Caryl M Stern
President & CEO, U.S. Fund for UNICEF
Posted on: February 2, 2012 | Go to profile
Caryl knows that a healthy mom = an educated child. With a background in higher education administration and U.S. education policy, Caryl has traveled extensively throughout the world in her pursuit of equal education, healthcare for women in developing nations and the prevention of child marriages and other obstacles that stop women from reaching their full potential. . In her position with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Caryl spearheads all operations in the organization’s National and Chapter Offices. Caryl co-authored Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice, and was honored as a “Woman of Empowerment by The General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 2008.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I earned my BA in Studio Art but quickly realized the museums were not right for me. I returned to school to get my MS in College Student Personnel and then completed my doctoral course work in this same field. After 10 years in Higher Ed (most recently as Dean of Students at Polytechnic University) I left and became Director of the A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). I stayed 18 years there, ultimately becoming the Senior Associate National Director & Chief Operating Officer of the ADL, before leaving to become COO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF (USF). Three weeks after I arrived at USF, the CEO was offered a job with the Gates Foundation, leaving me as Acting President & CEO. One year later, after an international search, the Board appointed me President & CEO.
Q: What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: Vision, Organization, Humor
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. When does visioning come clearest or easiest for you? Or what inspires your vision?
A: I am inspired by every child that I meet and by the fact that each and every day 22,000 children die of causes that we know how to prevent, but aren’t. Knowing this fact motivates me to work until the day that zero children die of causes we can prevent.
Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?
A: I mentor two younger women formally and numerous others on a “drop-in” basis. It is rewarding because it forces me to reflect on the wisdom my experience has given me and to challenge the assumptions I make each day. I learn as much from those I mentor as I hope they are learning from me!
Mentoring makes me challenge the assumptions I make each day.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: After an exhaustive argument with school administrators in which I claimed I was old enough, ready enough, and mature enough, I was allowed to graduate from high school at the age of 16 (a year earlier than I should have). I headed off to college ready to make my mark only to quickly learn that my 16 years had not yet equipped me with all I needed to live and be happy amongst a group of 18 to 21 year olds. I dropped out 3 weeks later – exactly one day after the final day to get a full refund of the tuition my father had dearly paid. I had grown up in a home where the only question related to my going to college was “where” not “if.” I came home embarrassed and chagrinned and was forced by dad to immediately enroll in the local community college where there was still one day left before registration closed. I flourished there. I truly found out who I was and I learned a big lesson – that you can endure a failure, survive the embarrassment and move on to success!
ON Time Management
Q: How do your prioritize your time?
A: It often prioritizes itself — it seems my calendar is filled up and I try my best to meet the demands it puts before me. BUT – and this is a big one – my family always comes first!
Q: In theory, one should prioritize their own health in order to be in the best state to take care of others (family, kids, work, etc.). But in reality, I’ve found that women often take care of themselves last. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I am definitely guilty of this… I am so overdue for a slew of medical appointments! I would never let my kids or my husband let everything else come first and I am not at all sure why I let myself do it, but I do!
Q: What place(s) in the world has the most sentimental value to you and why?
A: So many places: New Zealand because I spent my honeymoon there; Scotland because my husband and I went there on our first trip together when we were dating; Puerto Rico because it was the first place we took our children on a “real” vacation; Vietnam because it captured my heart the first time I went and I have gone back 4 or 5 times; Haiti because I went shortly after the earthquake and again several months later and was awed by the resilience of the people who survived the quake and held it together in the wake of all that they faced; all places in Africa where UNICEF works because I see the children and feel their needs.
Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A: The most honest answer I can give to this question is “some days better than others!” I do my best – I often fail at it – but I tell my family how much I love them, I thank my husband for his support and enablement of my life, and I let my job know – everyone from my chairmen to my assistants – that my family comes first.