Women on the Move: Farah Pandith

First Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the U.S. Department of State

"Find your passion, and go after it."

Farah Pandith is a diplomatic entrepreneur and foreign policy strategist. Following her appointment during the Bush administration, she was appointed the first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities in June 2009 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, serving under Secretary Clinton and Secretary John Kerry. As Special Representative, she was responsible for engaging with Muslims around the world both organizationally and individually.

Prior to the beginning of her career, Pandith’s professors and teachers from high school throughout graduate school were the ones that influenced her the most. According to Pandith, they have given her the strength, confidence, and skills needed for her career in diplomacy. They always challenge her viewpoints, encourage her to probe and appreciate other people’s ideas. “Had I not had that kind of experience, I don’t think I would be the woman that I am today for sure,” she said.

While education plays a crucial part in Pandith’s leadership trajectory, her mother also helped tremendously in shaping the person that she is today. Born in Srinagar, India, and raised in Massachusetts, Pandith has looked up to her mother ever since they moved to the States. Her mother, who was then a doctor running an entire hospital, always “put questions on the table and expanded my horizons in ways that were really broad,” Pandith recalled.

Having an influential figure in the family like her mother, said Pandith, is essential to empowering women to pursue their goals. “There wasn’t a moment in my upbringing where “you cannot do something, where you don’t belong or you don’t have the capacity to do it,” she said. Instead, her mother would ask her questions like, “What are you passionate about?” “What do you want to do with your life?” to help her think broadly about her purpose and ambition.

As a “woman on the move,” Pandith doesn’t shy away from hardship of any sort. To her, the capacity to learn from others, at the same time put forward your opinion and enlighten other people is the quality that defines a leader. Pandith also believes that “gender didn’t play a part” in her getting to where she is today: “It was who I was as a professional and my own professional background coming forward.”

A leader, Pandith believes, is also someone who takes time to articulate her points, either at the instant moment or later, to make sure her voice is heard. Only when all perspectives are brought to the table can policymakers have the resources to make decisions and create change.

To aspiring young women leaders, “find your passion… and go after it,” Pandith said.

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