Yoon Joung Lee
The highest ranking Hispanic official at the State Department and first Latina Under Secretary in its history, Maria Otero, was born in La Paz, Bolivia, one of nine children. Her family moved to Washington D.C. when she was 12 years old for her father to take a position with the inter- American Development Bank.
She holds an M.A in literature from the University of Maryland and M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins. When she was young she was hoping to become a literature professor after her study. She was almost halfway through an English Ph.D., when her politically-minded brothers and turmoil in Latin America changed her mind.
Formerly she was the CEO and President of ACCION International, a nonprofit organization that supports microfinance institutions in their work to provide financial services to low-income clients around the globe. Under her leadership, the organization expanded dramatically. The people they are reaching and serving has grown from 460,000 people to over 3.7 million and their combined portfolio has grown from $274 million to $3.6 million. Throughout her achievement, she is recognized as one of the world’s leaning experts on microfinance, women’s issues and poverty alleviation.
In 2000, she was appointed by President Clinton to the board of the United States Institute of Peace and she held that position for 8 years. In 2006, she was appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to the UN Advisors Group on Inclusive Financial Sectors. Otero also has chaired the board of Bread for the World and served on the boards of the Calvert Foundations, the Inter-American Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation and BRAC Holding of Bangladesh.
In 2009, she was appointed as Under Secretary of State, overseeing and coordinating U.S. foreign relations with civilian security issues including human rights, human trafficking, and global criminal justice. Otero was presented in Newsweek 2005 as one of the United States’ twenty most influential women. Hispanic Business Magazine selected her as ‘Elite Women of 2007’. She also received Notre Dame University’s Distinguished Service in Latin America Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.