Mount Holyoke, Smith Help Increase Women Leaders in Public Service

Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 10:19

This article appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette December 15, 2011.

By Chad Cain

Staff Writer

NORTHAMPTON - It is only fitting that Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges are playing a major role in a new U.S. State Department initiative to boost the number of women leaders in public service worldwide.

As Smith President Carol T. Christ points out, the Northampton college and its sister colleges, including Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, have been educating women for leadership since the end of the 19th century.

"So many leaders have graduated from women's colleges in the United States," said Christ, in a video interview about the new initiative on the college's website. "Leaders in every sector of public and professional life: in government, in medicine, in science, in business. We know how to educate women leaders."

That expertise made Smith and Mount Holyoke - along with three other top women's colleges - logical partners with the State Department in the initiative, called the Women in Public Service Project.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will officially launch the project and give a keynote speech at a colloquium in Washington, D.C., today, with more than 100 students, faculty and alumnae from Smith and Mount Holyoke expected to attend. Many of them traveled to the nation's capital together by bus Wednesday.

Officials hope the project will increase the number of women in public service at the local, national and international levels. It will do so through education, support, mentoring and other avenues to enable more women to enter leadership positions.

"Public service will never truly be public until women are equitable partners in shaping policies that serve the needs of humanity," Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella said in an email. "The Women in Public Service program will help provide women with the tools they need to take on public service roles and eliminate obstacles to shared power."

Crist envisions that the initiative, when fully developed, will change the face of public leadership across the world.

At Thursday's event, Christ will welcome participants on behalf of the founding colleges. In addition to Smith and Mount Holyoke, other colleges involved include Barnard, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley, Clinton's alma mater.

The seminar will be televised live on both campuses. At Smith, the broadcast begins at 10 a.m. in Neilson Browsing Room, the Global Studies Center, Wright Hall and on several screens in the Campus Center. At Mount Holyoke, the broadcast will take place in the Blanchard Campus Center.

Additionally, Smith's student newspaper, The Sophian, is covering the event, along with a videographer for the college.

Other Smith speakers during the three-hour program include alumnae Gloria Steinem, Farah Pandith, the State Department's special representative to Muslim communities and Jane Harman, former U.S. representative.

Mount Holyoke will have one of its own serve on a panel with Steinem. Chiedza Mufunde (photo at right), a senior from Zimbabwe, said she is excited to participate in such an important project. She expects to be the only student to sit on the panel of six women, which will include a question-and-answer session with a moderator.

Mufunde said it is natural for Mount Holyoke and Smith to be involved in the initiative given the history of the institutions. She called the project a "break-through" in women's leadership, one in which members of the Seven Sisters colleges can come together to "really do more work on this important issue."

Mufunde is preparing for a career in women's education and empowerment, something she started before coming to Mount Holyoke in 2008. Before college, she was in the Children's Parliament in Zimbabwe, which replicates the country's senior parliament and has a say on children's issues in the country. While in the Children's Parliament, she was chosen as the first president of the Senate.

She parlayed that position into a job with the Campaign for Female Education in Zimbabwe, a move that inspired her passion for education and the importance of investing in women to fight poverty. "That was the moment where I really knew there is so much to be done in women's education," she said. "Women can lead their communities with proper investment."

That's why today's announcement is so important, she said.

"I think it is important because we do need more women in decision-making roles across the globe," said Mufunde.

The seminar will lay the groundwork for the project, including a pilot summer institute next year at Wellesley to help train women leaders from around the world. The program will lead to further development of curriculum for similar educational activities at other institutions and in other regions of the world. It also will identify areas of research to help combat obstacles to women entering public service and government leadership.

The project will also begin to introduce plans to build an online network of support and mentorship to link women in government and public service globally.

Other speakers Thursday include Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state; Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and Florence Chenoweth, minister of agriculture for the Republic of Liberia.

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