Named one of San Francisco Business Times’ “Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business,” Karen Hanrahan is an executive leader and bridge builder who has spent her career singularly focused on social impact and transformational change at local and global levels. For more than 20 years, Karen has worked in the private and public sectors building high-impact initiatives that advance human rights, empower local communities, and improve the human condition around the world.
A lawyer by training, she is known for visionary and strategic leadership, leading transformational change, and building high-performing teams and organizations that change lives and systems. The breadth and depth of Karen’s experience is noteworthy. She has served as a senior appointee in the Obama administration, a community foundation CEO, a United Nations aid worker, a corporate executive, a finance lawyer, and a thought leader in global development, human rights, social justice and public-private innovation.
She drives social change and innovation through partnerships with heads of state, global corporations, local communities, funders, religious leaders, and military forces. She has brought creativity and rigor to intractable challenges in economic development, human rights, conflict, and inequity.
Karen began her career on the frontlines of social impact in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. She worked closely with local change agents to overcome injustice and broken systems and advance positive agendas of change. In her roles with the United Nations, the U.S. Government, and non-profits such as Amnesty International and Search for Common Ground, Karen worked to organize Palestinian youth groups for non-violent action, to free sex slaves in Afghanistan, to prevent child and exploitative labor in South Asia, to end torture in Iraq, to free political prisoners in Ethiopia, and to reform abusive security forces around the world.
She went on to become a policymaker and an expert in organizational transformation, change management, and social impact, rising through the ranks of public and private institutions to lead change, build high-performing teams, and establish new visions and strategies across global and domestic social challenges.
Karen was an appointee in the Obama administration for over six years. She served as the U.S. Coordinator for International Assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan, then went on to design and run the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (the QDDR) for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a strategic planning and organizational change initiative that shaped billions of dollars in foreign assistance and transformed how the United States conducts diplomacy and development.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Karen advanced human rights and freedom in Africa, Latin America, and South and Central Asia; she worked closely with global corporations on responsible foreign investment, human rights, and stakeholder engagement; and she shaped U.S. and global policies and programs on gender, LGBTQ rights, labor rights, and security. As the Chief Innovation Officer for the UK Department for International Development (DFID), she built the organization’s innovation capabilities on assignment in London. She catalyzed novel solutions to long-standing development challenges.
Karen served in Afghanistan for the United Nations as a Senior Protection Officer. She also served in Iraq as the State Department’s Senior Rule of Law Coordinator and Senior Consultant to the Iraqi Minister of Human Rights. Before this, she served with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives in Iraq as the Senior Advisor on Human Rights and Transitional Justice. She then became Vice President for International Peace and Stability and Corporate Responsibility in a Fortune 500 company, leading a large-scale organizational change effort and traveling around the world to integrate human rights and the rule of law into security assistance.
An alumna of Harvard Business School’s executive leadership program, the University of Washington School of Law, and The American University School of International Service, Karen holds a J.D. and a Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has studied Arabic and French and lived in the Middle East and North Africa.