Colleen Mudlaff is the president of the DC-based Women’s Diplomatic Series (WDS), an organization that she and a handful other women founded in the fall of 2009.
Their goal is to encourage women to be better global citizens, through exposure to Washington’s distinguished diplomatic community. And they are certainly hitting their target.
We were honored to join the group in the fall of 2014, and have already visited with the ambassador of Pakistan, Jalil Abbas Jilani, and his wife, Shaista Jilani, as well as the ambassador of Botswana, Tebelelo Mazile Seretse.
So it was a pleasure to interview Mudlaff, to talk to her about the origins of the group as well as what she envisions for its future. Scroll down to read our Q&A.— Hope Katz Gibbs
DC’s Women’s Diplomatic Series Takes Us on a Magic Carpet Ride
Be Inkandescent: Colleen, tell us about you, and your background, and how you got the WDS started.
Colleen Mudlaff: My husband and I moved our family to Washington in the summer of 2004 from Charlotte, North Carolina, where we had spent about five years. I like to think of moving as an adventure. I love to look for ways to get to know the community—and what I found in Washington was, of course, amazing and also overwhelming. There are so many wonderful things to do and see here, and as you know, so much of it is free.
But I had no idea what to do first. I belonged to the Junior League, and the DC program made regular trips to to embassies and the residences of ambassadors. It quickly became one of my favorite things to do; it was tremendously engaging. But six months into the series, the organization stopped the program and I found I really missed it.
Around that time my husband and I were invited to Euro Night at the French Embassy, and there I ran into the woman who had organized the events for the Junior League. We commiserated about how much we missed the embassy trips and decided to start them up again. So since 2009, that’s what we’ve been doing with the Women’s Diplomatic Series.
Be Inkandescent: One thing that jumped out at me on my first experience with the group was that you described the visits to embassies as “magic carpet rides.” And that is exactly how you feel when you are sitting in the parlor of an ambassador’s home, listening to them describing the beauty and the challenges of their country. I’m sure many women would like to have this opportunity.
Colleen Mudlaff: Our membership is a small group of about 150 women, who join by invitation only. But our website is public so that even those who aren’t members of our group can take a look at what we’re experiencing.
Be Inkandescent: What is your favorite part of running this organization?
Colleen Mudlaff: I like building relationships with the other members. In fact, this group of women met several years ago. It has just been a wonderful networking opportunity for all of the women.
Be Inkandescent: What have been some of your favorite events?
Colleen Mudlaff: One trip that was absolutely remarkable took place on a snow day in January 2012 when we had a luncheon scheduled at the Chilean residence. We went back and forth, trying to decide should we cancel, should we not cancel?
We decided to go ahead with it, and I’m so glad we did. While the ambassador’s wife was the host of our event, the ambassador was home because of the snow day, and his children were there as well.
He and his wife were incredibly charming. When the ambassador had been in Chile, he was in a rock band, and he brought out his guitar and serenaded us. We had these lovely Chilean wines, and delicious food, and everybody was very relaxed, because nobody had anywhere else they had to get to on this snowy day. It was magical!
Be Inkandescent: Tell us about some other take-aways from having been to so many embassies.
Colleen Mudlaff: One thing that is similar is that at every embassy and residence, the representatives of these countries are grateful for the opportunity to share their story with us. Often, we get mixed messages in the media about what’s happening in countries around the world, or we don’t get the whole picture. So, they appreciate having the opportunity to convey information about their country directly to us.
I think a lot of positive things are happening in the world. Certainly there is a lot of commotion as well, but I have enjoyed seeing the positive things and realizing that we are all in this world together, trying to do the best we can.
Be Inkandescent: How did you develop this passion for seeing the world this way, for diplomacy, and for organizing such an interesting organization?
Colleen Mudlaff: My professional background has been in special event planning, and my passion for travel started in high school when I went with my classmates on a trip to Europe: five countries, two weeks. I was attending a Catholic school, so on the trip it felt like we saw every church under the sun. And I’ve been hooked on traveling ever since. My husband and I take our kids to see new places in the United States and also go abroad whenever we can.
Be Inkandescent: Now that you’ve been in DC for a while, does it still hold the same sense of wonder that it did when you first moved here?
Colleen Mudlaff: Absolutely! I think that Washington, DC, offers us a unique window to seeing the world. And we can do it without even boarding a plane; we just have to go down Massachusetts Avenue, or International Drive. After each of the events with the Women’s Diplomatic Series, it’s so much fun to come home, sit at the dinner table, and tell the kids about whom I’ve met—and then show them on a map where that country is and talk about what’s been happening there. I think my kids have really benefited from this group, as well.
Be Inkandescent: What are your plans for the future of the organization?
Colleen Mudlaff: We have an event at the Colombian residence this month, and we are currently working on our bookings for the spring. There are many embassies that we have not visited yet, so there are lots of places still to go! We are just looking forward to continuing this magic carpet ride.
Be Inkandescent: We are pleased that this conversation marks the first appearance of the new Diplomacy column in the magazine. We are looking forward to discussions of diplomacy and featuring the different ambassadors as often as we can to share the benefits with Be Inkandescent subscribers.
For more information, visit WomensDiplomaticSeries.com.