Customer Stories

How one nonprofit is honoring—while evolving—the legacy of its late founder


Published on September 12, 2019

90% of casualties from conflict and war are civilian.

“This is an incredible number,” says Federico Borello, Executive Director at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC). “That means that only 10% of casualties are actual combatants fighting each other.”

From the civil war in Yemen to crises throughout western Africa, global conflicts are on the rise over the last 30 years. And yet civilians are the ones who bear the brunt of the violence.

One of these civilian victims was CIVIC’s founder, Marla Ruzicka. In the midst of the Iraq War, Ruzicka spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan to learn firsthand what civilians were facing and what policies might be effective in improving their safety. She was killed in an explosion in Baghdad in 2005.

Marla Ruzicka (right), Founder of CIVIC
Photo of Marla Ruzicka, Founder of CIVIC

While CIVIC was born out of tragedy, Ruzicka’s legacy lives on. Her story galvanized a group of activists to continue and expand its mission in the nearly 15 years following her death. The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit’s sole focus is to reduce civilian casualties, from on-the-ground trainings of military actors to high-level policy recommendations with the likes of the United Nations, NATO, and other international organizations.

Though CIVIC started in Iraq, today the team covers conflicts across the world in countries including Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Mali. And their local staff aren’t just employees who fly out to those countries—they’re all native citizens.

“We don’t have a cookie cutter approach from place to place. Each location is different and our teams need the relationships, the language, and an understanding of the conflict, institutions, communities and tensions within these communities,” says Borello. “Foreign experts can try to gain a lot of that knowledge, but people who are born and grew up in those countries will have more.”

“Dropbox helps the flow of our work because our documents are never produced entirely in one place by one person."—Federico Borello

Gathering and sharing that local knowledge is crucial to CIVIC’s efficacy. From civilian interviews to marked-up maps to policy briefs, the team produces hoards of intel. Bringing together this globally de-centralized team and all their expertise—in locations often with limited internet connections—has required that CIVIC adopt innovative tools.

“Dropbox helps the flow of our work because our documents are never produced entirely in one place by one person,” Borello says. “They’re always the product of collaboration between our field staff, headquarters, researchers, and partners.”

“It’s so important that we have a central place where we know a document has the latest information,” adds Jessica Ginther, Sr. Operations Manager. “These conflicts are changing on a daily, hourly basis, so it’s imperative that we can take action quickly even when we’re working across time zones.”

To Borello, CIVIC has no choice but to bring new perspectives into their work. “Innovation is essential to us because we are fighting such an old problem that seems to have no solution,” he says. “So we have to think outside of the box, both in our policies and recommendations, and in the ways our own team works together.”

While CIVIC would tell you that their work is really just starting, they’ve seen some real impact. Their efforts in Afghanistan have been one of their longest running programs. CIVIC equipped a NATO operation with tools and research, helping lead to a 40% year-over-year drop in civilian casualties across the country.

“I think we embrace complexity and hard solutions,” says Borello. “We unfortunately don’t have the magic key to solving a conflict. It's a combination of different interventions at different levels—local, national, regional, and international. We have to embrace that and accept that the problems are hard, and so the solutions are complex.”

To learn more about CIVIC’s work, visit