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SWAN's Annual Major Event at the Australian Embassy was a grand success!

By Ashley Patton

The 4th Annual Evening with SAIS Woman Leaders was a wonderful evening full of networking, enlightening discussion, delicious hors d’oeuvres and beverages, and amazing SAIS alumnae. This event was hosted by the Embassy Australia, just a few yards down Massachusetts Avenue from SAIS, and was part of the celebration for the 75th anniversary of SAIS.

The event kicked off with time for attendees to grab an Australian beverage and network with other SAIS alumni. Guests were given a nametag with a word related to Australia (such as “Great Barrier” or “Reef”), and were challenged to find their counterpart in the room whose nametag also donned that word. This helped to break the ice between the diverse group of guests, whose graduation years ranged decades.

For the first time, the Annual Evening with SAIS Women Leaders was moderated by a SAIS Alumna. Michele Kelemen (’93), a Diplomatic Correspondent at NPR, just marked her 20th anniversary at NPR. In her latest beat, she has been traveling with every Secretary of State since Colin Powell and was part of the NPR team that won the 2007 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for coverage of the war in Iraq.

Joining the panel were four other impressive women panelists who specialize in the Asia-Pacific Region. They included two of Politico's top 10 experts on China, GE's former team lead on policy and advocacy for the Trans Pacific Partnership, and one of Australia’s top diplomats!

The gracious hostess for the evening, Katrina Cooper, is a senior career officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She commenced as Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Washington in October 2017, and has previously served as Australia’s Ambassador to Mexico (2008-12), with non-resident accreditation to Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Panama.

Dr. Orit Frenkel (PhD ’88) is the founder and President of Frenkel Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in Asia policy and market access issues, trade policy as well as training programs for foreign government officials. Prior to starting Frenkel Strategies, she was the Senior Manager for GE Global Government Affairs for 26 years, where she was responsible for advising the GE businesses on government relations, trade, investment and corporate social responsibility issues in ASEAN, North and Central Asia, as well as in the CIS countries.

One of Politico’s top 10 experts on China, Bonnie Glaser (’82) is a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, where she works on issues related to Chinese foreign and security policy. She is concomitantly a nonresident fellow with the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, and a senior associate with the Pacific Forum.

Another one of Politico’s top 10 experts on China, Susan A. Thornton (’91) is a foreign policy leader and expert on U.S. foreign relations on the Eurasian continent. Her 28-year career as a diplomat was capped by her tenure as Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In previous leadership roles in Washington, Thornton worked on China and Korea policy, including stabilizing relations with Taiwan, the US-China Cyber Agreement, the Paris Climate Accord and led a successful negotiation in Pyongyang for monitoring of the Agreed Framework on denuclearization.

Given the breadth of the panelists’ experiences, the conversation was riveting and spanned many different subjects. The topics discussed included the current negotiations between North Korea and the United States, the relationship between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, the current status of international trade, and the rise of the entire Asian region. Beyond these policy discussions, the panelists also discussed their experiences in their careers, as women in the Foreign Service and business worlds. They also stressed the need for women to lift other women up when possible.

After the panel, guests were invited to mingle some more with other attendees to converse on the topics discussed in the panel and to continue networking. Many Asia-Pacific themed hors d’oeuvres were eaten, business cards were passed, and great conversations were had. The majority of guests stayed around until the very end of the evening, and left the great hall of the Australian Embassy looking forward to next year’s event!

The Annual Evening with SAIS Women Leaders was off the record, to encourage the panelists to speak more openly about both their policy beliefs and personal experiences.

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