A woman in power
LAU Board of International Advisors member Ivonne A-Baki shares advice on peace building and diplomacy.
LAU Board of International Advisors member Ivonne A-Baki was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lebanese parents. She began her career as an artist, but her passion for peace and social justice led her to the realm of diplomacy, peace negotiation and politics. Throughout her professional life, she has served as Ecuador’s ambassador to the U.S., Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Trade, President of the Andean Parliament, and in other prestigious posts. Last month, Shout Out UK recognized A-Baki’s achievements by ranking her among the 14 most influential women of 2014.
MarCom: What do you do in your capacity as a member of the Board of International Advisors?
Ivonne A-Baki: We’re trying to get the university more recognition in Latin America. I believe it’s important for the Lebanese diaspora there to speak Arabic, to know their heritage and to understand their culture of origin. To that end, we’re discussing some outreach projects with LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra in the coming year to help us expand the university’s support base.
MarCom: You have an impressive and varied resume. What has motivated you in all your different pursuits?
Ivonne A-Baki: I lived in Lebanon during the war. When I left, my main purpose became how to make peace in the Middle East. Eventually I enrolled in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and got a master’s in public policy and public administration, concentrating in negotiations. As part of a conflict management group at Harvard, I worked on peace negotiations between Ecuador and Peru. Later, I was appointed ambassador of Ecuador to the U.S. My life has been dedicated to fostering and building peace, but peace is not just about non-violence. It involves the environment, poverty, equality, inclusion, social development, education and promoting women.
MarCom: LAU recently established a minor in Conflict Resolution. What’s your advice to students interested in this area of study?
Ivonne A-Baki: Put yourself in the shoes of the others. You can’t negotiate anything if you’re not willing to budge. In order to get the solution, both parties have to see the problem and find a solution mutually.
MarCom: How do you thrive as female in politics, a world often dominated by men?
Ivonne A-Baki: Being yourself is the number one secret of success for women. You can still be feminine and be proud and secure in your femininity. That, and creating a group of women with whom to formulate and generate ideas. When women work together, they can rule the world, but unfortunately, the number one enemy of a woman is often another woman.
You also have to work on legislation. When I was president of the Andean regional Parliament, the law stated that the group should have 50 percent females, but the list of candidates always presented the males first, so people naturally voted for the men. We changed the list to alternate between male and female candidates, and now we have equal representation. Educating women is also paramount. If you educate a woman, you educate a whole community.
MarCom: As Secretary of State for the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, you worked to preserve precious national parkland for Ecuador. What can you teach young people in Lebanon about preservation?
Ivonne A-Baki: I believe children are born with the instinct to protect, but you have to teach them by example. Grownups need to learn responsibility too. In Ecuador, the constitution itself refers to “Suma Kawsay,” Quechua for “living well,” and contains language about giving rights to nature, and living in harmony with the “Pacha Mama” (“Mother Earth”). We have 40 protected areas in Ecuador, equivalent to 20 percent of the country. So creating laws, for one, but you also need awareness. In Lebanon, people have been living in wars, so their priorities are different, but we have to change their priorities.
MarCom: How is LAU positioned to nurture that change?
Ivonne A-Baki: LAU students believe in protecting the environment, in the principles of non-violence, in strengthening the middle class with good values and ethics. During our recent board meeting in Beirut, some students showed us how they’re working with younger students to motivate them to help Lebanon, either through being good stewards of the environment, or by moving the discussion beyond religion, to see that what unites them is actually more than what divides them.
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