Wellesley Stays Involved in the Women in Public Service Project

March 19, 2013
Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Shradha Basnyat ’13, and Tara D. Sonenshine

In 2011, Wellesley College partnered with other Seven Sister Colleges and the State Department to launch the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). The project’s mission is to “inspire a new generation of women leaders to realize the goal of at least 50 percent women in positions of political, public, and civic leadership by 2050.” It held its first Summer Institute at Wellesley College in 2012, and is now headquartered in Washington, D.C., at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Through the WPSP partnership, Wellesley students have had opportunities to engage with world leaders, gain critical work experience in the area of women’s empowerment and development, and learn about some of the most salient causes of our times through research and exposure to experts from around the world. Wellesley students and graduates remain actively involved in ongoing work with WPSP today.

Recently, for example, the WPSP partnered with Intel and 10x10 to host an exclusive preview of the film Girl Rising by Oscar-nominated director Richard E. Robbins. Following the screening, a distinguished panel furthered the movie’s dialogue about the importance of education to women and girls across the globe. The panel featured (see photo) Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara D. Sonenshine and Holly Gordon, director of the 10x10 Campaign; and Wellesley’s Shradha Basnyat ’13, who spoke about her experience as a young woman in Nepal.  

Last September, the WPSP hosted a high-level event at Barnard College during the 51st meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Notable speakers at the event were Prime Minister of Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra; President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga; former President of Finland Tarja Halonen; and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer. Melda Salhalb ’13 was chosen to represent Wellesley on a student panel that engaged with these world leaders.

Other Events

Training institutes and symposia remain central to the project’s endeavors. Following the inaugural institute at Wellesley College last June, the WPSP hosted institutes and conferences in Paris; California; Morocco; Burma; and at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. Additional institutes are planned for this year in Tunisia; China; Pennsylvania; and Afghanistan.

Each two-week institute provides emerging women public servants with leadership skills such as constitutional and legislative drafting, conflict resolution, peace building, networking, mentoring, and social media technology, providing a toolbox to transcend challenges and expand boundaries.

The WPSP has also hosted programs designed to inform the public and key stakeholders on issues. These programs have encompassed the spirit of the WPSP by showcasing the voice and stories of women around the world, including Afghani women on the ground during times of transitional justice; India’s Solicitor General Indira Jaising; Former President of the Kyrgyz Republic Roza Otunbayeva; expert on Shariah law and gender Zainah Anwar; and both the Australian Minister for the Status of Women Julie Collins and New Zealand Minister of Women’s Affairs Jo Goodhew.

The 2013 Summer Institute on Peacebuilding and Development will take place at Bryn Mawr College July 7-19.


Besides events, the WPSP has also hosted mentorship calls connecting women leaders with emerging leaders from across the globe and has published research on their work. Two reports—one about women in democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa region and the other about the intersection between China, gender, and the law—were made possible with the help of Wellesley College’s Wellesley Centers for Women. The program also continues to work on the Global Policy Review, a project in coordination with the World Bank’s Voice & Agency Report that recognizes best practices that work toward our 50X50 goal. Two Wellesley students, Kalina Yingnan Deng ’14 and Elizabeth Bachelder ’13, serve as research assistants for this global report.

Wellesley alumnae also provide staff support for the project. Alexandria Icenhower ’12 is a full-time program assistant with the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center in D.C. Megan Moody ’12 is currently a program intern with WPSP, and Nimrah Siddiqui ’12 was a social media intern last fall. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, formerly of Wellesley Centers for Women, is the director of the Women in Public Service Project.

To learn more about the Women in Public Service Project, you can follow it on Facebook, Twitter, or visit the WPSP website.

—Ali Icenhower '12

Photo: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg