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"Growing up in a country embroiled in constant war and bloodshed motivated me to become active politically even as a teenager."
Summary: Riki Drori, 28, recalls that when she arrived in New York from Israel in 1996 she had no money, no friends or family, no job or work permit, and, as the saying goes, no clue. But she quickly found a job at the Israeli consulate and went to Hunter College at night to work toward a bachelor's degree in political science. Despite her heavy workload, she earned a 3.52 GPA, graduated with honors, and made the dean's list. Riki became a campaign adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton during her race for the US Senate in 2000. Ms. Drori plans to study management at the INSEAD business school in France.
Biography: As Riki recalls, she discovered that she was a natural leader at a tragic moment for her and her country: The November 5, 1995, assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally in the main square of Tel Aviv. As an aide to Rabin's media adviser, she was standing on stage when the Prime Minister was shot. Pandemonium erupted but, back in her office, Riki took command as others on Rabin's staff were immobilized by shock and grief. She answered hundreds of phone calls, arranged a news conference, and started planning for the biggest funeral in Israel's history. She was only 19 years old. "On that day, I felt my leadership potential manifested itself," she recalls. "I was able to rise to the challenge, motivate others to work, and lead them in the midst of chaos to achieve objectives."
Yet Ms. Drori realized that she had serious shortcomings as well. She acknowledged that she did not pay enough attention to details, often worked on impulse, and failed to formulate long-range plans, reacting to events rather than being pro-active. After she finished her compulsory military service, she moved to New York City to pursue higher education. Even though she lacked friends, family, or a work permit, she was hired by the Israeli Consulate. She worked days, went to Hunter College at night, and studied far into the night. "I was often exhausted, but never so happy," she recalls. "I believe I acquired invaluable skills by having to work to support myself and pay my way through college."
She also acquired another skill when the consulate asked her to give a talk to a large audience. When her careful plan for the speech was not working, she discarded it and spoke about her personal experiences, winning applause and starting a series of more than 100 lectures. After advising Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton about approaches to Jewish voters in 2000, Riki went to work for a marketing firm dealing with start-up technology firms. Starting from the bottom, she mastered the new field and was promoted to account supervisor.
After her master's studies at INSEAD, Riki plans to return to Israel and form a new political party with a base of young business leaders. Her ultimate goal is to be named minister of education or minister of finance in a future Israeli government. "It is time for those with global business orientation to replace the generals as political leaders in the Middle East," she declares.
Trinity College of Music (London)
Appalachian State University
Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government; Harvard Business School