President & CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership
Posted on: March 6, 2012 | Go to profile
After listening to Hillary Clinton’s address to the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in which she said, “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” Alyse decided to follow Hillary’s lead and chose to use her voice to give a platform to those who were not being heard. Now as the president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization founded by Hillary Clinton to enhance women’s leadership around the world, Alyse has helped design, coordinate and implement conferences, projects and initiatives that call for gender equality, enabling progress and an environment that sustains it.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I remember being in Beijing in 1995, listening to then-First Lady, Hillary Clinton, address the UN Fourth World Conference on Women. I remember the silence in the room when she made that now-famous declaration: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Here was a woman with a tremendous platform, and she chose to use her voice to raise the voices of others, to give a platform to those who were not being heard. It was a pivotal, transformative moment in my life. I knew then that I needed to do the same; I wanted to commit myself to raising the voices of those who had been silenced by circumstance.
Today, I am president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization founded by Hillary Clinton after she returned from Beijing to enhance women’s leadership around the world.
Q: Who is a leader that you have great respect for and why?
A: I have been truly privileged to meet some of the greatest women leading our world forward. Last year, I had the rare opportunity to speak with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon. The experience is still very much on my mind; I know that I will always think back on those few hours as some of the most surreal and inspiring of all my life.
In a lifetime of leadership, Aung San Suu Kyi has never hesitated to stake her voice, her freedom or her safety to preserve an ideal. The risks she has taken, and the persecution she has endured at the hand of a military junta, do not compare to the worth she sees in protecting values of equality, democracy and justice. She sees beyond risk, beyond temporary indignity, because she knows that worlds built on injustice cannot stand. Her compassion and strength are humbling, and the reality she imagines asks more of each of us. I think I was most struck by the quiet strength that fuels her commitment. She is intently focused on her vision for Burma, she lets nothing deter her sense of purpose or rob her conviction or hope in the future.
Q: What are three characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: In 15 years of working with women leaders around the world, we at Vital Voices have observed five distinct qualities of transformative leadership. An effective leader is driven by a sense of mission that extends beyond herself; she is connected to her community and understands its particular needs; she values collaboration and partnership, especially with those who disagree with her vision; she is innovative and takes risks to bring bold ideas to life; and she has an enduring resolve to invest in the rising generation because she leads not for herself, but for shared progress.
Q: What’s best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: Networks accelerate women’s empowerment, and I believe this is especially true for women entrepreneurs. Research shows that women entrepreneurs benefit more from early-stage strategic assistance and mentoring, and strong early networks encourage women to take risks during the initial phases of a business. In our work with international businesswomen and entrepreneurs, we have seen the power of a network to provide women critical access to knowledge, connections, finance and markets that so often eludes women entrepreneurs.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: I think there are two critical things I would say. First, do what you feel really passionate about, something that challenges and moves you every day. Second, if you don’t have a specific passion in the beginning of your career, don’t be afraid to take risks and try things out by interning and volunteering. Passion will emerge from realizing what drives and ignites you so don’t be afraid to follow it. For me, it was the only path.
Q: Who or what in your life gives you the strength to persevere?
A: In the last year, we have seen women in the Middle East and North Africa advocate for phenomenal, unprecedented shifts — shifts in civic engagement, in politics, in cultural perception and social interaction — shifts in the very language and means we use to communicate. While we all know that change takes time, these women and the movements that they represent have broken through in definitive, historic ways. The women who continue to peacefully protest in the Middle East today are connected to the women who marched in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Argentina, and in countless other communities throughout history. They are connected in a way that defies distance, time, generation and culture — I persevere despite the considerable challenges we face because I believe that when one woman stands for equal rights, for justice, for peace, she has made it possible, and more likely, that another will rise up and stand for those same ideals.
Q: What place in the world has the most sentimental value to you and why?
A: In 2009, I traveled to Kenya for the groundbreaking of Kakenya Ntaiya’s girls school. Kakenya was the first woman in her Maasai village of Enoosean to attend university. When I first met her, she was still studying and had a dream to build a school for girls – she was committed to creating opportunity and providing education to the rising generation. I’ll never forget watching Kakenya, her village surrounding her and supporting her as a dream came to life.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you love to cook, can you share a favorite recipe?
A: One of my favorite salads is a recipe I made up on my own, I combine mixed greens, pears, marcona almonds with rosemary, basil, steamed lentils, quinoa, orzo, beets and grated parmesan.
Q: Which book has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: When I read Amartya Sen’s Development Is Freedom, I was struck by how pioneering his perspective was. Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics, and at the time he was among the first to bring the case for investing in women to the mainstream.