After many years of service at the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Institute Forum on Women and Girls (AIFWG), it is bittersweet and with deep gratitude to announce the departure of the founding co-chair of AIFWG and global women’s rights champion, Peggy Clark. As the incoming CEO and President of the International Center for Research on Women, Peggy will continue to be a close partner in the fight for gender justice and, feminist and transnational solidarity. Below is an open letter that she penned to the AIFWG community on her reflections on leadership and bravery.
On the eve of my departure from the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Forum on Women and Girls, my colleagues have asked me to share some reflections on leadership with you.
What is leadership? What does it mean to embody, and act from, that particular place that channels the energies of those around you and that has the power to move mountains? Over the 30 years I have been at Aspen I have come to learn that true leadership is about truth telling and courage. This kind of leadership comes from that moment when you feel something so powerful welling up inside of you, and you take several deep breaths, and steal yourself to give voice to that which you know so strongly to be true—but you don’t know what will happen when you say those words.
Think of Barack Obama in that moment before he decided to sing “Amazing Grace” in the Charleston Church after the tragic mass shooting there. Think of Amanda Gorman, cloaked in bright yellow, just before she stepped up to take the podium at the inauguration of President Biden. Think of our own SOAR fellows – Desiré Shepler hearing the frantic calls for help from domestic abuse survivors trapped at home during Covid and deciding to take matters into her own hands and commandeering empty hotel rooms to turn into safe shelters. Think of our SOAR fellow Marc Julmisse in Haiti, in her full body protective gear, taking a deep breath before opening the door to the crowded urgent care center at Hospital Mirebalais at the height of the Covid pandemic.
I have found that in moments when you are called upon to be a true leader, you are often alone. It is just you, digging deep to find the strength to say the right thing, to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. My moments of greatest leadership have also been moments of greatest bravery, and greatest potential peril. Speaking out in a board room to defend a whole field of community practice that was about to be defunded, fearing that I would lose my job. Speaking out about elitist hiring practices. Speaking out about a serial sexual harasser who was a widely respected and powerful former member of the U.S. Congress. Fighting to bring resources to women isolated in purdah in Afghanistan, who simply wanted to run a small business to bring income to their families.
True leadership comes from a place deep within—where you know what is right and what must be done. Listen to that powerful inner voice and say and do what you feel in your heart is true and right. I have seen this power in the SOAR fellows, and in partners and friends and colleagues, and I stand with you, holding your hand, as you give voice to that which you truly believe.
Thank you for these wonderful years and please join me as I take the helm as CEO and President of the International Center for Research on Women to continue fighting for rights and progress for women and girls everywhere.