous positions at the United Nations and the World Bank. With this background and her Thai language skills, she was the ideal candidate to fill a research position under a Ford Foundation grant to study the effects of Thailand’s 1997 economic crisis on the poor in remote, rural areas.

Geran made an immediate connection with poor women and farmers from the Karen ethnic minority living close to the Thai-Burma border. After graduation, she was employed by the U.S. Department of State, where she was given responsibility for human rights and democracy policy in Asia. Nongovernmental groups had accused the Burmese army of the systematic rape of hundreds of Shan women, and Geran volunteered to go to the Thailand border to seek testimony from women in refugee communities. Her interviews corroborated the original accusations and initiated a UN-led international inquiry into the incidents.

In Iraq in 2003, Jean helped create the first Abuse Prevention Unit, charged with preventing and investigating human rights abuses in humanitarian assistance programs. There, she helped discover and document mass graves.