It started with an invitation to lunch.
Ambassador Hamamoto had only just arrived in Switzerland as the United States’ representative to the United Nations in Geneva. She was still feeling out her new role when Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general, asked to chat over a meal.
“And I’ll never forget, he gave me two pieces of advice that guided my engagement for the three years I was there.”
“The first thing he told me was, coming in as the US ambassador, I had this incredible, powerful platform that had been turned over to me,” Hamamoto said. “And to be thoughtful and use it wisely and responsibly. It was all about the attitude.”
“And then the second thing he said was that it would be easy to spend the time just responding to all the various issues and crises of the day.” Instead of getting “pulled in a lot of different directions, Annan urged Hamamoto to think early about her legacy.
“These positions are fleeting,” she continued. “They only last a few years. And so I had to be mindful of how I was using my time. I had to think strategically from the start.”
For Hamamoto, the issue she would focus on as ambassador quickly formed in her mind. Of the long list of concerns that the United Nations focused on - global health, climate change, trade, sustainable development, internet governance and more - one theme ran through all of them: the disproportionate vulnerability and disregard of women and girls.
“We needed to focus on raising their voices and providing more protections,” Hamamoto said, “while looking for ways to bring the whole international community around on this.”
One way was International Gender Champions, a network of both female and male leaders - diplomats, heads of international organizations, business executives, and leaders of nonprofits - dedicated to gender equality. “The idea was let’s come together with concrete commitments of what we are going to do in the coming year to advance gender equality,” Hamamoto explained, “either in our organizations or through our programmatic work commitments.”
Her initiative inspired Ploughshares Fund to help launch the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy network last year. That network has grown to nearly fifty champions, including major foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the storied nuclear site, Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Ambassador Hamamoto is now a member of the Ploughshares Fund board of directors. She and fellow board member Tabitha Jordan now chair the foundation’s new million-dollar campaign to support the Women's Initiative that organized and funded Gender Champions, provides grants to women and women-led projects on nuclear policy and is building a national network of women in the field.
“This trickle-down effect is so powerful,” Hamamoto noted. “When the leader of the organization is committed, it empowers everybody throughout the organization.”
“It’s not only OK for them to talk about gender equality and bringing more opportunities for women, but it’s expected now. The whole conversation has changed.”