Government leader

Penny writes about: Foreign Affairs, Gender, Politics

Penny Abeywardena is a contributing columnist on leadership strategies at Forbes, where she covers soft power and strategies of influence and persuasion.

Abeywardena served as New York City Commissioner for International Affairs from 2014 to 2021, working with the largest diplomatic corps in the world. Under her leadership, New York City implemented a series of award-winning programs with the international community, ranging from youth empowerment to city and local government leadership. These focused on global issues like climate change, sustainable development and rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic.

When New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, Abeywardena worked with the United Nations and foreign governments to procure necessary medical equipment. Her leadership and relationships led to an historic donation from the United Nations, as well as contributions from dozens of countries.

Prior to her role in government, Abeywardena was the Director of the Women’s program at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). She advised multinational corporations, philanthropists, NGOs and multilateral institutions on increasing investments in gender-focused development initiatives.

Abeywardena is on the Board of Directors of the Center for Reproductive Rights and the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships, which provides oversight of the UN Foundation. She also serves on the advisory councils for the Aspen Institute’s Equity Accelerator and the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at 92Y. She is co-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Cities of Tomorrow.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently appointed Abeywardena a Knight in France’s National Order of Merit for her global leadership on diplomacy, human rights and sustainability. In December 2020 she was awarded the Golden Helsinki Medal for creating a global sustainable development network of local governments. She was also recognized by the French American Foundation as a Young Leader (2017) and named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader (2016).

She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and completed her Master of International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Cities and local governments have proven their critical role in realizing a sustainable and equitable future. But we have so much more to do. Let’s make sure that we continue to have a seat at the table.


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