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The McNulty Foundation Remembers Madeleine Albright: Humble Lessons In Leadership

by Anne Welsh McNulty

Just over a year since her passing, on what would have been her 86th birthday, I continue to reflect on the legacy of my friend Madeleine Albright, and how to carry forward what I’ve learned from her into our work at the McNulty Foundation.

Best known for her time as the US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, the first woman to hold the office, Madeleine nonetheless wore many hats (or pins) during her accomplished and eventful life. We were honored to work with her for almost 15 years, and are proud that she helped to create the McNulty Prize and served as our Jury Chair since its inception.

We were deeply shaped by the clarity of her values and the strength with which she held them. Madeleine recognized the promise of transformational leaders like those that receive the McNulty Prize, and understood that transformational leaders were also ordinary people: "These are people who are living their daily lives and they ask themselves, how can I use what I am doing to help others?”

Secretary Albright had the ability to be both inspiring and humble at the same time. I was overwhelmed by the respect and attention she would give to anyone in her presence, regardless of who they were or where they came from.

Réjane Woodroffe, Co-Founder of Bulungula Incubator

Transformational leaders are also people who need support and community along the way, to foster and sustain the courage and resilience to keep going. Nearly every summer, Secretary Albright joined a global gathering of changemakers reflecting on and clarifying their values through dialogue. We shared this deep belief in the value of active communities of trust—like the fellowships of the Aspen Institute—that help individuals examine their own leadership and their contributions to society amongst a community of peers. This spirit is weaved into our foundation’s philosophy, as we seek to support individuals at pivotal moments along their journey, and encourage an ecosystem that supports them for the long haul.

She was incredibly supportive of our community of leaders, offering her wise counsel during times of crisis, lending her voice and credibility to many of their efforts, and providing key introductions and advice—both to entrepreneurs starting out, and those who she mentored over the long term.

She is one of the preeminent figures of moral leadership for our generation. She will be missed by millions.

Bart Houlahan, co-founder of B Lab, & Chrissy Houlahan, US Representative, Pennsylvania, 6th District

Madeleine always centered the self-determination of all people, and especially women, as a prerequisite for a good society. Her vision of democracy, equality, and free and open societies powered all of her work—whether in office or through the National Democratic Institute—and helped inform our values as well. There are many visions for what that free and open society looks like—for some, the emphasis is on material improvement, for others, political representation. For Madeleine, who began life as a refugee and ascended to the highest ranks of power, the question would always be how to enable people to follow their own paths no matter where they begin in life.

In that desire to make every person the author of their own story, her values converged so strongly with mine. She believed deeply that liberating women in every society was important for its own sake, and was key to unlocking our collective potential. This belief has been a lifelong passion for me, and an underlying value of our foundation’s work. In recent years, I enjoyed our discussions of how we could support the women in our shared community, including at her women-only 80th birthday party, an occasion where some asked her whether she was worried about offending men who weren’t invited (she was not!).

Madeleine was as fierce and fully committed to making the world better in every small and private moment as she was in her public life. On this day, I am celebrating a mentor, a partner, and my friend.

Although she was clearly the special one, she always made others, including me, feel special. Small gestures like wearing just the right pin to let one know she was thinking about them.

Jordan Kassalow, Founder of VisionSpring & EYElliance

Madeleine Albright and Laureates at the 2015 Aspen Action Forum

Madeleine Albright, Walter Isaacson, Anne Welsh McNulty, Laureates and the McNulty Foundation team at the 2017 Aspen Action Forum

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