The Honorable Kevin Rudd AC
President and CEO, Asia Society; President, Asia Society Policy Institute
Kevin Rudd became president and CEO of Asia Society in January 2021 and has been president of the Asia Society Policy Institute since January 2015. He served as Australia's 26th Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, then as Foreign Minister from 2010 to 2012, before returning as Prime Minister in 2013.
As Prime Minister, Rudd led Australia's response during the Global Financial Crisis. Australia's fiscal response to the crisis was reviewed by the IMF as the most effective stimulus strategy of all member states. Australia was the only major advanced economy not to go into recession. Rudd is also internationally recognized as one of the founders of the G20, which drove the global response to the crisis and in 2009 helped prevent the crisis from spiraling into a second global depression.
As Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Rudd was active in global and regional foreign policy leadership. He was a driving force in expanding the East Asia Summit (EAS) to include both the U.S. and Russia in 2010. He also initiated the concept of transforming the EAS into a wider Asia-Pacific community to help manage deep-rooted tensions in Asia by building over time the institutions and culture of common security in Asia. On climate change, Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2007 and legislated in 2008 for a mandatory 20 percent renewable energy target for Australia. Rudd launched Australia's challenge in the International Court of Justice with the objective of stopping Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. Rudd drove Australia's successful bid for its current non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and oversaw the near-doubling of Australia's foreign aid budget.
Rudd is Chair of the Board of the International Peace Institute. He is a member of the IMF Managing Director’s External Advisory Group and the Global Leadership Council for Sanitation and Water for All. He is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, a Distinguished Fellow at Chatham House in London, a Distinguished Statesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, and a Distinguished Fellow at the Paulson Institute in Chicago. Rudd is a member of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s Group of Eminent Persons. He serves on the International Advisory Board of the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University. Rudd is proficient in Mandarin Chinese. He remains actively engaged in indigenous reconciliation.
Vice President, Education
Neelam Chowdhary is the Vice President of Education. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the department’s strategy and direction for the Center for Global Education, China Learning Initiatives, and Education for Equity programs.
She joined Asia Society in 2011 as the Executive Director of Global Learning Programs, where she led the development and design of global competence curriculum, teacher training programs, and digital content. She specializes in data-driven decision-making centered on research-based teaching and learning.
Before joining Asia Society, Neelam was the Vice President of Programs at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. She co-authored Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Future (2009) and Exploring Careers for the 21st Century (2011). She has experience as an educator in both Los Angeles and New York City public schools and is a National Board Certified Teacher.
Chowdhary earned a doctorate in curriculum studies from Teachers College, Columbia University, a master’s degree from Pepperdine University in education administration, and a bachelor’s degree from The University of Southern California in sociology.
Vice President and Managing Director, Washington, D.C., Office
Wendy Cutler joined the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) as Vice President and Managing Director of the Washington D.C. Office in November 2015. In these roles, she focuses on building ASPI’s presence in Washington — strengthening its outreach as a think/do tank — and on leading initiatives that address challenges related to trade and women’s empowerment in Asia.
She joins ASPI following an illustrious career of nearly three decades as a diplomat and negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Most recently she served as Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, working on a range of U.S. trade negotiations and initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. In that capacity, she was responsible for the just-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, including the bilateral negotiations with Japan.
Ms. Cutler’s other responsibilities with USTR included bilateral trade relations with all TPP countries, U.S.-China trade relations, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum, and Trade and Investment Framework Agreements with countries ranging from Pakistan to the Philippines. Ms. Cutler held a number of positions at USTR since joining the office in 1988, working on both bilateral and multilateral issues. She was the Chief U.S. Negotiator for the U.S.-Korea (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement and led the U.S. trade and investment agenda in APEC. She also negotiated a wide range of bilateral agreements with Japan on such issues as telecommunications, insurance, and semiconductors. She has extensive multilateral trade experience as the U.S. negotiator for the WTO Financial Services Agreement and several Uruguay Round Agreements. Prior to joining USTR, Ms. Cutler worked on trade issues at the Commerce Department.
Ms. Cutler received her master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and her bachelor’s degree from the George Washington University. She is married and has one son.
