Jessica Tuchman Mathews is a scientist, journalist and policy analyst who is using her leadership skills to promote a new global vision for peace in the 21st century.
Born in New York in 1946, Mathews is the daughter of a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a physician. As a young girl she was a talented horseback rider and dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete. At 22 she came close to earning a slot on the Olympic women's jumping team. "They took the top seven for a training squad, and I came in 10th," she recalls.
Mathews turned her energies from riding to research, and completed her studies with a doctorate in molecular biology. Afterwards, instead of heading to a laboratory, she got a fellowship to work as a science advisor in the U.S. Congress. That experience turned into a job with then-Congressman Morris Udall, who asked Mathews to help him in his 1976 bid for the presidency.
Udall lost the Democratic Party nomination to Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, but Mathews stuck with politics. She joined the Carter White House and under National Security Council advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, helped create the White House Office of Global Issues, which focused on nuclear proliferation, arms control, human rights and the environment. "These were the president's chief interests," Mathews says.
Carter's priorities shifted, however, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and Mathews left the White House. Her departure attracted news coverage and a new job on the editorial board of the Washington Post newspaper. "I went from writing memos that only two people read – Brzezinski and the President – to writing editorials for the whole world to read. She says she learned how to get an idea, develop it and write it between eight in the morning and seven at night.
Mathews says chance has always played a big part in her life. That, she explains, is why in 1981, she helped found the World Resources Institute, www.wri.org a broad-based non-partisan international environmental think tank. "At that point really the only international issue was the Law of the Sea. But we [WRI] were very interested in population growth, in agriculture resources, in the management of minerals and other resources." The group also started early work on climate change.
Mathews left WRI in 1997 to head the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a non-partisan organization that promotes global cooperation. In recent years she has overseen the Endowment's New Vision Campaign to create a global research institute. It envisions a network of offices in different countries, employing staffs of homegrown experts to study solutions to a wide range of pressing social and economic problems. New Vision offices have already opened in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Beirut, and Brussels, with more to follow.
Mathews believes ideas have the power to change how governments work. "Working on policy research and trying to influence what [government decision-makers] think and what policies they adopt is a very, very high-leverage opportunity. Mathews adds that, "A critical part of it is working from civil society to civil society – experts, journalists, all kinds of interaction that you can begin to create in depth with an organization like this."
That means standing up for what she believes in, such as her early opposition to the War in Iraq. "I am just somebody who is moved by analysis, by issues. It seemed so overwhelmingly obvious to me and so overwhelmingly clearly an idea that was going to end probably in tragedy."
Mathews says the Carnegie Endowment has an obligation to do more than analyze world problems. It tries to use that analysis to influence how leaders think and the decisions they make. "We can perfect the globe. We can make it better. And we can make it better in some very, very important ways, in some relationships that are critical to peace. And we can do work that is critical to avoiding a breakdown of peace, an unnecessary one."
Mathews believes that with such hopefulness and clear understanding, positive change is possible. Among citizens of the world, she says, "We share many more interests than those that divide us."