Penny Abeywardena is New York City’s Commissioner for International Affairs. She represents NYC on the international stage and leads the de Blasio administration’s global platform for promoting a more just and accessible society.
The first thing I do every morning is have a snuggle with my three-year-old—he usually sneaks into our bed at the crack of dawn—and start a whisper conversation with him about our day. So much better than checking my phone!
The book that has had the biggest impact on me: King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. It details the first global human rights movement. I read it in college, and it influenced my decision to study and later work for human rights movements.
A major challenge I’ve faced was that I was undocumented for much of my childhood and I was insecure about what I could do, how big I could dream. Thanks to Ronald Reagan’s 1986 legislation I gained a path to citizenship. I became a citizen when I was 15 and it opened up a world of opportunities. I became the ambassador to the global community in the greatest city in the world. I will forever be grateful!
My motto is try it. You learn from everything, including failure and other setbacks, so you had might as well give it your best shot and grow from there.
My management style is to encourage collaboration and entrepreneurship. I think everyone has the potential to be creative and entrepreneurial—the key is to support that potential.
Representing New York City on the international stage requires patience. We’re host to the largest diplomatic corps in the world, representing a myriad of cultures, values, and priorities. To find common ground, it’s important to be open-minded.
The thing that people always want to know about New York City is: Is it as awesome as it looks? Yes. Yes, it is.
My favorite podcasts are Deep State Radio, because I need to stay up to date on the current state of foreign policy and especially need SANE reflections on it; and VOX’s Today Explained, which offers excellent short analysis of current events.