June 26, 2024
By Cesar Fernandez, Programs & Membership Assistant

On Thursday, June 13th, 2024, UNA-NCA hosted its yearly Annual Membership Meeting at the United Nations Foundation. This in-person event focused on the successes and challenges of UNA-NCA’s programming throughout the year, and presented awards to key contributors within the chapter. This event reiterated the importance of engaging American citizens with the United Nations and maintaining support to strengthen such multilateral systems.

Outgoing UNA-NCA Board Chair, Jill Christianson, started off the event by expressing personal remarks and the objectives of UNA-NCA as a whole. In welcoming attendees and UNA-NCA members, she covered the mission and values of the organization itself, and thanked the keynote speaker, Ambassador Michele J. Sison, for her attendance. Shortly after, Ms. Christianson welcomed UNA-NCA President Paula Boland to speak and continue the event’s agenda.

Ms. Boland began with opening remarks for the event, thanking UNA-USA and the United Nations Foundation for their continued support throughout the year. She stated that this year, UNA-NCA received UNA-USA’s Community Chapter of Excellence Award, highlighting UNA-NCA’s dedication to its mission and goals for the global future. Next, Ms. Boland introduced Senior Vice President of the United Nations Foundation and President of the Better World Campaign, Peter Yeo. Mr. Yeo proceeded to present the Arthur W. Johnson Leadership Award to Ambassador Michele J. Sison, the Assistant Secretary of State of International Organization Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Ambassador Michele J. Sison (pictured left, giving remarks) was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs on December 21, 2021. She served as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from February 2018 to October 2021, and as U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations 2014-2018, where she helped build global coalitions to counter transnational threats to peace and security and advocated for a more effective, efficient, and accountable UN and multilateral system. Ambassador Sison has long experience with UN peacekeeping and the UN entities responsible for development, humanitarian relief, and human rights. Ambassador Sison served as U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives (2012-2014), U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon (2008-2010), and U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (2004-2008). Ambassador Sison’s diplomatic assignments also include Assistant Chief of Mission in Baghdad, Iraq; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs; Deputy Chief of Mission in Islamabad, Pakistan; Consul General in Chennai, India; and tours in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin, and Togo. She also served as the State Department’s Director of Career Development and Assignments. Ambassador Sison is the recipient of the U.S. Presidential Distinguished Service Award, U.S. Presidential Meritorious Service Award, and the U.S. Department of the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. She holds numerous U.S. Department of State awards, including Ambassadorial-level awards for her contributions to counter-proliferation and combating human trafficking. Ambassador Sison holds the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Within her remarks, Ambassador Sison discussed the importance of maintaining U.S.-UN relations and what a difference it makes in the world we live in today. With so many conflicts and humanitarian challenges going on, Ambassador Sison urged audience members to remain engaged with organizations like UNA-NCA to help raise awareness and find solutions toward said issues. She also touched on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, highlighting the need for further climate action and strengthening our global institutions for peace. Ambassador Sison mentioned she was grateful to attend the United Nations’ SDG Summit in New York in September of 2023. An interesting fact she brought up was that in the past two years, the United States has provided over $100 billion for international development to help achieve the SDGs, more than any other country. Before closing her remarks, she thanked UNA-NCA and its members for their advocacy and dedication to upholding the ideals of the United Nations and multilateralism altogether.

Annual Meeting 24 Himaja and SGAfter her remarks, President Boland thanked Ambassador Sison for her work and shifted to the current state of UNA-NCA, highlighting certain key aspects of this year’s Annual Report. Ms. Boland also took the time to thank UNA-NCA’s Board of Directors, Advisory Council, and staff. Ms. Boland brought up this year’s Model United Nations Conference with Global Classrooms DC at the State Department, which had more than 500 students in attendance and was very successful. She also mentioned the positive impact of UNA-NCA’s Graduate Fellows Program, giving thanks to the mentors and program coordinators involved.

