A Message From Josette Sheeran: "I Believe This Program Will Truly Open Your Eyes"

We are pleased to introduce Josette Sheeran, Asia Society President and CEO and a member of the U.S.-China Dialogue Young Scholars Program Advisory Board. Josette’s long and distinguished record of leadership includes her role as the 11th Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme as well as the U.S. Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs. During her time at the UN, she was named one of Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women, and in 2011 Forbes Magazine named her the world’s 30th most powerful woman. Josette has brought her leadership, mentorship, and experience tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges to the Young Scholars Program.

Our 2015 cohort of Young Scholars had the opportunity to meet and get to know her during their time at Asia Society. We asked them to share their impressions based on their conversations and interactions with her.

Hong Xinyu, 2015 Young Scholar:

When we first met Josette at the beginning of the program, she asked five questions that she wanted all of us to think about and then answer at the end of the program:

  1. During your month in the U.S., what has been your most inspiring moment?
  2. What were three things that were completely different from what you had imagined before coming to the U.S.?
  3. What are your thoughts about the future of U.S.-China relations? What do you hope to see?
  4. After your intensive month in New York, have your personal aspirations changed at all?
  5. Do you have any recommendations on how you might make the U.S.-China Dialogue Young Scholars Program even better than it is now?

At the start of the program, with such a large amount of new information suddenly thrown at us, I felt like I was being overly greedy, wanting to grab every opportunity I could to learn. We were all flustered by how busy we were and were trying to take everything in, but we didn’t have any time to process and reflect on all that was in front of us. We felt like we were in a tough position, that we were not sure how to handle it all at once.

In that moment, though, Josette’s five questions allowed me to put aside my anxiety and gain a sense of clarity. I began to assemble my observations and reflections and analyze them. You need to look at your surrounding environment with an open mind, but at the same time you should not take everything at face value.

Liang Qiqi, 2015 Young Scholar:

When we saw her on the second day of our program, one day after our New York City Scavenger Hunt, she shared her story about the “Red Cup,” an initiative started by the United Nations Food Program “Fill the Cup” Campaign, which works to raise awareness about global hunger.

Josette held up a small red cup that represents a day’s food ration for one person. It also is representative of the small actions any individual can take to give energy to his or her own life.

Her voice was gentle yet also had an undertone of deep wisdom. Every part of what she said highlighted her rich experiences and positive outlook on life.

Dang Weikun, 2015 Young Scholar:

The first time I met Josette, the thing she said that left the deepest impression on me was her explanation of the relationship between gender equality and hunger in the third world. She said that girls need to have access to the food they need. This ensures that girls from poor families will stay in school and receive appropriate education. Access to free food can stop parents from forcing their daughters to drop out of school because of economic pressures—oftentimes girls will work and/or get married at a young age in order to contribute economically to their families. Gender equality is not an issue that can be resolved with idle clamor. We need an ingenious way to accomplish our goal of equality for both men and women alike.

The red cup that Josette had brought up earlier was sitting on a bookcase in her office right next to a photo of herself and Hillary Clinton—an inspiring photo of two strong, influential women.

Pingcuo Zhuoma, 2015 Young Scholar:

My first impression of Josette was that she had an aura of immense wisdom. When I first met her, she spoke about something that got a lot of people thinking. A lot of people always say that it is more valuable to teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime rather than to give a man a fish and feed him for a day. The reality is that there are so many places in this world where, because of natural and human factors, there aren’t even any fish ponds—so the question is whether teaching people to fish is what is needed?

I realized that this wise and kind-hearted woman had really dedicated herself to understanding the groups of people she was trying to help. That cup represented a day’s worth of rations for starving young children in Africa, and to them it was a symbol of hope.

Wang Xu, 2015 Young Scholar:

Josette is an extremely graceful woman. When she speaks she has an infectious smile and knowingly nods her head at you in affirmation. She is very personable. When we sat down with her, it felt like we were sitting and speaking with an old friend. Although we talked with her for only a short amount of time, we asked a lot of questions related to U.S.-China relations, the organizational structure of the UN, and current global issues. She answered each question meticulously and didn’t leave a single question unanswered.

Introduction by Dang Weikun. Translated by Mei Lum.