Don't Know Melanne Verveer? Why You Should

Women's empowerment is everybody's business, and the first-ever U.S. Ambassador for Global Women's Issues wants you to know this

Women stand at the center of every type of dramatic change occurring in the world today: whether it’s coordinating and offering relief to earthquake victims in Japan and Haiti, consolidating democracy in Egypt or running Facebook. So President Obama in 2009 appointed the first-ever ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer (pictured, above left, with Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary L. Tammy Duckworth and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nichole Shue, president of the Sea Service Leadership Association at a recent women's leadership event in San Diego.) In this historic role, Ambassador Verveer is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s go-to person, coordinating foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women around the world.

Ambassador Verveer is a force of nature in her own right. When I met her between sessions at the recent Women in the World Summit in New York City, she was swapping stories with a young American writer and a doctor (and grandmother) from Somalia. She easily navigated between the worlds of these different women, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Within minutes of meeting, she seemed like the kind of person you’d want to invite over for a long cup of tea and some heartfelt conversation. I got a chance to catch up with Ambassador Verveer to ask about some of the issues nearest and dearest to her heart and here’s what I learned:

Her motto: The needs of women aren’t new. “But we have more evidence of our impact than ever. Investments in women are positively correlated to growth, prosperity, stability, democracy, health -- and vital to our national security. We cannot write off the talent of half the world and expect to confront our challenges,” she explains. Examples like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the world’s rape capital) show clearly her motto: “No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.”

What keeps her up at night: “These issues I’m working on at the State Department are all about our quality of life at home -- it’s all inter-connected. If we have fewer conflicts erupting around the globe, we would spend less on dealing with the crises far away and get to do more at home. If women engage economically abroad, our own companies will have a better chance to sell to them.” The state of the world affects us all. As a mother and grandmother, she’s concerned about “the legacy we’ll leave for our children” -- and this keeps her up at night.

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Homa Sabet Tavangar is the author of Growing up Global: Raising Children to Be at Home in the World (Ballantine/Random House), a frequent speaker on global perspectives to corporations and K-12 communities, and the mother of three children, ages 7 to 17. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter and visit Growing Up Global.

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