Chief Operating Officer
Debra Eisenman is Chief Operating Officer of the Asia Society and Founding Director and Senior Fellow of the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). As COO, Debra oversees the operations and strategy of the Society’s substantive pillars, as well as the global network.
Prior to this role, Debra was Managing Director of the Asia Society Policy Institute, where she led and oversaw projects on development, governance, sustainability, and security challenges throughout Asia, with a particular focus on Myanmar, Central Asia, and Iran. She also ran ASPI’s strategy and operations, and has been with ASPI and its predecessor, the Global Policy Programs department at Asia Society, in numerous, progressively responsible roles since 2011. Debra also created the initial business, operations, and strategic plans for the development of ASPI, prior to its launch.
Before joining Asia Society in 2011, Debra worked on the Peacebuilding and Western Balkans grantmaking programs of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. From 2005 to 2008, she worked at the National Crime Prevention Council on projects to advance youth civic engagement and individual and community safety.
Debra has been a short-term election observer in Kosovo (2010), Albania (2011), Ukraine (2012 and 2014), and Armenia (2017). She holds a master’s degree in politics from New York University, and is a cum laude graduate of the University of Maryland with high honors in government and politics. She is also a fellow of the Truman National Security Project and a member of Women in International Security. Debra is a contributor to radio, television, and print media. In June 2018, she authored the ASPI report, Reconciling Expectations with Reality in a Transitioning Myanmar.
Chief Digital and Communications Officer
Aalok Kanani is Asia Society’s first Chief Digital and Communications Officer, overseeing the organization's marketing and communications efforts and leading its transformation into a digital first institution.
Aalok joined Asia Society in February of 2022, after leading marketing and digital strategy for a range of public, private, and nonprofit organizations. In 2020 he was the Director of Digital Communications for the Biden-Harris general election campaign. Before that he held the same role for Pete Buttigieg’s primary campaign.
Aalok served in the Obama administration overseeing digital strategy for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Prior to that, he was the Confidential Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Education. He left the Obama administration to join the UN’s Ebola Response Mission, working as a Public Information Officer across Sierra Leone and Liberia, and subsequently worked as a consultant advising the African Development Bank, FIFA, and nonprofits across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Prior to Asia Society, Aalok was on the public affairs team at Lyft. Early in his career, he worked for a start-up accelerator in Bangalore and a technology policy think tank in San Francisco.
Aalok has a BA in International Relations from Tufts University and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Interim Vice President for Global Arts and Culture and Director, Asia Society Museum
Peggy Loar is a museum professional with global experience in museum planning and program development, museum architecture and design, and museum leadership. She currently serves as President of International Museum Planning Consultants, a boutique advisory services firm.
Prior to this role, she was the Interim Vice President for Global Arts and Culture and Director of the Asia Society Museum in New York City (2014-2015) and the Interim President and Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design in Washington, DC., where she facilitated the merger of the Corcoran with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University (2013-2014). From 2008-2013, she served as the founding Director of the new National Museum of Qatar, in Doha, designed by Jean Nouvel, where she brought 30 years of experience in museum planning and management, exhibition design and educational programming to the Qatar Museums Authority. Prior to this, she served as Director of the Museum Studio at Voorsanger Architects P.C., in New York City. She is the founding President and Director of two American institutions, The Wolfsonian Museum and Research Center in Miami, Florida and Genoa, Italy, and COPIA. The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, California, where she was later named President Emerita.
Prior to these positions, Ms. Loar was Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES) for 9 years where she developed the program to over 100 for annual circulation nationally and internationally. She was awarded the Smithsonian Gold Medal for Distinguished Service, previously given to only eight individuals in the history of the institution. Ms. Loar also served as the first Program Director of the Institute of Museum Services (now MLS) – the Federal founding agency for American museums, and as Curator of Education and Assistant Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. For eight years she served as President of US ICOM (International Committee of Museums) headquartered with UNESCO in Paris, where she received recognition for her outstanding leadership and invaluable service to the international museum profession. She is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds B.A and M.A. degrees from the University of Cincinnati, and an Arts Leadership Certificate from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Chief Financial Officer
Julia Nelson is a senior financial executive, as well as a certified public accountant, with more than 25 years of nonprofit management experience. Nelson has held leadership finance positions for major American nonprofit and international organizations. She has diverse experience in long-range strategic financial planning, as well as the development of global administration, financial systems, controls, reporting, and audits, as well as working with senior management on significant capital fundraising programs.
