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Penny  Abeywardena

Penny Abeywardena

Government Leader, International Affairs Expert & Human Rights Advocate


Penny Abeywardena is the former New York City Commissioner for International Affairs. During her eight years of service (2014-2022) she led the agency serving the largest diplomatic corps in the world. During her tenure New York City successfully implemented a series of award-winning programs with the international community focused on issues ranging from youth empowerment to the leadership of cities and local governments on global issues like climate change and rebuilding post the Covid-19 pandemic. Read More >

When NYC was the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, Penny was responsible for working with the United Nations and foreign governments to procure necessary medical equipment. Her leadership in crisis resulted in a historic donation from the UN to the City of New York as well as donations from dozens of countries. Prior to her role in government, Penny was the Director of the Women’s program at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), where she advised multinational corporations, philanthropists, NGOs and multilateral institutions to increase investments in gender-focused development initiatives.

Penny is on the Board of Directors of the Center for Reproductive Rights and the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships, which provides oversight of the UN Foundation. She also serves on the Aspen Institute’s Digital Equity Advisory Council, APCO Worldwide’s International Advisory Council, 92Y Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact Advisory Committee and the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities of Tomorrow.

Penny has recently been appointed to the rank of Knight in France’s National Order of Merit by President Macron for her global leadership on diplomacy, human rights and sustainability. In December 2020 she was awarded the Golden Helsinki Medal by Mayor Vapaavuori for the creation of a global network of local governments achieving sustainable development efforts. Penny was also recognized by the French American Foundation as a Young Leader (2017) and named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader (2016). She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and completed her Master of International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Cities Lead the Way

Columbia SIPA Alumni Keynote Address

Global Vision for NYC

Speech Topics

Managing Crisis in Bureaucracy

Women’s Leadership & DEI

Cities of Tomorrow

Entrepreneurship in Government