Dr. Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York, where she directs CFR's Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy program. Her areas of expertise include the political economy of the Middle East, democratization, civil society, economic development, educational reform and gender issues. She is the author and coauthor of numerous books, including Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions (Council on Foreign Relations, 2013), The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Security (Routledge Press, 2012), Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East (Random House, 2010), Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), and Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (Hoover Institution Press, 2006).
Dr. Coleman's writings have appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, and Forbes, and online venues such as TheAtlantic.com and CNN.com. She also writes the blog "Democracy in Development" on CFR.org. She is a frequent speaker at academic, business, and policy conferences. In 2010, she served as a track leader at the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2011, Newsweek named her as one of "150 Women Who Shake the World."
Prior to joining the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Coleman was chief executive officer of a healthcare services company and a partner with McKinsey & Co. in New York. A Marshall scholar, she holds a BA in public policy and East Asian studies from Princeton University and MPhil and DPhil degrees in international relations from Oxford University. She serves on several non-profit boards, including Plan USA, Student Sponsor Partners, and the National Outdoor Leadership School.
Democracy and Development
After the Cold War ended, many believed the Western model of liberal capitalism and democracy had triumphed. Yet, confidence in democracy and open markets has ebbed in light of the success of centralized models of growth in China and elsewhere; the damage wrought by the global economic crisis; and the struggle of Arab countries to democratize after the 2011 uprisings. While a few autocracies have achieved impressive growth, many more have failed to provide basic rights and decent livelihoods. Democracies, on the other hand, can deliver good governance, freedom, and prosperity. In my work, I explore challenges to and opportunities for democratization and good governance, development and growth, and freedom and civic engagement. In a recent book, Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions, co-editor Terra Lawson-Remer and I examine what countries must do to build durable and prosperous democracies, drawing upon structural factors and policy choices that shaped eight recent transitions. Through Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy roundtable series and my blog Democracy in Development, I also consider what the United States and others can do to foster democracy and development and to counter the violent extremism that threatens democratic societies.
Education Reform and Youth Unemployment in the Middle East
A shortage of economic opportunity was a central driver of the Arab uprisings, with masses of unemployed and underemployed citizens deeply frustrated by inequality, rigidity, and corruption in their economies. Despite increased public spending on education and greater educational attainment over the past few decades, quality education remains elusive for Arab countries. Indeed, business leaders across the region complain about a lack of skilled human capital and an inability to fill higher-level jobs with local talent. Middle Eastern governments recognize the need for educational reform and have taken steps to strengthen skills acquisition and improve development. I investigate these contemporary reform initiatives and explore the macroeconomic trends affecting the region's labor market in a forthcoming book, tentatively titled Youthquake: How Education and Entrepreneurship Can Transform the Middle East.
Women and Foreign Policy
Over the past few decades, significant research has demonstrated that improving the status of women is central to achieving a host of development, health, security, and other global priorities. Due to increased public and private investment, women's opportunities have expanded in many countries. Yet, gender gaps persist in access to education, health care, technology, and income, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and women still face numerous constraints that inhibit their economic, political, and social participation. In op-eds, articles, and CFR publications, I examine the connection between women's empowerment and development prospects around the world and discuss the implications for U.S. foreign policy interests. In my work, I pay particular attention to the evolution of women's rights in Muslim-majority countries. I also host the ExxonMobil Women and Development roundtable series, which examines topics such as the potential of new technologies to promote women's economic empowerment in developing countries and strategies to take women-owned enterprises to scale.
With concise historical analysis and forward-looking prescriptions, Pathways to Freedom offers an authoritative and accessible look at what countries must do to build durable and prosperous democracies—and what the United States and others can do to help.
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Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women's rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism.
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It is time for multinational corporations to come to the same realization -- funding education and training female business leaders is good for business.
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CFR's Senior Fellow Isobel Coleman discusses her new book about the rising empowerment of Muslim women in the Mideast and its potential to transform human rights in the region
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A senior USAID official and CFR's Isobel Coleman discuss aid priorities in Pakistan and how development programs can be made more effective.
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CFR senior fellow Isobel Coleman talks to CFR.org's Esther Pan about the impact of women voting in Kuwait for the first time.
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Each year, governments around the world spend more than half a trillion dollars on fuel subsidies, crowding out productive investment in poverty alleviation and growth. CFR Senior Fellow Isobel Coleman proposes establishing a private-public partnership to help governments build the case for subsidy reform directly with citizens.
See more in Global; Energy Policy; Economics
In this book, CFR Senior Fellow Isobel Coleman demonstrates how influential Islamic feminist thinkers are driving social change in the Middle East to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. Teaching notes by the author.
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The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is likely to deepen until leaders in Baghdad can form an inclusive government and defeat jihadist fighters on the battlefield, explains CFR's Isobel Coleman.
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Egyptian protestors' return to the streets signals the public's discontent with President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's authoritarian tendencies and economic mismanagement, says CFR's Isobel Coleman.
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A brutal New Delhi gang rape has triggered outrage across India. CFR's Isobel Coleman highlights three things to know about the case, and discusses the larger issue of violence against women in the country.
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The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the killing of the U.S. ambassador may be "the first salvo" of a civil war in the country, says CFR's Isobel Coleman.
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Egyptians' first free presidential election is a test of the power of Islamist parties, and the new president will shape the country's future by helping craft a new constitution as well as a new relationship with parliament and the military, says CFR's Isobel Coleman.
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The winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential election will have to address shifting priorities and maintain the relevancy and impact of U.S. foreign aid as government assistance is dwarfed by other forms of capital flows and new donor countries emerge, says CFR's Isobel Coleman.
See more in United States; Foreign Aid; Elections
USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg discusses the challenges facing the organization in an environment of constrained budgets.
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Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir discusses U.S.-Pakistan relations and the fragility of the Pakistani democracy.
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Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, discusses the gender gap in access to mobile technology. Research conducted by Blair's organization has found that the gender gap is particularly wide in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
See more in Global; Women; Telecommunications
Expert Robin Wright discusses the unfolding developments of the Arab Spring with CFR's Isobel Coleman. Wright argues that a "counter-jihad" is happening, which is "challenging the political status quo."
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This video is part of a special Council on Foreign Relations series that explores how 9/11 changed international relations and U.S. foreign policy. In this video, Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of CFR's Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, discusses how the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011 influenced a debate over social and economic challenges and opportunities in the Middle East.
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Isobel Coleman, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, discusses new initiatives announced by President Obama in support of the democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, including trade, investment, debt forgiveness, and loan guarantees.
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Sir Michael Barber, head of the Global Education Practice at McKinsey & Company argues that the key to improving educational systems is setting clear, internationally benchmarked standards, and attracting and training good teachers and school leaders.
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Anne-Marie Slaughter, Former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department discusses the actions taken by international actors in Libya, and why the same measures cannot be taken in Syria. Slaughter called the situation in Syria "heartbreaking" and said "it looks like in many ways it looks like this government might get away with the same kind of brutality that we saw 20 years ago." However, she argued that while the U.S. is doing everything in its power diplomatically, it is not in a position to use force in Syria.
See more in Syria; United States; Politics and Strategy