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An Interview With Our 2012 Voices of Courage Honoree Dina Dublon

Screen_shot_2012-04-16_at_11.24.11_AMDina Dublon is a pioneer in advancing women and promoting gender equity in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds. The first (and to date the only) female CFO of JP Morgan Chase, Dina Dublon is currently a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and a member of the Board of Directors of Microsoft, PepsiCo, Accenture and the Global Fund for Women. Dina is also a trustee of Carnegie Mellon University and Chair Emerita of the Women’s Refugee Commission.

How did you become interested in the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) and issues concerning refugees in general?

In 1999, my friend Maha Muna was the deputy director of WRC, and we spoke often about how aid was not being provided to refugees from the perspective of the recipients of such aid—close to 80 percent of whom are women and children. When she asked me to join her on a small mission to Rwanda with WRC to interview women in refugee settings, I jumped at the chance.

What was your trip to Rwanda like?

Rwanda was an emotional place for me to visit and a defining experience. It was my first trip to Africa, and I saw firsthand the conditions under which people in postconflict situations live. UNHCR ran very large refugee camps where the population was overwhelmingly women and children. We visited villages constructed and headed by women; we visited children who were heading households, women’s self-help associations, as well as ministers in government and women parliamentarians.

The women demonstrated incredible leadership: they took responsibility to improve their situations despite facing the most basic challenges and devastation. We visited a secondary school for girls that struggled to keep them there despite family pressures and the lack of money, books and supplies. We visited what they called the “polyclinic of hope,” which had nothing more than aspirin but pooled the little resources those women had to help each other. Wherever we went, the recurring theme was “we’re not hopeless, we’re not helpless, and we’re not just victims.”

At the time, you were CFO of Chase Bank. How would you compare the leadership roles for women in Rwanda to those in the U.S.?

At the time, women in Rwanda comprised the overwhelming majority of the adult population and over a third of parliament, so women were in powerful leadership positions in much greater relative numbers than they were in the U.S. But more impressive was their taking on power at the grassroots level to rebuild, reconcile and change the laws that had marginalized women.

I’d spent my adult life climbing the corporate ladder in the U.S., and I was inspired and moved by these women who were leading change in their communities without the support, infrastructure and resources that we have.

How did the trip shape your perspective and actions when you returned home?

I started viewing my leadership role beyond business: having the mic, a podium and a captive audience now meant that I should use it for a broader purpose. I believe that privilege and influence carries with it responsibility and obligation that are not limited to what happens within the office. When I returned, I sent a long email to the company executive team about the trip, and cited ideas for what I felt we could do—collectively and as individuals—to make a difference. I started learning and advocating for women refugees’ voices to be heard.

I joined a group called World Links, a spin off of the World Bank that helped provide programs and technology to schools in Africa too. We were able to get significant funding to schools in Rwanda, providing teachers and students access to technology. I personally funded scholarships for girls in Rwanda to attend and finish high school. A few have since found me; they’re in college now.

You’ve been a true trailblazer in inspiring corporate executives to give back in particular to issues concerning women. What advice would you give to someone in the corporate world who wants to get involved?

The ultimate responsibility for driving change is ours, as individuals. Getting involved in issues larger than your own advancement is a right, a privilege and an obligation. It is an obligation we have for ourselves and our children.

Just contributing money makes a difference too and serves as good example. We make a difference by taking the initiative to act in some way, by valuing change for the better—however small it may be.

Why, in your opinion, is private sector commitment to philanthropy so critical?

Indra Nooyi once said, “I want PepsiCo to be known as a ‘good company’… Good has a moral meaning which requires a new operating philosophy—it does not mean run your business normally and then do good deeds on the side. It means we strive to bring together what’s good for business with what’s good for the world.”

In our economic system, the private sector is the engine for wealth creation. To have and maintain the legitimacy to operate requires more than short-term profit maximization. It’s important for businesses to do “good deeds on the side” through philanthropy, but they also have a responsibility to consider the social impact of the way they do business.

Why did you join the board of WRC and why are you passionate about our work?

Women’s Refugee Commission takes a strategic approach to creating change. They talk to women and young people to find out what needs are being ignored. They push for long-term changes and solutions by advocating with the “service providers” and the funders—like the UN or USAID. It is a practical research and advocacy organization focused on the most vulnerable, often voicing the needs of the voiceless.

WRC has had substantive impact in many areas: making basic services for safe pregnancy and delivery much more common in refugee settings; focusing on safe cooking fuel to reduce incidence of rape when collecting firewood; enabling livelihoods in postconflict situations; fostering educational opportunities for out-of-school youth and raising awareness and services for disabled refugees.  

I am honored and humbled to be involved with the organization and to participate in this year’s Voices of Courage event.

We will be honoring Dina at this year's Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon in New York City on May 4th. Our annual luncheon helps us raise funds that allow us to continue our work to improve the lives of refugee women and children around the world.