Maureen White currently advises the State Department on humanitarian issues, but she said her experience in a variety of professions ranging from finance on Wall Street to refugee aid has given her a unique perspective as she fulfills her role.
White spoke to a group of 18 undergraduates in Saint Anthony Hall Wednesday evening about her work in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the State Department. In her talk, which was sponsored by the Yale Review of International Studies, she encouraged students to venture into many different fields instead of choosing a narrow career path.
“There’s no guide to doing what I did throughout my career,” she said. “It involved a lot of serendipity and some perseverance.”
Many of her job opportunities came to her unexpectedly, she said. She described how she became a board member of the International Rescue Committee because she simply showed her knowledge and concern for the humanitarian crisis occurring during the Bosnian War at a dinner.
She also spoke extensively about the United States’ turbulent relations with Pakistan, the ongoing refugee crisis in Afghanistan and the dominance of militant groups in the border region betweenthe two countries, which she said has hindered humanitarian aid and economic development in the area.
“When you have such constant violence, it’s very hard to think about economic growth,” she said. “We’ve had to abandon a lot of big-picture issues. Staying alive and eating become much more important goals.”
White said the State Department’s Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan provided a unique environment where people in different fields could share ideas. People in other offices of the State Department often work in “silos,” she said, which can prevent the “cross-fertilization of ideas” necessary to solve regional problems.
White said she was able to encounter experts in interesting areas including those tracking down terrorist financial networks and mapping mineral distribution in Pakistan.
Allison Lazarus ’14 and John Masko ’14, who attended the talk, both said they were impressed that White was able to remain successful while constantly changing careers and raising four children. Masko, who is unsure of his future career path but might major in political science and music, said he found the talk reassuring.
“It was also cool to hear about how quickly she could build the knowledge required to do well in each of her jobs,” he said.
White, who holds a master’s degree in economics, has also served as a national finance co-chair for the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, a board member of Human Rights Watch and a U.S. government representative to the United Nations Children’s Fund, among other positions.