Women in Public Service Project Launches With D.C. Colloquium Featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Posted December 20th, 2011 at 5:23 pm.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and students attending the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium. Clinton is flanked by Bryn Mawr students Meheret Shumet (left) and Jomaira Salas and Isel Otero-Vera (right)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and students attending the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium. Clinton is flanked by Bryn Mawr students Meheret Shumet (left) and Jomaira Salas and Isel Otero-Vera (right)

More From the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium

Many of the world’s most influential leaders—including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde—gathered in Washington, D.C., last week for a colloquium that marked the official launch of The Women in Public Service Project, a joint initiative founded by the State Department and the Sister Schools (Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley).

Bryn Mawr was represented at the event by President Jane McAuliffe, several faculty and staff members, trustees, a number of current Bryn Mawr students, and a contingent of alumnae. Similar groups from the other participating colleges also attended.

The morning-long colloquium took place in a State Department auditorium brimming with an audience made up of students and college officials, female diplomats and foreign dignitaries dressed equally in power suits and traditional attire, and female military leaders in uniform.

After brief opening and welcome remarks from State Department Representative Farah Pandith, Smith President Carol Christ, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, the audience heard  from Legarde.

Legarde began her remarks with an update on the European financial crisis before turning her attention to advice for women aspiring to leadership roles in the public sector.

She talked about how important it is for women to help each other in attaining leadership positions.

Legarde recalled how when she was France’s minister of finance, she came to keep a list of other capable women she’d come to know or worked with for those times when presidents of state-owned companies would tell her they’d love to have more women on their boards but they ” just can’t find any.”

“I’d say, ‘You know what, I have a list, you can pick,’” Legarde recalled to great applause. “Start building your list… Do it, do it, do it and keep it with you. You will be able to use it.”

“Whatever you do, especially if you are in the minority, take the slack, bear the bashing, grit your teeth and smile, because there will be others after you,” added Legarde in closing her remarks.

IMF Managing Director Christine Legarde

IMF Managing Director Christine Legarde

Secretary Clinton then delivered the colloquium’s keynote.

“You don’t have to be a president, or a prime minster or a party leader to serve; we need women at all levels of government from executive mansions and foreign ministers to municipal halls and planning commissions,  from negotiating international disarmament treaties to debating town ordinances,” said Clinton.

Clinton also stressed the need to have women “fully integrated in efforts to support and sustain peace after war and conflict.”

“That is especially important because in today’s conflicts women and children are the primary victims. Whether they bear the brunt of the actual attacks or they’re the ancillary victims—often because of rape being used as a weapon of war—or whether they are forced to leave their homes for refugee camps, women have a very personal stake in resolving conflicts,” said Clinton.

She went on to make the point that increasing the number of women in government and public service is not just a matter of fairness.

“Whether it is fighting corruption or strengthening the rule of law or sparking economic growth, you’re more likely to succeed if you widen the circle to include a broader range of expertise, experience, and ideas,” Clinton said.

Clinton closed her remarks by announcing that the State Department would fund the travel expenses for 40 women from the Middle East and North Africa to attend the first WPSP Summer Institute and that several additional schools, including Agnes Scott, Mills, Mount St. Mary’s, Scripps and Spelman colleges are joining the founding schools in the WPSP. She also announced that Dell has agreed to provide technology support and hardware for the WPSP and that a nonprofit foundation is being created to support the work of the project.

The remainder of the colloquium featured panels made up a diversity of women leaders interested in public service including Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett, author and activist Gloria Steinem and others.

Ntshadi Mofokeng ’12, a political-science major from South Africa with a minor in anthropology, introduced the colloquium’s closing speaker, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Ntshadi Mofokeng ’12 with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Ntshadi Mofokeng ’12 with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“It was such a great honor to introduce Secretary Madeleine Albright. My excitement about being selected for this opportunity could only have been trumped by the big, warm hug that she gave me as she took the stage. I’m hoping her dedication to public service rubbed off on me so that I, too, can be as successful in serving my country,” said Mofokeng afterward.

After the colloquium, Bryn Mawr President Jane McAuliffe joined her fellow college presidents and others for lunch and to take part in working groups looking at a variety of issues surrounding women in public service.

“A great deal of planning has been done to make this colloquium a reality since Secretary Clinton announced this initiative in March. It was wonderful to take part in this event, and to join with women from around the world in work to make the Women in Public Service Project’s goals a reality. I look forward to continued collaboration with the Sister colleges and other partners, and to Bryn Mawr hosting the 2013 summer institute,” said McAuliffe.

The rest of the Bryn Mawr group joined the delegations from Barnard, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley for lunch and an address from Verveer at the Kennedy Center.

Bryn Mawr’s students also attended a reception with students from the other schools, hosted by Pandith, the night before the colloquium  and a breakfast the day of the colloquium hosted by Sister School alumnae working at the State Department and USAID.

At the reception, Pandith, who graduated from Smith in 1990, told the gathered students, “something powerful happens when women are in an all-women’s environment that leads us to soar in ways we typically don’t in co-ed environments … There’s something really special about the ethos of these colleges.”

The breakfast  featured, “a panel of superstars,” said Bryn Mawr SGA President Yong Jung Cho ’12.

“The alumnae were so willing and eager to speak with us and give us advice,” said Cho. “One of the best pieces of advice I heard all day was to ask yourself, ‘What would you do if you were suddenly given millions of dollars? Would you do the same thing if you did not have the millions?’ If so, then that is the career path you should choose.”

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