Council of Women World Leaders

The Council of Women World Leaders is an independent, self-governing network of current and former women prime ministers and presidents established in 1996 by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, President of Iceland (1980-1996) and first woman in the world to be democratically elected president, and Laura Liswood, Secretary General. The Council's mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women. Through its networks, programs and partnerships, the Council promotes good governance and gender equality, and enhances the visibility of women who lead their countries. Tarja Halonen, President of Finland (2000-present), serves as Chair of the Council. The Council is an alliance of the UN Foundation.

Graduate Fellowship Programs
Through its Graduate Fellowship Programs, established in 2001, the Council places graduate students in the offices of president, prime ministers, and leaders of international organizations to work on timely global issues, observe leadership in action, and provide a gender analysis of their projects. The Gender and Public Policy Graduate Fellowship Program and the Public Health Policy Graduate Fellowship Program have placed more than 130 students in offices around the globe.
Placement Information
The Council will connect the selected Fellow with the site supervisor and stay in contact with both the Fellows and the site to assist with communications and planning. Fellows are responsible for travel and housing arrangements. Sites will often be able to assist with housing, but are not responsible and sometimes are unable to provide assistance. Fellows are required to have health insurance and are responsible for any applicable immunization requirements and their own safety. Selected Fellows will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Council. The selected Fellows will work directly with the site to finalize the specific dates of the placement.

Internship placements have included:

  • Jessica Watterson - 2012: Ministry of Health, Apia, Samoa
  • Ohnmar Khin - 2012: World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Michelle Beam - 2012: Pan American Health Organization, Washington, D.C., USA
  • Erica Trauba - 2011: Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Monrovia, Liberia
  • Dionne Jirachaikitti - 2011: World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Tiffany Clarke - 2011: Ministry of Health, Apia, Samoa
  • Chandrika Zager - 2010: The Ministerial Leadership Initiative for Global Health, Washington, D.C., USA
  • Alison Gemmill - 2010: World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Brooke Conway - 2010: Ministry of Health, Apia, Samoa
  • Katherine Theiss-Nyland - 2009: World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Sheila Baxter - 2009: Ministry of Health, Apia, Samoa
Student Reflections:

Dionne Jirachaikitti, 2011

This past summer, I did my summer internship at the World Health Organization (WHO) through the Council of Women World Leaders. The Council of Women World Leaders is an organization dedicated to the networking and development of women leaders around the world. Each year, they host public health internships around the world at ministries of health and at the WHO. The internship is also sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Center for Health Leadership (CHL).

My placement was in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research (RHR) at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. As a student in the dual degree program in public health and public policy, I am particularly interested in the development of macro-level policy regarding health. It had always been a dream for me to work with the WHO as it is highly regarded and influential in the realm of global health policy.

During my internship, I worked on two main projects:

1. Health Case Study and Survey: reviewing of existing reproductive health
products regarding fertility and pregnancy on smart phones and development of decision-tree analyses for SMS-based programs gathering information about Health projects and ideas across the World Health Organization

2. Infertility Education and Assessment Tool for Providers in Low-Resource Settings: researching risk factors for infertility in developing countries and adapting of existing questions to be culturally appropriate and applicable for low resource settings.

I learned an incredible amount about reproductive health through working on my projects, reviewing academic material, attending meetings and interacting with WHO colleagues. The internship has solidified my interest in the maternal and reproductive health as well as made me realize that I am very interested in health innovations, primarily through technology. The issues of reproductive health, specifically reproductive rights and education for adolescents, are things that I really care about and want to contribute to improving and I am finding that health technology has the potential to be a fun, engaging and effective means to do it.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have gone to Geneva, a center for international agencies, and experience living and working in a new environment. The experience has shaped my growth academically, personally and professionally and I am honored to be part of the Council of Women World Leaders through this fellowship.

 Tiffany Clarke, 2011

This summer I had the great pleasure of working as an intern at the Ministry of Health in Apia, Samoa. I traveled to Samoa as a recipient of a Public Health Policy Fellowship from the Council of Women World Leaders. The Council places graduate students from schools of public health in ministerial offices and international agencies around the world with the goals of providing unique exposure to women’s reproductive health and gender-related issues. Through the process, interns gain an increased understanding of international public health issues, work to advance women’s health and gender equity wherever possible, observe and learn from women leaders, and develop our own leadership skills.

When I arrived at the Ministry of Health, I was not sure what I would be working on or what exactly to expect. Rather than setting specific deliverables ahead of time, the CEO of the Ministry encouraged me to immerse myself, talk to staff to learn about needs and opportunities, and follow my interests in order to determine my projects. By getting to know my coworkers and exploring opportunities, I was able to work on a number of projects over the summer, including:

  • Producing an initial draft of a National Child Health Policy by conducting interviews and research and composing a first document
  • Conducting reviews and making recommendations on the National Primary Care Policy, National HIV/AIDS Policy, and National Mental Health Policy.
  • Participating in STI prevention and treatment planning sessions with the Technical Advisory Committee for HIV/AIDS/STIs.
  • Writing a brief Ministry of Health position on potential changes to alcohol and tobacco policy under the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement.
  • Composing and editing communications materials, including press releases and speeches that were delivered by the Minister of Health for Samoa’s celebration of World No Tobacco Day and for the UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.

