2017-2018 Luce Scholar

Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CRDI)



For his Luce year in Cambodia, Varun will work with the governance team of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute. CDRI works to produce independent, high quality policy-relevant research, accessible to policymakers, influencers and stakeholders, in six interrelated areas that are key for Cambodia’s sustainable development: agriculture, economics, education, environment, governance, and health. CDRI has 50 staff members, all of them Cambodian, and undertakes its programs and projects in partnership with the Cambodian government, international development partners, universities and civil society organizations. The governance team’s work focuses on contemporary dynamics stemming from the emergence of a “young generation” and the expansion of governance reforms, and their impact on concepts of citizenship, political pluralism, participation and rights.

Growing up in a rural farming town in Northern California sparked Varun Aery’s interest in understanding how socioeconomic conditions affect access to important public resources. Varun started his college education at a local junior college, but the lack of courses in political science required him to venture to more urban locations to study his area of interest. Recognizing that attending these distant colleges was not feasible for all individuals in his community, Varun was already witnessing how limited resources in rural communities could impact career opportunities for local students. His supportive college professors motivated him to continue his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. While a student, Varun interned for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, whose commitment to addressing the needs of lower income populations and to eliminating HIV/AIDS inspired him to pursue a career in public service. During the UC Berkeley Washington Program, Varun interned for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to advocate for marginalized groups, including domestic abuse victims.

After graduation, he became a paralegal with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to help prosecute cases of financial scams targeting lower income populations. In 2013, Varun began studying human rights law at the University of California, Davis, where he drew on his public service experiences to produce research to influence policy makers. As a law student, he published five articles in peer-reviewed journals advocating greater protection for the fundamental rights to human dignity, work, housing, healthcare, freedom from caste and gender discrimination, clean air, and marriage equality. His scholarship on the right to clean air enabled him to collaborate with leading international law and policy experts at the Northern California International Legal Scholars Conference to develop the normative scope and content of related environmental rights. Varun also spent a summer interning with the U.S. Department of State. Recently, he worked as Senior Research Assistant to the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. He has also served on committees for the American Bar Association and World Affairs Council. To deepen his understanding of international law and economic, social, and cultural human rights, Varun is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Law (LL.M.) at the University of Michigan. On a personal note, he is a classically trained kathak dancer.