Before joining Asia Society, Nelson served as chief financial and administrative officer at American Associates Ben-Gurion University and the International Center for Transitional Justice. Previously, she was the CFO and senior vice president at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the vice president of finance and administration for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Earlier in her career, she worked in financial management positions for the Museum for Jewish Heritage, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, and as the Director of Internal Audit at the International Rescue Committee.
Before moving to the nonprofit world, Julia had a successful career in the private sector, working as a senior auditor/manager for McMahan, Armstrong, and Associates, and later starting her own corporate financial and governmental consulting firm. Julia hails from Chicago, Illinois, and has a Bachelor of Science in accounting from Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado.
Vice President, International Security and Diplomacy, Asia Society Policy Institute
Daniel Russel is Vice President, International Security and Diplomacy, at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). He joined ASPI in April 2018 after a one-year term at the Institute as Diplomat-in-Residence and Senior Fellow.
Formerly, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State, his most recent U.S. government position was serving as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. During his 33-year diplomatic career, Mr. Russel received numerous awards, most recently the 2017 Presidential Rank Award. He served in East Asia, Western Europe, at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and in Washington DC as Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
Prior to his appointment as Assistant Secretary on July 12, 2013, Mr. Russel served at the White House as Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for Asian Affairs. During his tenure there, he helped formulate President Obama’s strategic rebalance to the Asia Pacific region, including efforts to strengthen alliances, deepen U.S. engagement with multilateral organizations, and expand cooperation with emerging powers in the region.
Before joining the NSC in January of 2009, he was Director of the Office of Japanese Affairs and had assignments as U.S. Consul General in Osaka-Kobe, Japan (2005-2008); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands (2002-2005); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus (1999-2002); Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering (1997-99); Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1995-96); Political Section Unit Chief at U.S. Embassy Seoul, Republic of Korea (1992-95); Political Advisor to the Permanent Representative to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Pickering (1989-92); Vice Consul in Osaka and Branch Office Manager in Nagoya, Japan (1987-89); and Assistant to the Ambassador to Japan, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (1985-87).
In 1996, Russel was awarded the State Department's Una Chapman Cox Fellowship sabbatical and authored America’s Place in the World, a book published by Georgetown University. Before joining the Foreign Service, he was manager for an international firm in New York City.
Russel was educated at Sarah Lawrence College and University College London.
Chief Development Officer
Shane Williams-Ness is Chief Development Officer at Asia Society, and is responsible for designing and executing the fundraising strategy for the organization’s global operation, as well providing strategic advice and collaborative support for its network of global centers.
Prior to joining the organization in 2015, she was Vice President of External Affairs at The Japan Society. Before that, she worked at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) for seven years as Chief Marketing and Development Officer. She served as Vice President of Sawchuk, Brown Associates, a public relations and marketing communications firm, and as Senior Engagement Manager at Jaakko Pöyry Management Consulting-Asia Pacific based in Singapore, where she opened the Tokyo office for the firm. She also served as Marketing Manager for the Pioneer Group in Boston, Massachusetts, a position which brought her to the Russian Far East several times working on a U.S.-Russian Joint-Venture forestry project.
Williams-Ness has served as an adjunct professor at Skidmore College and participated in the Skidmore College Business Mentoring Program for 11 years. She is an officer on the Board of The Hyde Museum in Glens Falls, New York and was a Board Member of Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature) for seven years. At age 16, she served as a Rotary ambassador to Japan for a year. Williams-Ness earned a Bachelors in Government & Asian Studies with a minor in Art History at Saint Lawrence University. She studied advanced Japanese speaking at Cornell University and the Harvard Extension School, and studied Landscape History at Radcliff College as part of a certificate program.