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Isobel Coleman

Term: June 2013 – June 2019
NOLS Courses: Brooks Range Wilderness River Course 1987, Advisory Council Board Float Ladore 1998, Advisory Council Fly Fishing Trip 2002

Isobel participated in a NOLS course in Alaska the summer after graduating from college in 1987. NOLS has had a special place in her heart since that time. Her son Cullen completed a semester-long NOLS course in the Pacific Northwest in 2012. Isobel served on the NOLS Advisory Council from 1998 to 2006.

Isobel graduated from Princeton University with a BA in public policy and East Asian studies after which she attended Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship where she completed a Ph.D. in International Relations. After Oxford, she was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC and then joined McKinsey & Co. as a management consultant. At McKinsey, she worked primarily with financial institutions and became a partner in their New York office. She left McKinsey in 2000 to run a start-up company which she sold to a strategic investor in 2002.

For the past decade, Isobel has worked at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York, where she is a senior fellow and director of CFR's Civil Society, Markets, & Democracy program. Her areas of expertise include the political economy of the Middle East, democratization, civil society, economic development, educational reform, and gender issues. She is the author and coauthor of numerous books, including Pathways to Freedom: Political and Economic Lessons from Democratic Transitions (Council on Foreign Relations, 2013), The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Security (Routledge Press, 2012), Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East (Random House, 2010), Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), and Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (Hoover Institution Press, 2006).

Her writings have appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, and Forbes, and online venues such as and She also writes the blog "Democracy in Development" on She is a frequent speaker at academic, business, and policy conferences. In 2010, she served as a track leader at the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2011, Newsweek named her as one of "150 Women Who Shake the World."

In addition to NOLS, Isobel serves on several non-profit boards, including Plan USA, Student Sponsor Partners, and American Corporate Partners. She lives on Long Island with her husband Struan Coleman and their five children.

Board of Trustees Profiles in Alphabetical Order …

Greg M. Avis
James B. Barnes
F. Fox Benton III
Robert O. Bethge
Caroline B. Burnett
Joan K. Chitiea
David W. Cohen
Howard P. Colhoun

T. Morgan Dixon
Jane Foley Fried
N. Stuart Harris
Stefan Jackson
Donald M. Kendall
Fred J. Kleisner
Douglas S. Luke
Homer L. Luther

Ethan O. Meers
Annie Morita
Herbie Ogden, M.D.
Cynthia A. Pierce
Marc B. Randolph
Monica Rimai
Michael Schmertzler
Gene R. Tremblay

Students travel through Wyoming's Wind River Mountains-a wilderness range renowned for its crystal clear lakes and rugged mountain beauty.
Photo: Rainbow Weinstock

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