Andrew Cabasso: A New York lawyer with a love for development

by Marion Brossard

A short while ago, I had the chance to inter­view Andrew Cabasso, a North­east­ern alumni class of 2009, and recent grad­u­ate of Fordham’s School of Law. Prior to speak­ing with him, I looked a lit­tle bit into his expe­ri­ences whilst at North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity, specif­i­cally with the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute where I dis­cov­ered that, as an Hon­ors Scholar, Andrew devel­oped a the­sis on Micro­fi­nance as a gate­way to poverty alle­vi­a­tion in the Domini­can Repub­lic.  Voted one of Northeastern’s 100 Most Influ­en­tial Seniors in 2009, Andrew  obtained the Matthews grant through the Hon­ors pro­gram to  travel to the Domini­can Repub­lic for his the­sis, work­ing and learn­ing from sev­eral micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions on the ground, includ­ing Esper­anza, Inter­na­tional; dur­ing his trip and based off of research con­ducted upon his return, he col­lected vital infor­ma­tion regard­ing the state of the indi­vid­u­als obtain­ing these microloans, as well as a detailed under­stand­ing of some best prac­tices for MFI busi­ness mod­els.  Greatly impacted by his expe­ri­ence in the Domini­can Repub­lic, Andrew decided to return with the first trip taken by SEI to the Domini­can Repub­lic, where he worked with Esper­anza again as well as Fun­dación San Miguel and formed even stronger rela­tion­ships with the coun­try and the indi­vid­u­als he met and worked with, return­ing to com­plete his the­sis (avail­able for read­ing here).

After his grad­u­a­tion from North­east­ern,  Andrew knew that he wanted to con­tinue some of the work that he had started in his senior year, and espe­cially in work­ing with the DR pop­u­la­tions and the role that law could play in sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.  Thus, upon enter­ing Fordham’s School of Law, Andrew sought out dif­fer­ent stu­dent groups to deter­mine if there was an inter­est in the exist­ing stu­dent pop­u­la­tion to return with him to the Domini­can in efforts to con­tinue the work he had been doing with the com­mu­ni­ties, as well as to bring in a legal per­spec­tive to the Domini­can Repub­lic sit­u­a­tion he had observed. There, he found a group called Uni­ver­sal Justice(UJ), whose mis­sion was to bring legal aid to devel­op­ing countries.

Bring­ing 4 stu­dents with him, Andrew part­nered with an orga­ni­za­tion called the Sis­ter Island Project to ini­tially spend some time observ­ing in Cruz Verde and the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties and learn more about the orga­ni­za­tions work­ing in law, devel­op­ment and agri­cul­ture in that region.  Com­ing back, Andrew and the UJ stu­dents had devel­oped a good under­stand­ing about the state of affairs and decided to focus their efforts on a mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­nity called Mata Los Indios, which was a pop­u­la­tion 80% of Hait­ian descent, although the major­ity of the indi­vid­u­als were born in the Domini­can Repub­lic. The goal was to work on pri­vate land rights and immi­grant rights issues in this com­mu­nity, address­ing their two major obsta­cles to improved liveli­hoods: an inabil­ity to own and thus farm on the land they lived on, and an inabil­ity to pro­vide school­ing for their chil­dren past a cer­tain age since DR laws required iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards unob­tain­able to this pop­u­la­tion due to their fam­ily history.

Fol­low­ing that expe­ri­ence, Andrew returned with 8 stu­dents the fol­low­ing year, meet­ing with NGOs, lands rights lawyers and a sen­a­tor in the Domini­can gov­ern­ment. He con­tin­ued to work with this orga­ni­za­tion, fol­low­ing up on his expe­ri­ences at North­east­ern, whilst devel­op­ing his law degree at Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity and explor­ing dif­fer­ent ways in which law can be applied to a vari­ety of sub­jects, from inter­na­tional devel­op­ment to juris­dic­tion in vir­tual worlds. His first year, he also par­tic­i­pated in a Leit­ner Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Law and Jus­tice Fel­low­ship Pro­gram where he obtained fund­ing to work with Grameen Amer­ica,  the US branch of Grameen Bank (an MFI orig­i­nally founded in Bangladesh by Muham­mad Yunus). In addi­tion, he estab­lished a bank branch with Esper­anza Inter­na­tional called Inge­nio Con­suelo  which, since its cre­ation in 2009 has pro­vided 41 loans to Esper­anza bor­row­ers in 8 dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, with the major­ity in San Pedro de Marcoris.

Cur­rently, Andrew has just grad­u­ated from Ford­ham and is prac­tic­ing law in New York. He con­tin­ues to advise the Uni­ver­sal Jus­tice group at Ford­ham —they are return­ing the Domini­can Repub­lic this year after recently part­ner­ing with North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity to work on sus­tain­able devel­op­ment projects in Mata Los Indios— and is focus­ing on devel­op­ing his law career.