“Prudence Bushnell looks like her name sounds. Neat, petite, well-dressed and well-groomed. Like a resounding success of a 1950’s upbringing, when Captain Kangaroo woke us up and our mothers put us to bed,” journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson observed.
“Friends, and I am one, call her Pru, which somehow changes everything. Pru has a wicked wit, the resume of a Bond girl and an intellectual curiosity that gets her into more jams than Nancy Drew. She is tough.”
Rheta continued, “In 1998, Pru was American ambassador to Kenya when the embassy in Nairobi was bombed by the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda – back before most of us had heard of al-Qaeda.
“Her book – Terrorism, Betrayal & Resilience – is amazingly relevant to today’s world, and proof that often the dust must settle before you can see clearly the truth.
“The building swayed; a teacup began rattling; shards of glass and ceiling tile sprayed the area,” the book begins. “One thought swirled dreamily around my brain as every muscle in my body clenched in revolt. ‘I am going to die….’”
Audiences across the country – academics, students, world affairs councils, Rotary and Kiwanis club members – have applauded her political insights and story-telling abilities. She promotes innovative thinking about leadership and policy making, particularly among women and national security specialists.
S.M.A.R.T. – Strategic, Moral, Achievable, Resilient, Transformative
In 2019, Pru was marketing her book about terrorism and, at the same time, participating in interviews commemorating the 25th anniversary of 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The traditional “hard” and “soft” power alternatives to those global problems neither stopped the genocide nor avoided a protracted war on terrorism. She concluded that the human security and transnational threats we face today – including pandemics, inequality and climate change – cry out for new approaches.
So, Pru devised the concept of S.M.A.R.T. – Strategic. Moral. Achievable. Resilient. Transformative. She also advocates avoiding S.T.U.P.I.D. (Short-term. Traditional. Unsuccessful. Policies. Ignoring. Data).
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Pru is the rare person who both taught and practiced leadership for decades. Her lessons about managing crises and promoting resilience are keenly appropriate today. So are her observations of the tensions between “doing things right” and “doing the right thing,” in the Washington foreign policy community.
Pru grew up in exotic places and largely patriarchal cultures, Paris to Pakistan, as a child in a Foreign Service family. Men were in charge.
“As a girl growing up in the 1950s, it was inconceivable that I could become a leader, much less one who excelled in disasters,” Pru writes. “My only role model was Joan of Arc, and I was well aware of what happened to her when she put on a pair of pants and led men.”
Pru never anticipated what a continuous adventure her life would become. Before serving as ambassador in Kenya, Pru worked in Washington in the State Department’s Africa Bureau during the Rwandan genocide that killed 800,000 people. “We were doing nothing to stop the killing, so I took it upon myself to call Rwandan military figures perpetrating the genocide to let them know we were watching and to advise that they would be held personally accountable for their deeds,” she writes.
That episode of her life would be depicted in a movie, “Sometimes in April,” in which Pru is portrayed by actress Debra Winger.
From Kenya, still suffering effects from the bombing, Pru became ambassador to Guatemala, a country in turmoil from decades of internal conflict. There she watched, from 3,330 miles away, as the United States was attacked by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001.
The photograph on the cover of her book, taken by John McConnico, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism.
A management trainer before she joined the U.S. Foreign Service, Pru introduced leadership training to the Department of State in the mid-1980s and subsequently served in senior positions in the Department of State and American embassies overseas.
What she learned from the Washington policy failures to mitigate the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 contributed to her leadership response as U.S. ambassador when al Qaeda attacked the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (1998). That, in turn, contributed to her successes as ambassador to Guatemala and later, Dean of the Leadership and Management School of the Foreign Service Institute.
Since leaving government, Pru has continued to train and promote effective leadership behaviors in order to make a positive difference.
Pru’s written works appear in the Brown Journal of World Affairs, the Journal of American Diplomacy, the New York Times, the Cambridge University Press, and the Foreign Service Journal among others.
Born in Washington, DC and educated in Germany, France, Pakistan and Iran, Ambassador Bushnell currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
- Leadership Author and Speaker
- Dean of the Leadership & Management School at the Foreign Service Institute (2002-2005)
- Ambassador to the Republic of Guatemala (1999-2002)
- Ambassador to the Republic of Kenya (1996-1999)
- Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1993-1996)
Awards & Recognition
- Francis Shattuck Security and Peace Award: 2019-2020 ABA International Law Section Awards
- “20 All Time Greatest Feds,” Government Executive Magazine (2011)
- “Rising Voice of Women Award,” Women’s International Associates of Chicago (2010)
- Service to America Career Achievement Award (2004)
- Peace through Commerce Award (1998)
- Nairobi Mission Award for Heroism (1998)
- Numerous internal awards from the Department of State (1981-2005)
- Hall of Fame, Vanity Fair Magazine (1998)
- Top Ten Women of the Year, Glamour Magazine (1998)
- Honorary Doctorates from Hartwick College, Russell Sage College, & Misericordia University
- B.A. in Liberal Arts, University of Maryland
- M.S. in Public Administration, Russell Sage College
- “Leadership and Policy Making: Lessons from the U.S. Government,” Brown Journal of World Affairs. June 2019
- “Operation Vittles: A Recipe Book. An Airlift. A Song.” Journal of American Diplomacy. May 2019
- “Reflections on the U.S. Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania,” The Foreign Service Journal. July-Aug 2018
- “One Story, Two Events, Seven Leadership Lessons,” The Foreign Service Journal. Jan-Feb 2017
- “Our Diplomats Deserve Better,” The New York Times, September 13, 2012
- “Leadership at State: A Work in Progress,” The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011
- “Leadership at State: The Neglected Dimension,” The Foreign Service Journal, September 1989
- “Leadership in Disasters,” with Brian W. Flynn and Prudence Bushnell, Nicole Lurie, Textbook of Disaster Psychiatry. Edited by Robert J. Ursano, Carol S. Fullerton, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Maryland, Lars Weisaeth, Universitetet i Oslo, Beverley Raphael, Australian National University, Canberra. Cambridge University Press, 2017. pp 285-297
- MSN (2019): Why Official Record Keeping is Crucial at the State Department
- Telerama.fr (2019): Retours a Kigali
- Frontline (2003): Ghosts of Rwanda
- The Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training: The Irrepressible Prudence Bushnell
- The Washington Post, On Leadership (2013): Prudence Bushnell on Being a Diplomat