Leadership and Innovation During the Pandemic

More than 200 attendees from 37 countries and five continents joined us by Zoom.

Conceived as a celebration of our international community and as a way to bring the College to them, the inaugural International Forum was to be a three-day program in London last March with more than 150 registrants from across the globe to attend in-person. Then COVID-19 intervened.

Fast forward to March 2021: two separate “fireside chats” were held by President Kim Cassidy with the Rt. Hon. Baroness Lindsay Northover, M.A. ’78, Ph.D. ’81, dialing in from London and, two days later, Trustee Amy Hsu ’94, dialing in from Taiwan. Interactive post-chat breakout sessions enabled attendees to continue deeper conversation with Mawrters from around the world.

More than 200 attendees from 37 countries and five continents joined us by Zoom, including alumnae/i from every decade starting in the 1940s, parents, trustees, senior administrators, club leaders, friends, and volunteers. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Although we cannot possibly include the breadth and depth of the conversations here, we have culled a few nuggets from the fireside chats to give you a taste.

Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden: There was a fascinating study by IBM about 15 years ago where more than 15,000 CEOs from a number of countries and industries were surveyed regarding their views on the future. Interestingly, they said that the most critical skill going forward would be creativity.

When you think about that in terms of COVID-19—the complexity of what we have all been coping with and the chronic unknowns that we are living with—it is a compelling thought that the talent market will reward innovation as we go forward, not conformity. With so much more dynamism within the economic, political, and social environment, it is imperative for us to be capable of thinking in a context of the unknowns.

Kimberly Cassidy: For Bryn Mawr, innovation means building from our core strengths rather than moving in a completely different direction.

For example, in the late 2000s, there was a movement in the U.S. around creating massive online courses or MOOCs. While nothing could be more antithetical to Bryn Mawr, we recognized the opportunity to explore what MOOC technology could do for us. So, our faculty started experimenting with technology outside the classroom to free up class time for more of what Bryn Mawr is known for: deep conversations and the exchange of ideas.

We became a leader in “blended learning” because no one had tried it in a small environment like ours. And when COVID-19 hit more than a decade later, we already had the tools and partnerships in place to respond. We innovate by keeping an open mind and taking advantage of resources that may be unique to us. We won’t ever be an online college, but we also don’t simply reject the opportunities.

The Rt. Hon. Baroness Lindsay Northover: Parliament’s amazing technology staff had to immediately up their game because our sessions are broadcasted. As you can imagine, there were all sorts of hitches, from peers being inadvertently muted to cameras looking up noses. Since then, we have moved to a hybrid arrangement where a few members can be in the Chamber while receiving questions remotely. I have to admit that I attend far more meetings of value than ever before. We no longer have to wait for people to come to London to meet. We can loop in experts from across the globe. It is incredibly productive.

The pandemic shows very clearly that we are all interlinked globally and that we must work together on global challenges. For example, the need to vaccinate the world because no one is safe until everyone is safe. Tackling climate change is another area that needs to be done globally.

Amy Hsu: Often, innovation is thought of in terms of the mechanical or technical, but it is also important to think about it on a strategic level. For us, that means partnering with brands that have similar values in terms of sustainability and how we treat workers. In terms of sustainability, we are a leader amongst our peers, and brand partners know to come to us to test new ideas in that area. And we often work with “younger” brands to help them build their own sustainability platforms.

Kimberly Cassidy: The pandemic has made the value of the residential experience abundantly clear to us. One of the most moving and painful lessons was watching our students learn from home. They much prefer to be on campus and in the classroom with fellow lovers of learning. Many institutions have started recording lectures and are finding that their students no longer go to class, either virtually or in person. Not at Bryn Mawr. Our students attend class even when they are recorded because they want to be in the moment. Going forward, we will incorporate many things we have learned into our residential experience—keeping what worked best with our model, but also thinking of innovative ways to enrich what we offer and reach more people who can benefit from a Bryn Mawr education.

Audience Responses

“In European Union countries, you are encouraged to specialize very early in education. I’m grateful for my diverse education at Bryn Mawr because it gave me a wide set of skills that I use every day in my publishing career.” —Ilona Meyer Maintigneux '00, Paris

“Listening to such a frank and open conversation between President Cassidy and the Baroness about crisis management during the pandemic reminded me that there is always a human person behind a title. I was touched by their willingness to speak honestly and with humor about the challenges of leadership in a time of (multiple!) crises.” —Emily Phillips '08, Berlin

“ It was validating, especially in this time of the international pandemic, to experience a sense of connection, resilience, and innovation with fellow Mawrters. At the same time, I was able to reflect upon my personal journey, and use the conversations as a jumping-off point for all the work I still can and must do to help create and sustain opportunities.” —Diane Schreiber, M.S.S. '93, Massachusetts

What's Next?

  • Stay tuned for details about the next International Forum.
  • Continue the conversation at the International Forum’s online community at intlforumgallery.snwallace.digital.brynmawr.edu/ where you can connect with other alumnae/i, learn more about the College today, and find new ways to get involved.

Meet Our Speakers


The Rt. Hon. Baroness Lindsay Northover, M.A. ’78, PH.D. ’81, is the Liberal Democrats’ House of Lords Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Angola and Zambia.


Amy Hsu '94 is the Global CEO at RSI, a worldwide apparel manufacturing company headquartered in Taiwan, and a Bryn Mawr College Trustee.


Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jorden '81 is the President and CEO of The Paradigm Forum GmbH, a global consultancy and think tank operating at the intersection of social justice and workplace innovation.


Kimberly Cassidy is the President of Bryn Mawr College.