Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Croake widens women's participation in politics

Katie Croake

Alumni Network

Katie Croake discussed the situation in Egypt at a La Follette School seminar on Tuesday, March 29, via Skype.

Croake has supported the La Follette School since graduating by making presentations to public affairs students about her career path and by mentoring students. "I constantly meet or work with fellow La Follette alums and am excited to be part of such a supportive network of people making such an impact on the world," she says.

Mentor program builds bridges between students, alumni, friends

Public affairs student Nate Inglis Steinfeld spent the summer before he started law school learning about the state of Wisconsin's employment relations through a mentoring program La Follette School career development coordinator Mary Russell set up for him and 12 other continuing public affairs students. Read more ...

Alum brings delegation of Mideastern women to Madison

To help women from the Middle East learn more about democratic institutions, 2003 grad Katie Croake brought a delegation to Madison to meet women involved in Wisconsin politics. Read more ...

Alum Katie Croake helps strengthen and expand democracy in the Middle East and North Africa as a program manager with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Because involving women in the political process is an important component of the institute's mission, Croake and NDI started the Young Women Leaders Academy in 2007 to empower women from the Middle East and North Africa to become involved in politics and democracy. Croake organized its first two trainings in Doha, Qatar, in 2008 and 2009.

"Most of the women had never participated in any type of formal training, and some had never traveled outside their country or had an opportunity to interact with like-minded peers from neighboring countries," says Croake, a 2003 La Follette grad who manages NDI's programs in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon in addition to directing the academy from her base in Washington, D.C.

The program strengthens participants' knowledge and practical skills to help them become leaders in their communities. The women gain practical political work experience in parliament, political parties and civil society organizations, and they network with other young women and women leaders engaged in politics in the region.

"Getting more women involved in politics in countries like Egypt and Jordan can help to lessen the power that a small minority of men holds in Middle Eastern countries," Croake says. "Bringing women into the government can really start to change the culture."

Before joining NDI in 2006, Croake was a senior democracy and governance policy analyst with the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she provided research and analysis to policymakers and evaluated USAID programs around the world. "The job was a great way to explore a variety of development sectors," she says.

One project, Building the Road to Conflict or Peace: The Role of Public Education, evaluated the relationships among education, conflict and peace. "As a former teacher in a USAID country, I enjoyed having a role in shaping USAID educational policies in countries that I deeply understand and care about," says Croake. She spent three years teaching social studies to middle- and high-school students in Beirut, Lebanon, prior to enrolling at La Follette to earn a Master of International Public Affairs with a concentration on post-conflict corruption in the Middle East.

At La Follette, Croake appreciated the freedom to design a program that fit her specific interests. "The La Follette community is small and supportive, and students really benefit from the opportunity to build strong relationships with faculty, students and staff," she says. She held a project assistantship with professor David Weimer and interned at NDI during the summer after her first year. "NDI was a much smaller place then but having that experience and building those relationships gave me the perfect opportunity to go back four years later when I started working at NDI full time," she says.

As part of the Young Women Leaders Academy, the Madison native brought a delegation of 22 women to Wisconsin in 2010 to learn advanced political and leadership skills and to meet with women political leaders, including U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin chief justice Shirley Abrahamson, lieutenant governor Barbara Lawton and first lady Jessica Doyle.

"The meetings were a wonderful exchange of ideas," Croake says. "Women do face similar challenges in the Middle East and in the United States, including pay disparities and low proportions of women in elected office."

Croake doesn't expect many academy participants to run for office right away. Most are just starting their careers, but many volunteer on political campaigns, she says. "Sharing with them different ideas and skills can help them and other women be successful leaders."

Croake wasn't sure about the direction her own career would take when she enrolled in La Follette in 2001. "I had just returned to Madison from teaching for three years in Beirut," she says. "I loved the experience, and my only goal was to be able to make a positive impact on people's lives in Lebanon and the Middle East. I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to accomplish that."

"While I probably never envisioned myself working on democracy promotion for so long," Croake says, "I'm now a convert and love being able to design and implement programs that help empower people to make their voices heard and create change."