Amélie-Sophie Vavrovsky is a student in the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy (MIP) program specializing in cyber policy and security. Before coming to Stanford, Amélie-Sophie founded Formally, a legal tech company that simplifies immigration applications for displaced people. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brown University and is originally from Vienna, Austria.
FSI: Can you tell me more about your background?
AV: I was really into languages as a child and was eager to live in different places. It started first with an exchange program to Australia. At the time, I was attending a Catholic all-boys school and they sent me to an Australian all-girls school, which is where I became fluent in English. I was 15 when I did that, and I continued wanting to explore and learn about people and different cultures — I can speak about eight languages today. If you count the dead ones, it’s closer to 10.
I spent a little bit of time in Russia after that. Then for my last two years of high school, I went to a school in New Mexico called United World College, where I lived with 200 students from 96 different countries. After that, I went to Brown for undergrad and studied International Relations. I really enjoyed taking classes in the different departments there — I think I took classes in about 16 of them, and I was particularly interested in displacement and migration. It was at Brown that I realized that my passion is at the intersection of tech, law, and policy, and it is also where I founded my startup company, Formally.
What does your company do?
Formally simplifies immigration applications for displaced people. I worked there full-time for about a year before enrolling in the MIP program, and I’m still working on it now. We're trying to do two things: The first is increase legal representation by saving attorneys’ time. About 86% of asylum seekers in the U.S. do not have legal representation, which makes them about five times more likely to be denied- regardless of how valid their case is. We connect applicants to attorneys and are working to increase representation because we know it will make the process fairer.
The second thing we’re doing is building powerful pro se tools — pro se means that applicants represent themselves in court. The U.S. government does not provide an attorney to applicants or and only provides forms in English. Most applicants have to represent themselves — and sometimes children as young as 3 are representing themselves in court. Applicants really don't have any tools available right now to help them navigate and understand the asylum process. We are building tools that make asylum applications accessible so that applicants can make their best cases in court.
Have you found it difficult to balance running a company and being a student?
It's definitely hard at times, but I think that I'm raising this company in the context of Stanford and all the amazing resources and people here. It has definitely been a privilege, and I also think there has been symbiotic relationship. I feel like I'm in touch with the different aspects of policy here, and what we're solving with Formally -at its core- is a policy problem.
Why did you decide to enroll in the MIP program?
I was actually considering going to law school. My options were law schools, or the MIP program, or a program at Cambridge in International Relations. What really drew me to MIP was the possibility to do interdisciplinary work. Our problems today don't fit into neat categories, and we need to think in an interdisciplinary way to solve them. I have an affinity for tech and tech policy and Stanford felt like a great place to do that work and think creatively about problem solving.
What words would you use to describe your experience in the program so far?
I would use the words drive, passion, and creativity. I'm constantly inspired by my peers, who are doing some really amazing things. I think the MIP program fosters creativity and problem-solving, and really encourages you to go out and explore all of Stanford and all it has to offer. Which has led me to the law school and to the computer science department. Taking advantage of that has been really, really incredible, and MIP has made it really easy for us.
For instance, I took a class taught by Nathaniel Persily and Monica Bickert on internet, free speech and democracy. This has inspired my research on freedom of expression and association online and cemented my passion for digital rights and civil liberties online.
What has been your favorite experience so far in the MIP program?
It’s been really wonderful overall, but I think I'm most excited about two things: first, the class on free speech and democracy, and I'm also super excited about this new group I’m in which is headed by Marietje Schaake. Marietje is the international policy director at the Cyber Policy Center, and she's an experienced EU legislator and policymaker. She has gathered this interdisciplinary group of people who are interested in tech policy. Right now, we're working on a response to the EU white paper on artificial intelligence. It’s been a really lovely experience.