Ambassador Swanee Hunt

Board Member


Raised in Dallas, Swanee Hunt made her mark addressing challenges facing communities in her adopted city of Denver. There, she co-founded a halfway house for the mentally ill and, building on eight years in theological seminaries, became minister of pastoral care in an ecumenical parish.

In 1980, she started a private family foundation, Hunt Alternatives, through which she funded more than 400 community-based organizations addressing a knot of issues, including intervention for teen runaways, violence prevention, job creation, public education, and leadership in impoverished communities.

As part of her lifelong work on increasing philanthropy, she co-founded the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, a pioneer in what has become an international coalition. And, at a systemic level, Dr. Hunt worked with the Colorado governor and two Denver mayors chairing initiatives on children and family services, mental health reform, women’s empowerment, affordable housing and homelessness, and a comprehensive “human capital agenda.”

From 1993 to 1997, Swanee served as President Clinton’s ambassador to Austria, where she hosted negotiations and international symposia focused on stopping the genocide in Bosnia and stabilizing the neighboring Balkan states. She combined her proficiency in domestic and foreign policy to become a specialist in the role of women in post-communist Europe. In 1997, she launched “Vital Voices: Women in Democracy,” convening leaders in business, law, and politics from 39 countries, East and West; the conference spawned a US State Department initiative and eventually separate NGO co-chaired by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

After four years in Europe, Ambassador Hunt was invited to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to create the Women and Public Policy Program. She is now the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy and has taught at the school for more than two decades.

She relocated Hunt Alternatives to Cambridge, MA, where she created major national and international programs that have spanned the globe and more than two decades. Her work promoting the full inclusion of women leaders in international security processes has reached more than sixty countries. In addition, the foundation advocates for political parity for US women in highest-level elected positions, supports scores of leaders of domestic social movements, and disseminates strategies to strengthen youth arts organizations among disadvantaged populations.

In each of these settings, sex trafficking has been a significant component of Dr. Hunt’s work. In Denver, her initiative on homelessness included girls in foster care, tragically a major source of vulnerable prey for pimps. In Vienna, she led the US delegation to the European Union conference on trafficking in Vienna. Vital Voices, which was brought back to the US by First Lady Clinton, took up sex trafficking as their first major initiative. At Harvard, she regularly taught in courses on modern-day slavery and is senior advisor for trafficking at the Carr Center for Human Rights.

But in the last 12 years, the center of her work on sex trafficking has been Demand Abolition, a Hunt Alternatives program focused on abolishing sexual exploitation in the US by combatting the demand for illegal purchased sex and increasing accountability for buyers. Swanee and the team have worked closely with an active network of survivor leaders, criminal justice professionals, practitioners, researchers, policymakers, corporate leaders, philanthropists, media, and others.

Ambassador Hunt has spoken and written extensively on the subject. Her 2013 article in The Brown Journal of World Affairs, “Deconstructing Demand: The Driving Force of Sex Trafficking,” laid out the theoretical argument for fighting trafficking by focusing on the mostly men who purchase commercial sex. One of her articles in Foreign Affairs was about the massive migration of girls and women who were being trafficked from eastern Europe to western Europe. In 2015, Swanee partnered with Jimmy Carter to write “We Can End the Illegal Sex Trade” for Politico.

Swanee has welcomed sex trafficking survivors in her home, hosted multiple conferences, worked extensively with law enforcement, and been a leading voice to raise awareness about the demand that fuels sexual exploitation. Her quest to learn about effective policy solutions has led her to form relationships with anti-trafficking movement leaders around the world. She has worked with the US Congress on demand reduction and with a series of ambassadors-at-large for global trafficking at the State Dept.

One of Demand Abolition’s flagship projects was a collaboration of local teams in twelve cities who for six years tested tactics to deter men from buying sex. Out of that work has come 21 documented strategies ready to be published to use as an advocacy tool for federal action.

In addition to her publications described above, Dr. Hunt has authored three syndicated columns, plus articles for The New York Times, Foreign Policy Magazine, CNN, The Boston Globe, et al. Duke University Press published her four books: This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace; Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for Global Security; Rwandan Women Rising, and a memoir, Half-Life of a Zealot.

A widely-exhibited photographer and a composer, for 25 years she was married to international conductor and impresario Charles Ansbacher. Her world includes their three children and a menagerie of cat, parrot, horses, bison, and grandchildren.