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Celebrating Women’s Leadership: A Tribute to H.E. Mariangela Zappia, Evan Ryan, and Adrienne Arsht

Celine Ford, President, AAFSW, March 10, 2024 

The fifteenth annual Women’s History Month panel discussion, organized by Sheila Switzer, Program Chair of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), was a resounding success. Held on March 6th in the Burns Auditorium at the George Marshall Center of the State Department, Washington, D.C., this gathering illuminated the remarkable achievements of women leaders.

Honoring Distinguished Women

H.E. Mariangela Zappia, Italian Ambassador to the United States, shared her journey as the first woman to hold the position of Italian Ambassador to the United States. H.E. Mariangela Zappia has shattered glass ceilings and exemplified excellence. Her illustrious career spans four decades and includes significant diplomacy and international relations contributions. She genuinely shared the highlights from her journey as Permanent Representative of Italy to the UN in New York (2018-2021). Zappia played a pivotal role in advancing global cooperation and addressing critical issues on the international stage. As Diplomatic Advisor to the Prime Minister of Italy and G7-G20 Sherpa (2016-2018), her strategic insights and leadership contributed to shaping policies that impact millions of lives. As Champion of Women’s Causes, Zappia’s unwavering commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment has left an indelible mark. She has advocated for women’s rights, both within Italy and globally.

 White House Cabinet Secretary Evan Ryan has wielded her influence with grace and determination. Evan highlighted her journey, a reflection about resilience and dedication. Evan’s role involves managing critical administrative functions. Her ability to navigate complex political landscapes is commendable. Balancing family and leadership, Evan, the spouse of Secretary Blinken, openness about her journey as a woman with family responsibilities resonated with so many. She has demonstrated that it is possible to excel in leadership while maintaining a solid family foundation. 

Adrienne Arsht, Chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation, shared how she made an indelible impact across business, philanthropy, and the arts. As the founding chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation, she has transformed organizations and communities, championing the arts and cultural enrichment. Adrienne’s unwavering commitment to human rights and the rule of law is evident through her work at Human Rights First. She contributed thirty million to Miami’s Performing Arts Center, which led to its renaming as “The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.” Her impact on cultural institutions is immeasurable.

Nicole Elkon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Professional and Cultural Exchanges within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), moderated this discussion and ensured its success. Nicole oversees diverse exchange programs, bridging borders and fostering understanding between U.S. and international participants. As a human rights advocate, Nicole’s commitment to justice and equality resonates globally. 

As AASFW’s guests and participants recognized the pivotal role that women have played throughout history, they also honored the quiet strength of those who labor selflessly behind the scenes, the countless silent heroines who work tirelessly in the shadows, rise before dawn, and walk for hours to fetch water to ensure that their little ones wake up to hot tea and clean clothes before heading off to school. Their resilience, love, and sacrifices are equally worthy of admiration, and they serve as powerful role models.

The program ended with many heartfelt comments and questions from AAFSW’s guests, who thanked Sheila Switzer, AAFSW Program Chair, for organizing this event. Sheila’s dedication to cross-cultural understanding and tireless efforts to promote women’s causes have been invaluable. The lively conversation kept its momentum at the coffee reception following the program.

As we reflect on Women’s History Month, let us continue to keep these exceptional women whose vision, leadership, and unwavering commitment inspire us all. Their willingness to share their journeys as women with families and global leaders is a testament to their generosity and authenticity.

AAFSW is grateful to the State Department Management and Chief Media Services Division for supporting our program and sharing this event recording.

Celine Ford, AAFSW President

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