Chevening Scholar Luisa F. Isaza Ibarra (MPP 2022) describes free speech as the “love of my life”. In order to advocate for freedom of speech through the policy process in Colombia, Luisa decided to pursue further study in an institution that shared in her passion for protecting this fundamental right.
“During matriculation, the Vice-Chancellor gave a short speech and dedicated a significant portion of it to the importance of freedom of speech. During the opening speech at induction, Dean Ngaire Woods also spoke about how important it would be on the MPP course that we debate, disagree, discuss and learn through open conversations. That’s when I knew I was in the right place.”
Building a career protecting the right to free speech
While at law school, Luisa was working at a private law firm that represented large tech companies in Colombia, providing support for companies to lobby against regulations that would infringe upon free speech online.
“My boss instructed me to review decisions of Colombia’s Constitutional Court that protected free speech. As I was reading those decisions I fell in love with this work. I began to understand how important it is for democracy, personal development, the search for truth and the spread of culture and knowledge.”
After graduating law school, Luisa knew she wanted to find a role working on free speech. After her experience in the private sector, however, she felt she wanted to work in an area that would have more impact on society and joined Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).
At the Foundation, Luisa worked on topics like access to public information, internet policy and SLAPPs (legal actions aimed at censoring journalists). This furthered her understanding of the ways in which the right to free speech has been under near-constant threat in Colombia where Luisa says politicians “do not always appreciate the importance it has for democracy”.
She was soon leading a team that conducted strategic litigation and provided legal advice and emergency support to journalists at risk of violence, a role that further strengthened her commitment to the protection of free speech. Later, Luisa moved to Linterna Verde, to focus more on free speech and social media research, working on subjects like content moderation.
“The more you learn about free speech the more you realise it is linked to so many digital rights. There are strong ties between privacy and free speech, access to the internet and free speech. My eyes have been opened to human rights issues online because of my interest in free speech.”
Pursuing further study to make a greater impact
Luisa began to realise that real change takes place at the policy level. She therefore began to think about further study to help build the skills she would need to advocate successfully for policy change.
Initially, Luisa was torn between studying history or choosing a public policy programme. Through her experience, she had found that using historical precedents had always strengthened her arguments. However, she began reflecting on a past mistake in her career when her team failed to provide concrete and feasible solutions for a state institution that needed support. This made her realise that public policy might be the better choice for the impact she wanted to have.
“When I was making the decision about which course of study to take, I thought back on my life and the achievements and failures I’d experienced so far. I knew I wanted to focus in the future on making these changes that impact more people across society. That’s why I chose to study public policy.”
Securing funding for further study
Luisa applied for several public policy programmes, along with various funding opportunities including the Chevening Scholarship, applications to which close in early November each year.
When she heard that she would be funded by both the Chevening Scholarship and the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarship, a huge weight was lifted and she could start to prepare herself for her journey to the Blavatnik School.
“In Colombia the Chevening Scholarship is well known and I always had in my mind that I would apply when I decided to pursue graduate study. Without the funding, I would not be here. All the great things I will get to experience this year and all the work I hope to do in the future would not be possible.”
Now at the Blavatnik School, Luisa is excited to be surrounded by so much knowledge and history, along with the community of MPP students with whom she has already built firm ties. In this open, academic environment she hopes to continue building skills that will prepare her to defend free speech and drive policy change.