One week from today, Cornelia Schneider (F ‘06), will be the first individual presented with the Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award (FWLA), established this year by the Fletcher Board of Advisors. The award was created to honor female Fletcher graduates who are making significant impacts in both the private and public sectors.
According to Betsy Powell (F ‘62), member of the Fletcher Board of Advisors and chair of the FWLA committee, the criteria to be considered for the FWLA are simple.
“You could be in economics, banking, business, environmental [areas], NGOs, peace keeping — it was wide open,” Powell said. “You didn’t have to be married or with children, or without. [There were] no other requirements except [being] an outstanding individual who was a star in the international field.”
Powell pointed out that this award is unique in that it takes into account the level of accomplishment of the nominees.
“This is the first women’s award focused on women [who are] mid-career,” she said. “We felt very strongly that we didn’t want to give it to someone who had already risen to the top.”
The creation of the award, in fact, was a direct product of conversations about how to increase the prevalence of women’s leadership at Fletcher, according to Powell.
“The Fletcher students are roughly 55 percent female, and it [has] been that way ... for about the past 19 years or so,” Powell said. “Women, [however], have not risen to the same height as the men [in the workforce].”
At a spring board meeting in 2011, Powell and other board members started questioning why the number of female students at Fletcher was not directly proportional to the percentage of women who hold prestigious positions at the school. Powell cited the fact that Maria Gordon was the only female vice chair on the Fletcher Board of Advisors.
“We’re not getting tenured women, [for example],” Powell said. “We followed this up in the fall into 2012. We got a task force of women who were willing to work with us.”
According to Powell, Fletcher created a program called the Initiative for Women’s International Leadership (IWIL) in order increase the presence of women in leadership positions. Once established, the IWIL’s first action was to create FWLA.
Powell underscored that the FWLA, however, is not intended to benefit only women. The board heavily considered how the award may influence male leaders at Fletcher.
“The men at Fletcher who will be managing this kind of [leading] woman can learn from whatever we learn,” she said. “It was not an exclusive woman’s deal. It was to strengthen men and women in the international field in managing people.”
The Board of Advisors received 47 strong nominations for the award from the Fletcher community, according to Powell.
“We came to a decision the morning of [Fletcher’s] 80th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C., and it was unanimous,” Powell said.
Schneider will be flying to the United States for the award ceremony from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where she currently works with the United Nations Development Programme’s Access to Justice Project, focusing on improving the accountability of the DRC’s justice system.
“I’m in Goma, which is the Eastern part of the DRC,” Schneider said. “We try to make access to justice easier for affected persons, in particular for victims of sexual violence and victims of violent crimes.”
She explained that there are four main aspects to her work: first, making people aware of their rights; second, seeing that action is taken for victims; third, ensuring that justice is served; and fourth, instituting measures to guarantee transparency and accountability in the DRC justice system.
After graduating from The Fletcher School in 2006, Schneider worked in humanitarian aid distribution for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Chad. Before taking her current position at the U.N., she served as the acting Head of Rule of Law for the European Union’s Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL). In 2012, she was the only female member of EUPOL’s senior management team.
Schneider explained that her graduate school experience greatly influenced her career path.
“[Fletcher] has completely guided what I’m doing today,” Schneider said. “Before I went to Fletcher, I was a ... lawyer. I had no experience working in conflict areas.”
“[After Fletcher, I learned] anything that you need to feel qualified giving humanitarian assistance [at Fletcher],” she continued. “That’s the first part — technical knowledge. The second part is this question of drive for adventure — [for] the unusual, the extraordinary. Much of the work I do now ... stands for the work that Fletcher stands for: multicultural work, people who are on the ground and who work with many different subject areas.”
Schneider has also worked with The School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) in Kabul, the first multiethnic girls’ boarding school in the country, which is connected with The Fletcher School.
“The co-founder of SOLA is a Fletcher alum,” Schneider said. “I would never have gotten involved in SOLA without Fletcher.”
After meeting Ted Achilles (F ‘62) in Kabul, Schneider served as chair of the Board of Directors of SOLA from January 2012-2013.
“She reached out, she was a woman [and] she brought her leadership and administrative skills to help out,” Powell said.
“I worked very much on the good governance measures,” Schneider said. “If people are going to give you money, you have to show them how you spend the money ... You have to show that your legal documents are in order ... We had to redraft the bylaws, [and] we worked on transparency.”
Schneider said that beyond bringing her administrative skills to SOLA, she also strongly identifies with the organization’s goals.
“The tagline is: ‘the courage to grow, the knowledge to lead, the power to change,’” she said. “It represents the three steps of SOLA very nicely ... The courage to grow is about giving girls the environment in which they can grow ... It’s very easy to forget how much it means for students in Afghanistan to have a safe place to study.”
Indeed, as a female, receiving a safe education is not easy in Afghanistan. One SOLA student had an Improvised Explosive Device planted on her front lawn because she was studying in Kabul, according to Schneider.
“This is something we don’t think about: What does it take to go to school?,” Schneider said. “In Afghanistan [it takes] a lot of courage, both for the girl and for the parents. It is something that is not considered the norm.”
Schneider discussed her motivations for continuing her work in the field of global development.
“The hard part for many of us is to not lose that drive [to make a difference],” she said. “You come out all inspired ... and then the reality hits you and you see that, as an individual, you may not bring as much change you would hope to bring ... What keeps you going is how you can change individuals on a [personal] level [and] how massive of an impact you can have on people.”
Schneider emphasized that her work is personally rewarding.
“I don’t want this to sound hokey [and] altruistic — this is not altruistic,” she said. “It’s an exchange. I take from [the people I interact with] and I give back. People say, ‘Oh, it’s so selfless what you do,’ and I think many ... who don’t work in the field underestimate how exciting it can be and what a joy it is.”
Dean of The Fletcher School Admiral James G. Stavridis highlighted Schneider’s strengths as a global leader.
“The Fletcher School’s legacy of training the best and brightest women and men for leadership in the global arena, and providing a supportive atmosphere for personal and professional achievement, is alive in alumnae like Cornelia Schneider,” Stavridis told the Daily in an email. “We are extremely proud of her leadership and contributions to the fields of international law and human security.”
After the awards ceremony concludes next Friday, Powell noted that several women’s groups at Fletcher will have the opportunity to sit down with Schneider and discuss their individual career aspirations.
“I think that [it] will be more oriented towards professional advice. She’s not married, she doesn’t have children, so that part is not involved,” Powell said. “And I think a lot of women have this vision that they can have it all, and it will be nice to talk to this star at the U.N.”
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--Reprinted from Tufts Daily