Hillary Clinton, Leymah Gbowee, Susana Malcorra, Keren Yarhi-Milo and Marie Yovanovitch on stage during the summit.

World leaders attend “Renewing Democracy: Women Leading the Way”

Image credit: Joel Haskell

Author  Photos: Joel Haskell; Text: Shannon O'Brien
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On April 6, global leaders came to Wellesley to participate in the summit “Renewing Democracy: Women Leading the Way,” where they spoke about the challenges facing democracy in the U.S. and abroad and the work they are doing to achieve democratic renewal. The event launched the College’s Hillary Rodham Clinton Center for Citizenship, Leadership, and Democracy (HRC Center), which aims to advance democracy and prepare the next generation of civic leaders and change-making citizens.

During the first panel, “Democracy at a Crossroads Worldwide,” Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee said she finds hope in women working together. “[W]omen are no longer standing up in one corner and saying, ‘Oh, it’s just a Liberia thing, or ‘It’s a Ghana thing,’ or ‘It’s a Gambia thing,’” she said, and instead are engaging more and more in what she called “cross-border, cross-national … advocacy and activism.”

Jocelyn Benson speaks on the panel Every Vote Counts, Counting Every Vote.
“[M]y North Star has been amplifying voices, giving citizens power, and ensuring our democracy is truly inclusive and reflective of every voice,” said Jocelyn Benson ’99 (second from left), Michigan secretary of state, during the panel “Every Vote Counts, Counting Every Vote.” She was joined by María Teresa Kumar, CEO, Voto Latino (second from right), Chelsea Miller, co-founder, Freedom March NYC (right), and Wendy Weiser, director, Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law (not pictured). Jennifer Chudy (left), Knafel Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and assistant professor of political science, moderated the conversation.
Maria Ressa gestures at the audience while talking on a panel.
“What you heard from the first panel were all the problems in the real world that were exacerbated and set on fire by the match of big tech AI on social media, the very platforms that connect us. Well, they don't do it without manipulating you,” said Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and co-founder and CEO of Rappler, during the panel “How Misinformation and AI Challenge Democracy.”
Chelsea Miller speaks to students during the summit
Students attending the summit met some of the speakers, including Chelsea Miller, co-founder of Freedom March NYC. “[S]ometimes it’s easy for us to solely look at technology and social media and say that that is the driving force of why our young people are frustrated,” Miller said during a panel discussion. “But I think we also have to acknowledge that we are sitting in 400 years of history that has created the conditions that we are existing in.”
Arielle Mitropoulos ’19, Hillary Clinton and Paula Johnson speak on stage during the summit.
Hillary Rodham Clinton ’69 (center) and Wellesley College President Paula Johnson (right) spoke with the summit’s emcee, Arielle Mitropoulos ’19, about the vision for the HRC Center. “How can we talk about democracy, citizenship, leadership, without making sure that we are centering the experiences and the hopes of women?” Clinton asked. “There is no doubt in my mind that we need more women at every table where any decision is being made … to make sure that our experiences, our hopes and dreams, our fears, the commitments that we carry with us … will be recognized, respected, and [will] help to improve life for others.”
Chantale Zuzi ’25 smiles on stage while addressing the audience.
Chantale Zuzi ’25 (right), founder of Refugee Can Be, joined panelists to discuss “Journeys in Civic Purpose.” “I look at institutions today like Wellesley College that have changed my life by providing me the education that I have, and that have opened doors for me, and, really, all these things inspired me to go back and provide that secondary education for those young girls in that refugee camp, because I do believe that a refugee can be anything,” she said.
Bronwyn Lance ’90, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC) chatted with students at the end of the summit.
Bronwyn Lance ’90 (left), chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC), talked with students at the summit. During the “Journeys in Civic Purpose” panel, she said what sparked a passion in her was realizing that “the most important part of a job as a lawmaker … is actually being on the ground, doing constituent services, especially in an area like Appalachia, where there's a tremendous amount of need, listening to people’s concerns, looking at projects that might make their life better, and figuring out a way to bring federal resources to bear to actually help people, so you become that bridge between Washington and the people.”
Stacie Goddard, Danielle Allen, and Paula Johnson participant in panel discussion on stage at the summit.
“[T]he culture that we are really trying to create across the College—and the Hillary Rodham Clinton Center is part of that—is to really regain our civic purpose, to produce students who are … highly educated, able to understand nuance and complexity, and also [who] understand their roles in society,” said President Paula Johnson (right) during the panel on higher education and democracy.
Governor Maura Healey at the podium.
“It’s so critical that we support the activity of this center and others like it. This is a moment where we see with new clarity the importance of building institutions for education, advocacy, and research,” said Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey in her closing keynote. “This is where we grow our ability to share truth and counter misinformation. This is where and how we will raise the next generation of democracy protectors, leaders, and advocates.”