Undertaking these projects challenged me to utilize skills and knowledge I have been developing during my time at the School of Public Health, and to employ them in new ways. I also had a lot of fun, especially when attending village health fairs and participating in Ministry of Health celebrations.

My time at the Ministry of Health was an incredibly rich experience. Over the course of the summer, I continued developing my leadership skills, particularly my ability to communicate effectively, build relationships, adapt to new situations, and develop organizational and interpersonal understanding. I also learned important lessons on effective collaboration and coordination within a complex environment. Through my projects, I formed a deeper understanding of policy as a tool for articulating priorities and values, and for setting directions. Importantly, this was my first time working internationally, and I challenged myself to take a leap outside of my previous experience to gain invaluable experience working in a developing country context.

Now that I have returned to Berkeley and am settling back into school, I can say with confidence that this has been one of the important experiences of my life. My experiences over the summer have energized me for the rest of my program at UC Berkeley and for the future, and have helped me to identify specific skills, knowledge areas, and personal qualities that will enhance my work and that I am actively seeking to build going forward. Thank you to the Center for Health Leadership for providing this incredible opportunity!


Chandrika Zager, 2010

This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Council of Women World Leaders Public Health Fellowship program- an internship sponsored by the UC Berkeley Center for Health Leadership.  The CWWL is a coalition of current and past women world leaders who have made it their lives’ work to address women’s issues globally.  Through the CWWL, these leaders convene to discuss health, gender and human rights and to collectively give voice to and address from a policy perspective, issues facing women around the world.  An important component of the CWWL’s work is its fellowship program.  Every year, through a competitive process, the CWWL places graduate students in international organizations and health ministries around the world to work on global health policy and women’s health issues.  This year, I was placed in the Ministerial Leadership for Global Health (MLI) in Washington D.C.  The MLI, housed at the Aspen Institute, is a program of Realizing Rights which is headed by Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights.  The MLI works with the ministries of health in five countries--Nepal, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia--on donor harmonization, health financing and leadership capacity building, particularly within the reproductive health units.  The MLI takes a “country driven” approach, which means it works closely with the ministries of health, high level government officials and NGO’s in each country to define and implement projects that reflect the priorities of the country itself.  Working at the MLI gave me the opportunity to develop my technical skills in creating realistic and meaningful objectives, goals and activities within a set budget and establishing timelines to accomplish these tasks.  It also taught me about the importance of collaborating with NGOs and government officials from other countries to develop trusting relationships and the challenges and nuances of developing mutually agreed upon goals.

I worked on two main projects, both of which helped me to develop the technical skills needed to create work plans and manage projects.  These projects also taught me a lot about the often challenging process of exploring, negotiating, and defining goals and implementation strategies when working with governments and NGO’s in other countries and the communication and interpersonal skills needed to do this work effectively.  The first project was Mary Robinson’s trip to Sierra Leone to meet with the President and other high level officials.  The purpose of her trip was to highlight the significant progress the government has made in maternal mortality and to address some of the urgent challenges that remain.  This project highlighted for me the importance of the role of women in leadership roles and taught me about the difficulties of working with leaders on tough policy issues.  I had the opportunity to draft the policy document that Mary Robinson gave to the President during their meeting and to work on every aspect of the trip details with the planning team both in DC and in Sierra Leone, including content and logistics of a policy dialogue on maternal health and her site visits to maternity clinics.

The other project I worked on, in collaboration with the team, was strategizing and planning for MLI’s ramping up of reproductive health (RH) funding and activities in its three reproductive health focused countries: Sierra Leone, Senegal and Mali.  Unlike most non-profit organizations, the MLI had a lot of money to spend (through Packard Foundation funding) in a short-time frame.  Through numerous conference calls and strategizing sessions, I worked with the DC team and the Ministries of Health in the three countries and gave input about defining goals and activities that would be realistic to implement quickly and would have a significant impact. For example, one of the concrete RH activities that the team, in collaboration with the ministry, decided to implement was a study of an emergency obstetric transportation system that had started in a district in Mali.  The study would assess how these services could be replicated in other parts of the country.  Not only did I learn a lot about the technical and political aspects of working with governments around policy and program implementation but I felt like I was participating in something that would actually have a meaningful impact on the lives of women in these countries.

When I was offered the position at the MLI, I did not know what to expect.  Having never worked in global health or policy, I was nervous about embarking on a new professional terrain.  I was also a little hesitant about packing up for the summer and taking my 5-year old daughter to a city that neither one of us has been before.  I was concerned about how I would balance the expectations of doing an internship in a new field and the logistics of being a mother in a city in which I knew no one.  Despite my initial doubts and the fact that real challenges did emerge for me throughout the summer as I worked to balance it all, the skills I gained and the experiences I had working with inspirational women leaders were invaluable.  I learned an incredible amount about the field of global health policy and the roles that NGO’s, governments and development partners play in strategizing around implementation of each country’s health priorities.  I also learned a lot about the important leadership roles that women play in the field of public health as well as about who I am and can become as a public health professional and leader in the field.