In 1995, as chief of staff to the first lady, Melanne Verveer watched from backstage as Hillary Clinton electrified the international women’s conference in Beijing with her now-famous words: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights—once and for all.”
“That moment had an indelible impact on me,” says Verveer, 69, who since then has devoted herself to winning opportunities for women and girls through the State Department and NGOs—most notably Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO she cofounded to invest in emerging women leaders. Now Verveer is switching arenas, moving to academia and the private sector to continue the work she began at State.
As executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (Georgetown University is her alma mater), Verveer is commissioning research on women peace builders in societies riven by conflict, such as Iraq and Myanmar.
Newest of all for Verveer is her entry into the for-profit world. The cofounder of Seneca Point Global, a consulting firm, she says she is advising private-sector companies on how to “establish and grow their global women’s strategies.” For example, her firm helps corporations provide training and loans for small- and medium-size women-run companies.
Although the repression of women continues around the globe, Verveer remains optimistic. She recalls the inspiring words of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, one of the leaders of an uprising against the authoritarian regime of Yemen’s president: “The women were asleep, but now they’ve awakened—and they’re not about to go back to sleep.”
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