Victoria Budson shares her vision for WPSP Pilot Institute

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Victoria Budson, founding Executive Director of the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) at Harvard Kennedy School, is a member of the Women in Public Service Project Institute Planning Committee. Budson sat down with WPSP to share her thoughts on the future of the Project and our pilot institute in the Summer of 2012. 

1. Imagine a woman who you think would benefit from the Summer Institute. What would you tell her If you were to encourage her to attend? Why should she dedicate 2 weeks to this initiative?

       It is a rare opportunity in life when a woman has two weeks to take a step back from her professional and familial responsibilities in order to focus on her own development as a leader.As women, it is harder for us to prioritize our own learning and to step away from the critical work we do for our institutions, organizations, countries, communities, and families.  This program, this time with other women leaders, this time to work on one’s own development is a rare and distinctive gift.  The Institute will provide a unique combination of the skills training, career development and networks to enhance global change.

2. Boosting the number of women in positions of leadership has been identified as an important aspect of improving economic and social development for more than a decade. How will the Summer Institute be different from existing programs that train women leaders?

     The Institute, backed by the seven sisters and the U.S. Department of State, embodies the ethos of equality for women and has the resources and the leadership to support training for women leaders that will result in optimal outcomes worldwide for all peoples. This selective training bolsters the knowledge, skills and leadership of women globally in an unprecedented Institute for learning and leadership.

3. What do you feel are the greatest unmet needs for women leaders that the WPSP Institutes can address? 

     Women in positions of leadership in countries throughout the globe seek additional knowledge, training and networks as they ascend within their governments and areas of public contribution.  The Institute will provide the opportunity to engage in this training with a cohort of women from your region, building your network and creating a new platform for a wellspring of support, as you receive cutting edge training born from the best research and practice.  Content will include accurate strategies for overcoming bias and navigating cultural barriers as well as opportunities to meet with elected women leaders from multiple regions.

4. What are your hopes for the Women in Public Service Project Summer Institute?

     The Women in Public Service Summer Institute will serve as a transformational experience providing women leaders from across the globe with a unique combination of skills training, knowledge of proven research, and a global network of women from whom to draw support. They will be exceptionally prepared to ascend in their electoral and public roles. The Institute and its resulting network will reset the benchmark for aspiration and provide women with the tools and skills to achieve their greatest possible potential lifting themselves, their communities, and their countries as their public leadership increases. In addition, this modeling will impact other women within each country and will have a multiplier effect.

5. As a member of the Institute Planning Group, how do you feel that your own career has uniquely contributed to the shaping of the WPSP Institutes? How has having a mentor (and/or being a mentor) benefited you?

      In my experience founding and chairing the program From Harvard Square to the Oval Office, I have trained hundreds of women from myriad counties providing them with a flexible toolkit of cutting-edge strategies to ascend in the electoral process. I have brought this expertise to the design of the Institute as well as my experience in the deliberate creation of networks among training participants which deepen and extend throughout the future, providing participants with an emotionally buoying and tactically effective set of relationships for the months and years ahead.

     I have worked with and mentored many women candidates and those considering entering public life. I find that all women have a vision of what they could contribute and a concern as to their own capacity and efficacy. They often ask, “Am I good enough?” “Do I know enough?” “Can I move to the next level with my current knowledge and skills?” I remind women that these are reasonable questions, but the most important one is, “How will the process and outcomes benefit from my having participated? What will be lost if I stay on the sidelines?” This program will help women have the skills, confidence and lens to effectively move to the next level of governmental and civic leadership.

     As a women who has successfully run for office and who currently serves in government as a gubernatorial appointee, I understand the daily challenges and opportunities. I also understand the societal cost for women’s talent remaining at the margins. Join us at the Institute as together we prepare the next set of leaders from across the globe to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.


6. The annual WPSP Institute will be held at each of the partnering Sisters’ campuses on a rotating basis. Beyond physically hosting these trainings, how does the work and legacy of the Sisters contribute to the vision for these Institutes? 

     The legacy of the seven sisters brings a unique historical experience of intentionally educating and empowering women. This legacy will deeply impact the teaching and transformative experience of the Institute.  We know that teaching high-level women in women-only environments promotes female leadership in ways rarely replicated in mixed gender environments. Many years ago at Wellesley a Dean named Florence Ladd perhaps best captured this vision when she said; “Wellesley provides women not equal opportunity, but every opportunity.”  The seven sisters has expertise in teaching and training women not only to redefine their fields of study but to recreate the institutions in which they serve to better function and meet the needs of women and the challenges facing each generation.  Secretary Clinton’s own vision here with WPSP is just one example of this legacy in action.

About Victoria Budson

Victoria A. Budson is the founding Executive Director of the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) at Harvard Kennedy School.  Budson founded and chairs From Harvard Square to the Oval Office: A Political Campaign Practicum (Oval Office), an initiative of WAPPP that provides a select group of Harvard graduate students with the training and support they need to ascend in the electoral process at the local, state and national levels.

Budson served as an advisor for the development of the United Nations’ University for Peace Masters degree program in International Peace Studies, with specialization in Gender and Peace Building. In addition, she is currently serving on the Planning Committee for the Women in Public Service Initiative of the U.S. Department of State that focuses on training women leaders for public and electoral service. Budson is well recognized in her field and has received numerous awards for her outstanding work to advance the political education of women. Budson graduated Magna Cum Laude and with Departmental Honors from Wellesley College with a joint degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies.  As a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mid-Career Masters in Public Administration Program, she received the Lucius N. Littauer Fellow award for her distinction in academics, her contribution to the Kennedy School and the greater Harvard community, and her potential for continuing leadership excellence.