YPFP NY Profiled: Kara L. DeDonato
Formerly the Director of Programming for YPFP NY, Kara DeDonato assumed the role of Executive Director as of November 1, 2013. She also serves as attaché and assistant to the ambassador at the Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the United Nations (UN). Kara sat down with YPFP NY in her office on November 2, 2013, to talk about international relations, wine importing and her vision for the future of YPFP NY.
Did you study International Relations (IR) in college?
I actually didn’t. I was a history major. I didn’t decide to go into IR until after I graduated. I was going to go into international wine importing, actually. I did that for a little while and then decided that a lot of my other skills could be put to use. I think bringing wine to the United States is a very important thing but it’s not really benefitting anyone in the larger sense. I had more aspirations in terms of international development and U.S. foreign policy.
Do you have particular topics or regions within foreign policy that you’re really interested in?
I didn’t consciously realize it but I was always interested in the international play between nations. I then had the chance to go to Egypt – I grew up in Connecticut with an Egyptian friend and when I was studying abroad in Italy, I was able to visit Egypt and stay with some of her family. I went for a weekend and ended up staying for a month, I loved it so much. That got me interested in Mideast-U.S. relations. Then the Arab Spring happened and furthered that.
I’m doing my master’s at NYU at the moment and it will have a focus on the Middle East and transnational security.
When did you start your master’s?
This fall. [Laughs.] It’s very new. I’m doing it slowly because I’m working full-time and doing YPFP as well.
Tell me a little about your job.
I work for the Sovereign Order of Malta. The full name is Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. That means I have the largest business card known to man because I have two titles: I am an attaché and the ambassador’s assistant.
What does your long title mean in terms of daily work?
Because it is a very small mission and I’m the only paid employee that they have, I wear a number of hats.
As an attaché, my job is to cover meetings at the UN that are relevant to our work. That involves anything on humanitarian aid and development. That also covers UN Security Council meetings on situations in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), for instance. I mention the C.A.R. because it’s a crisis zone and we happen to have a lot of projects there. I make sure reports are then drafted, which the ambassador signs off on before they are sent to the government in Rome. I also draft speeches that will be delivered in the Second or Third Committees of the General Assembly. Sometimes I deliver the speeches; if any of our other delegates are in New York, they will deliver them instead.
I also have my ‘assistant to the ambassador’ hat, which involves writing his speeches, drafting personal correspondence, and administrative matters as well. I am also the accounts payable and budgeting person, so I run the finance side of the mission. I am also the interior decorator and events planner for the mission. So I do a little bit of everything—it’s sometimes exhausting but I get a lot of exposure.
How long have you been with the Sovereign Order of Malta?
It will be two years in January.
So how did you make the transition from wine importing to this position?
After college, I moved home and was doing restaurant work and helping a wine distributor. As I got more interested in IR, I started applying to internships, mostly paid internships, which are few and far between. I got an internship at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was great. I loved it there. I was in the communications office. Coincidently, I was working with Kristin Lewis [now Deputy Director of Programming for YPFP NY], though she came in just as I was leaving. I then met the Sovereign Order of Malta’s UN ambassador through an outside connection – one of the Order’s former interns was working for my father. I met with the ambassador and we clicked—and it just so happened that his assistant at the time was leaving.
Wow. What an inspirational informational interview story. How did you become involved with YPFP? At what point in time was it?
I was working here. It was a slow day and I was looking for options to get more involved. I Googled “young professional organizations” and found YPFP.
What are you looking to do as Executive Director of YPFP NY?
I think programming is really important to YPFP. I’d like to keep building that up, creating consistent series of events. Certainly, building up membership is another central goal. I see that as best being pursued by building up YPFP presence in New York, expanding our brand, and highlighting what sets us apart from other branches.
One last question. What was your favorite YPFP event of the past year?
I really loved the Global Diplomacy Series with Mr. Philip Scanlan, former Consul-General of Australia in New York. It was a really interesting event centered on his formation of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, problem-solving and consensus-building. But more than that, I learned a lot from him about best practices for putting a project into action and for leadership in general. He really offered a lot of insight on what it meant to him to be a leader and the importance of service, as in serving a greater cause and being of service to others.
This interview has been edited and condensed. It is the first in a series called “YPFP NY Profiled,” which is a series of profiles of YPFP NY members and staff. The series is intended to better introduce YPFP NY members to each other, as well as explore the many paths and positions one can take within foreign policy world. If you know of a member who would be a good candidate for a profile (self-suggestions are welcome too!) please email Eve Ahearn, associate director of communications, at email@example.com.