Lives of Distinction

Making a Difference

Recent Smith alumnae are making an impact in their communties and the world.

Christina Bain ’00
Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery at Harvard's Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Lia Copeland ’97 Humanitarian-affairs officer with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, focusing on Darfur

Luma Mufleh ’97
Founder of the Fugees, a non-profit organization devoted to working with child survivors of war

Erin Krasik ’93
Deputy director, Office of Democratic Initiatives, USAID/Russia

Simran Sethi ’92
Environmental journalist

Stephanie Cutter ’90 Assistant secretary of public affairs, Office of Secretary of Treasury

Farah Pandith ’90
Resident fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University; former U.S. special representative to Muslim communities

Durreen Shahnaz ’89
Founder of Impact Investment Exchange, Singapore

Rachael Bartels ’88 Managing partner, Chemicals and Natural Resources, Accenture

Helen LaFave ’85
Cultural attache, U.S. Department of State

Sherry Rehman ’85 Founding chair of the Jinnah Institute and vice president of the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians 

Talented young women from around the world come to be part of Smith’s intellectual life and a vital part of the college’s rich, diverse and vibrant academic environment. When they graduate, they leave prepared to engage in international and intercultural issues and live as educated leaders working within their global communities. Three recent Smith alumnae are working to make a difference in the world.

Shaharzad Akbar ’09

Shaharzad Akbar remembers her childhood in Afghanistan as being “filled with the sounds of bombs, gunshots and rockets.” By age 12, she and her family had emigrated to Pakistan. Despite suffering humiliation for being a refugee there, Akbar found a role teaching English and Dari to other refugees. When her family later returned to Afghanistan, she continued to teach, instructing Afghan women in the English language. Eventually she was hired as a journalism intern at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and also began studying philosophy at Kabul University.

Akbar says that she arrived at Smith as a transfer student, wanting to “better understand what is needed for the overall empowerment of women everywhere and then specialize in what is best for women in my country.” She completed her degree in anthropology and graduated with highest honors.

Akbar became the first Afghan woman to attend graduate school at Oxford University’s Wolfson College and was among the first students to receive the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarship established for scholars from emerging economies. She now lives in Kabul and works with the Free & Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan.

Makhethe Mpoti ’08

When Makhethe Mpoti graduated from Smith with a degree in biochemistry, she signed on as a research assistant for a clinical study at Boston Medical Center. She joined a team working on a study to improve assessment for hospital discharges and decrease patient re-hospitalizations. “The inpatient doctors who started the project realized that it didn't take very long for patients to show up in the emergency room again, and they wanted to get it right the first time,” Mpoti says.

But she knew she would go home to Lesotho someday. When her U.S. work permit ended in June 2009, she signed on as a staff member of the organization Lesotho-Boston Health Alliance, which represents Boston University's Public Health and Family Medicine programs in Lesotho. Today she is the residency administrator for the Family Medicine Specialty Training Program, the first of its kind, and is applying to medical school in neighboring South Africa. “Despite the fact that Lesotho does not have a medical school,” she notes, “there is a great need to train doctors to work in the many rural settings of Lesotho.”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy '02

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a native of Pakistan, began her career in documentary filmmaking after reporting on Afghan refugee children in Pakistan. The film, Terror’s Children, won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women in Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award.

In less than a decade, Obaid-Chinoy has produced and worked more than a dozen award-winning films for major networks in the United States and Britain. Her films include Children of the Taliban, The Lost Generation and Afghanistan Unveiled. “By bringing the voices of the ordinary people faced with extraordinary challenges to television screens around the world,” she says, “I hope to effect change in one community at a time.” In 2012 her film Saving Face, co-directed with Daniel Junge, won the Oscar for Best Documentary (short subject). She won a second Oscar for her 2015 film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, a documentary about honor killings in Pakistan.

Born in Karachi, Obaid-Chinoy was the first woman in her family to receive a Western education. She graduated from Smith with a degree in economics and government and completed master’s degrees in international policy studies and communication at Stanford University. In 2010 she was selected as a TED2010 fellow, a program designed to bring together the next generation of innovators, for her work as a filmmaker and her efforts in founding The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, to preserve the culture and history of her native country.