a few minutes with… peggy mckean,

senior executive assistant in the office of the special representative for afghanistan and pakistan
February 02, 2011  |   column: WHAT'S NEW

1. can you explain your position at the state department?

among the many affairs we handle relating to afghanistan and pakistan, i work a great deal on women’s issues which is how i became involved with women for women international (wfwi) and as a result, kate spade new york’s (ksny) hand in hand program.

2. we understand that you spent time in afghanistan some years back before you began working at the state department. can you tell us about what the country was like when you were first there?

i first went to afghanistan on a foreign exchange program when i was 20 years old. this was before the soviet invasion. the country was at peace and there was culture, relative prosperity and thriving tourism. i lived with a family and quickly saw how gracious the afghan people were. they were wonderful hosts.

3. tell us about your role in helping launch the wfwi hand in hand program in afghansitan?

starting a business in a country with an active insurgency is a daunting prospect. part of my job in facilitating the launch of the hand in hand program was to travel to afghanistan in advance of the ksny team to source the various handcrafted goods the company could potentially build a business around. i brought back samples of a variety of wools and cashmeres for the team to consider as they were brainstorming product ideas. this also allowed the group to narrow down the places they’d need to visit once they were in-country. additionally, i introduced the team to paul brinkley, the u.s. deputy under secretary for defense and the director of the task force for business and stability operations in iraq and afghanistan. paul’s job is to promote economic revitalization by creating employment opportunities in these countries and he saw great potential in the hand in hand program. the plan was especially interesting to him because, at this point, ksny is the only foreign company invested in the handicraft sector which, before the war, was a vital industry in afghanistan.

4. can you describe the current condition of women in afghansitan?

the current situation in afghanistan is incredibly challenging. Thirty years of civil war has taken an enormous toll on the country and women and girls have suffered the most. we’ve been working hard to reverse these effects particularly in the areas of education and maternal health.

5. you’ve lived in many different places around the world. can you tell us which you’ve liked best?

i’ve lived in a number of different underdeveloped countries and the challenge of bringing democracy to these places has made those experiences especially rewarding. if i were to pick my favorites i would say haiti and afghanistan. i’m continually inspired by the spirit, kindness and generosity of the people in these countries despite all they’ve been through.

6. what goals would you like to see the wfwi hand in hand program achieve over the next five years?

i’d like to see the program be able to provide employment for a growing number of women and have its success offer proof of concept for companies around the world. i see this program as a great step in helping rebuild the country and restore it to the way it was in the 1970’s when its vast natural resources were so profitable.

7. what is your dream for the people of afghanistan?

i hope that afghanistan will be able to enjoy peace and properity after so many years of war.

8. what is the hardest thing about your job?

one of the toughest things about my job is convincing people outside of the country that afghanistan has a lot to offer. most people only see hardship, poverty and violence and don’t have a frame of reference to understand that the country has great potential.

9. what is the best thing about your job?

the best thing about my job is getting to work in afghanistan and with the afghan people.


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