A varsity lacrosse player on two continents, Sarah Sewall has since spent a career in political policy, first at the Pentagon and now as the Director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy at her alma mater.
Sarah Sewall is mother of four (including nine year old soccer-playing triplets), a Girl Scout leader, and a Sunday school teacher. Her husband, Tom Conroy, was elected Massachusetts State Representative earlier this month, on which she simply says "it is an exciting new chapter for him and our family. I have no idea how it will all work, but that is hardly a new phenomenon!"
Since early 2006 she has been Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where she also teaches.
But then Sewall's always been a busy person. Growing up, while she focused on academics, sports "was a constant." She wanted to play lacrosse in college but it was not a factor in her choice of Harvard as a place to go to school. What was? "Excellence," says Sewall.
She skied and played field hockey briefly in addition to lacrosse, where she was a "solid team player," in her own estimation. Harvard's lacrosse team reigned as Ivy champions and played in the NCAA finals in Sewall's senior year.
Her junior year Sewall got the "Washington policy-defense bug," taking time off from Harvard and heading to the nation's capital. She started at the Institute for Policy Studies, then was an intern for Rep. (now Sen.) Olympia Snowe of Maine, and finally "worked on anti-satellite weapons" and arms control for the Center for Defense Information. She then returned to Harvard, where she was named a Rhodes Scholar.
At Oxford Sewall majored in International Relations, and earned her "blue" (Oxford's equivalent of an American sports letter) playing lacrosse. According to Sewall, Oxford was a "vacation after Harvard. Harvard's more intense."
Perhaps she needed that vacation because after Oxford Sewall plunged right back into the Washington policy scene, ultimately becoming Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine.
"It was fantastic exposure," she remembers. "I was in on the nuclear test moratorium, Cambodia policy. I toured the Kurdish refugee camps after Desert Storm and even got to meet Gorby (former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev)."
Apparently incoming President Bill Clinton agreed, appointing Sewall Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance in the Department of Defense. She started the first "Peacekeeping Office," within the Pentagon, officially the office responsible for "developing the Presidential Decision Directive on Peace Operations."
It was "most exciting to work in the Pentagon," where only a few years before she was "protesting U.S. support of the contras," Sewall recalls. "It was an incredible learning experience," but "my boss never got confirmed, and we had no budget." Even so she established the means by which the Department of Defense currently provides humanitarian support to the United Nations, and oversaw the distribution of millions in aid. She was also awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service.
Sewall returned to Cambridge in 1997 to research UN peacekeeping and the then-proposed International Criminal Court at Harvard and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Carr Center was founded at the Kennedy School in 1999, and soon after Sewall was recruited as a Program Director. In 2006 she became Director of the Carr Center.
This year has been a busy "year of institution building," according to Sewall. We're "helping to bridge human rights activists, security advisers, overlapping interests.Currently we're working on army counterinsurgency doctrine, co-sponsoring doctrine revision with the [Army's Combined Arms Center]," Sewall continues. The center also addresses such issues as: how war affects foreign civilians, international humanitarian law and military ethics, civil-military relations, the role of military leadership, training, doctrine, and capabilities in upholding human rights, and national and international judicial redress for abuses committed during armed conflict.
Sewall's thinking of the future of the Carr Center, and is involved with fundraising. "We need to raise half our operating budget," she points out, and that's "not something I have a lot of experience with."
"I hope to lead Carr to its next iteration," continues Sewall, and bring it from a "startup to a more mature player."
— Stephen Eschenbach