Elena Pesina

Elena’s drive to make positive change led to her research on aid partnerships for her PhD in Law.

Elena standing in front of a window and plants smiling and wearing a cream blouse.

Programme: PhD in Law
Research topic: The Legal Obligations of Aid Donors towards Aid Beneficiaries under the International Legal Framework of Aid Partnership
Supervisors: Associate Professor Chris Noonan, Dr An Hertogen
Funding: University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship  

Life before the PhD

"My husband calls me an “intercontinental lawyer” because I am lucky to have been exposed to legal education and systems across three continents. I received my first degree in Law at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and subsequently worked as asenior lecturer in finance, tax and banking law at the University of Russia. Teaching students was rewarding, but I kept wondering how the finance that I was teaching could work to help improve people’s lives around the world. I decided that I needed to complement my finance law knowledge with the knowledge of international law, global governance of finance, and human rights so, in 2014, I moved to Israel to pursue a Master in Law and eventually immigrated there. I was haunted by the question of how to regulate finance internationally so that it can serve the development of people, and this led me to the topic of my doctorate and to New Zealand."

My motivation stems from the belief that finance should be not merely
for the sake of finance, but that it should contribute to sustainable

Elena Pesina

A passion for research

"The main goal of development aid appears to be the sustainable development of aid beneficiaries. However, aid is not always delivered in a way that enables it to reach its goals. Some of the reasons are connected to the behaviour of aid donors. In my research, I use international law to improve the behaviour of aid donors in aid delivery. I argue that aid donors should have international legal obligations towards the beneficiaries of aid.

"I am looking at aid delivery as an international development cooperation, which is currently referred to as a “partnership”. In my thesis, I trace the history of treating aid delivery as a partnership and identify what was driving it. I further make a case that, from an economic, political and moral standpoint, delivering aid as a partnership would be beneficial for the donors, the recipients and the international community overall. I analyse whether international rhetoric and consensus about aid partnership is translating into legal obligations on donors and explore the content of these legal obligations. I am undertaking two case studies focused on New Zealand's aid relationship with Pacific Island nations. These explore the effect of legal partnership obligations on aid delivery and try to understand how to reconcile donors’ partnership obligations with other obligations they have under international law."

I hope that my research will be useful for people involved on the
process of aid delivery, improving it both on the side of the donors and
the recipients.

Elena Pesina

Life as a researcher

"Unlike engineers or chemists, I do not have a lab or materials to experiment with. However, I experiment with my work routines and thinking processes. When you do a PhD in Law, you constantly deal with intangible, abstract concepts, which require deep concentration. Every day is a combination of reading, thinking, writing, re-writing, mind mapping, and structuring of arguments. There are stages when one of these activities dominates, but even at the writing stage, the literature review is never ending. In the process, you are constantly sharpening your understanding of (and thinking about) the topic.

"Every day is an exercise in time management, self-discipline and training of deep work skills. I usually divide my day into time blocks, allocating specific time to writing, specific time to reading and thinking. You have got to be flexible but disciplined. Sometimes it is a hard balance to strike."

Elena's office - two computer screens surrounded by plants.

Life outside of research

"When I'm not working on my doctorate, you can find me teaching a tutorial, attending a seminar for the Doctoral Academic Leadership Initiative (DALI), or going to other University workshops and conferences. In July 2018, I attended the Australia-New Zealand International Law Society (ANZSIL) conference, presenting my work and participating in discussion at the postgraduate student workshop. In September, I am going to present my paper, Aid Partnerships and the Emergence of International Legal Obligations of Aid Donors towards Aid Recipients, at the Law and Development Research Network conference in Berlin, Germany.

Community becomes increasingly important when you move countries and my husband and I consciously dedicate time to the Auckland Jewish community and to spending time with friends. Contributing to the Law PhD students’ community is one of my priorities. I try not to miss a cup of coffee and a chat with my fellow Law PhD students on the level 7 kitchen. I also try to organise our monthly meetings, where we can share experiences, support each other, vent and unionise. I also love to explore New Zealand's natural wonders and culture, so you can often find me somewhere on a beach or on a hike in the bush."

Elena, in a red coat, leans on a wooden barrier. Auckland city and the turquoise sea are in the background (taken from Rangitoto Island).