Paula then invited GCDC Director Himaja Balusa and rising ninth grader Imaani Haque (both pictured right), who served as the Student Secretary General at the MUN Conference, to speak more on the impact of GCDC and its events, especially the MUN Conference and the first MILO Conference. In her brief remarks, Ms. Balusa expressed her appreciation for such a successful MUN Conference, especially with it being the 20th year anniversary of GCDC’s MUN. In addition, she was extremely grateful for the support from UNA-NCA volunteers, ILO, and the State Department in hosting the first ever Model International Labor Organization (MILO) Conference this year. After hearing reflections Annual Meeting 24 Olivia Meadefrom both Ms. Balusa and Ms. Haque, President Boland gave the floor to Dr. Tatjana Titareva to speak more on the Graduate Fellows Program. Following Dr. Titareva was Ms. Olivia Meade (pictured left), the Strategic Leadership Partner for UNA-NCA’s Global Goals at Home Program that began in Fall of 2021. Ms. Meade talked briefly about keeping people focused on the United Nations’ SDGs, and how there's been an increase in engagement from members within the DMV area.

Annual Meeting 24 Paula Jill JanetAfter highlighting these important aspects of UNA-NCA’s programming, Ms. Boland went on to present the Inaugural Ambassador Esther Coopersmith Leadership Award to Outgoing Board Chair Jill Christianson. This award was presented by Ms. Janet Pitt (pictured right with Paula Boland on the far left, and Jill Christianson in the center) who served as the Chief of Staff for Ambassador Coopersmith for many years. After receiving the award, Ms. Christianson provided personal remarks on her background and how she first got involved with UNA-NCA, and gave her appreciation to the organization for such an honor.

After these awards were presented and comments were provided by these individuals, a brief music break followed with a live violin performance from esteemed violinist Mr. Cleveland A. Chandler Jr. Following the music break, Ms. Christianson announced the Board Election Results for UNA-NCA’s Board of Directors, introducing the newly elected Board Chair. Ms. Anne Simmons-Benton.

Annual Meeting 24 Anne and JillMs. Anne Simmons-Benton (pictured left with Jill Christianson on the right) is a senior international development leader and attorney with more than 30 years of experience in government, private sector, and academia. She has worked in more than 32 countries, managing and leading complex, critical federal government priorities, including the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Integrated Framework for Least Developed Countries, the Presidential Initiative on Trade Capacity Building, including negotiations on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the US Contribution to the Stability Pact in the Balkans, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Investment Initiative under Gore Chernomyrdin in Russia. She brings a strong passion and enthusiasm for advancing equity for women, and promoting social justice and the rule of law around the world.

Anne is currently a Principal at Deep Water Point and Associates, the Co-Head of the US Delegation to the Women20 (W20), an official engagement group of the G20, the Deputy Chair for the Society for International Development – US and a Board Member for the Mines Advisory Group – US. Anne earned her BS in foreign service from Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and her JD from Antioch School of Law (DC). She holds a Change Management Advanced Practitioner (CMAP) Certificate from the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a USAID Certificate of Appreciation, Superior Group Award, and Meritorious Unit Citation Award. She is also a licensed attorney. Anne and her husband, Jonathan Benton, have three adult children and three grandchildren.

After Ms. Simmons-Benton provided her introductory remarks and excitement for her new position, the outgoing Chair of the Advocacy Committee, Ms. Gayatri Patel, went on to present the Richard and Anne Griffis Program Leadership Award to Ms. Danielle Dean, the Vice Chair of Advocacy. Remarks were given from Ms. Dean on her acceptance of this award, and then Ms. Boland came forth to present the final award of the night. She introduced Ms. Sultana Ali as the recipient of the Evelyn Falkowski Volunteer Service Award. Ms. Sultana Ali serves as UNA-NCA’s Vice Chair of Strategy and Operations.

After Ms. Ali’s remarks, Paula and Jill thanked attendees again for their continued support and for attending this year’s Annual Report meeting. The Annual Meeting was closed out by Ms. Christianson and another musical break by Mr. Chandler Jr. A reception was held after in the main room for attendees and UNA-NCA members.

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