top of page

Every gear in the clockwork counts

If you’re interested in human rights, then you have probably proclaimed at least once: I want to change the system! Now I know, even as a little gear in a huge system, you can have an impact.

Sophia at Caffè Pedrocchi in Padova, summer 2021.

Hi everyone! I’m Sophia, and I come from a small town in Southern Germany. I've always had many interests: there was never just one topic I was burning for. That's why I decided to do a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Management, which included subjects like politics, economics, management, culture, and languages (so everything and nothing). I studied in Germany and France; I worked in NGOs in Romania and Germany, and in project management at my former university. At each of these stages, I developed enthusiasm for whatever I was doing. My goal was always the same one: to help, to make the world a little bit better (cliché human rights student confirmed). Therefore, the Master's degree in Human Rights seemed like the perfect choice to me.

Throughout the years, I also did some practical experience and volunteering: I collaborated in a local food bank, in projects with refugees, and in search and rescue. To be honest, I always found working with people very exhausting. One the one hand, I admired those who thrived working on the ground. On the other, I had doubts about whether I could really have an impact with on-the-field work, and about whether I was even suited for a career in human rights at all. Indeed, I’m not the classic human rights advocate: I am introverted, I generally prefer to work on my own, and I love research (to put it bluntly). Also, while volunteering I felt frustrated as I could only alleviate the symptoms of problems but never tackle the root causes.

At some point, it became clear that I had to embrace my personality and valorize my strengths. What I really wanted was to work on the root of problems. Therefore, I applied for a part-time job at the German Institute for Human Rights, Germany's National Human Rights Institution. For me, working at the Institute meant contributing to the better implementation of human rights in Germany, in a systematic way. Exactly what I wanted!

The project aims at developing two National Rapporteur Mechanisms on the topics of gender-based violence and human trafficking. My work consists in researching on human rights indicators, on gender-based violence and on human trafficking, and monitoring the data situation and the state of implementation of conventions in Germany.

The Brandenburg Gate on Sophia’s first day of work in Berlin, September 2021.

So far, this has been the most pleasant working atmosphere of all my experiences. Although I work remotely, team meetings and talks with colleagues make me feel as well integrated as if I were with them in Berlin. Not least because the Institute really practices what it preaches. Furthermore, I completely enjoy the content of my work.

Researching may sound boring to many people, but not to me. That's exactly the point: human rights advocates are diverse. One person may find it fulfilling to work directly with people and to see an immediate impact on human lives. Another (like me) may prefer to work in a larger project, where you have to do many small steps but never lose sight of the framework. Of course, this does not mean that working at an NHRI is easy and smooth. When you work with government agencies, being diplomatic and careful is a must, and changes often come about slowly. Then, I sometimes feel like a small gear in a huge clockwork.

Still, even if changes are small and slow: in a system, a small change in one place can have a huge impact elsewhere. I learnt that no matter how big the clockwork is, every little gear counts.

Written by Sophia Willner

Edited by Giulia Rosina

Photo courtesy of Sophia Willner


Sophia Willner is a second year HRG student passionate about refugee rights, combatting human trafficking and data. She currently works for the German Institute for Human Rights in a project conceptualising two National Rapporteur Mechanisms on the topics of gender-based violence and human trafficking. As a generalist, Sophia always had many interests: she loves languages and teaching German, all kinds of sports, being outside in nature, and taking care of her plants. Follow Sophia on LinkedIn: Sophia Willner (

81 views0 comments


bottom of page