Nirupama Menon Rao

Born in Kerala, India, Nirupama Menon Rao is a retired Indian diplomat, Foreign Secretary and Ambassador. She  joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. During her four-decade-long diplomatic career she held several important assignments. She was India’s first woman spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, the first woman high commissioner from her country to Sri Lanka, and the first Indian woman ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. She served as India’s Foreign Secretary from 2009-2011. At the end of that term, she was appointed India’s Ambassador to the United States where she served for a term of two years from 2011-2013.

On her retirement from active diplomatic service, Ambassador Rao entered the world of academics with an appointment as Meera and Vikram Gandhi Fellow at the India Initiative at Brown University in  Providence, Rhode Island.  Ms. Rao has continued to pursue her academic interests and  taught an undergraduate seminar at Brown University titled “India in the World” in 2015 and 2016. 

Ambassador Rao holds an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Pondicherry University in India. She is currently working on a book on India’s China relationship, entitled: “Telling it on the Mountain: India and China, 1949-1962” to be published by Penguin/Random House.  She is a recipient of the Vanitha Ratna Award of the Government of Kerala (2016), the “Citizen Extraordinaire” Award of the Rotary International, Bangalore (2018) and the Kalinga Karubaki Literary Award (Kalinga Literary Festival, Odisha, 2018).   In 2012, she was named to the Global List of the 100 Most Influential Women on Twitter by Rao has a following of 1.3 million persons on Twitter.

In November 2014, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, announced the grant of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship to Ambassador Rao to enable her to work on the completion of her book project on India-China relations. Ms. Rao was a Visiting Scholar at the India China Institute at The New School in New York during April-May 2016, and was appointed a Public Policy Fellow at The Wilson Center in Washington D.C. from June 2017 to end-August 2017. She was a Practitioner-in-Residence of the Bellagio Center in Italy in November 2017.  During Fall 2018, Rao taught a course on India-China relations, entitled: “India’s China relationship, from coexistence, to contest, to competition” as George Ball Adjunct Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, in New York. In  Fall 2019, she was the Pacific Leadership Fellow at the School of Global Politics and Strategy, University of California, San Diego. She is currently a Global Fellow of The Wilson Center

In retirement, Ambassador Rao has also pursued her passion for music. Her first commercial album, entitled “Peace is My Dream”, produced by the Peninsula Studios in New Delhi,  was released in December 2017 by the Universal Music Group (India) label and can be digitally accessed on iTunes (India) , and Spotify. Rao is also a published poet. Her book of poems, “Rain Rising”, published by Rupa & Co., a Delhi-based publishing house, was published in 2004.

In the Summer of 2018, Ambassador Rao and her husband Sudhakar,  set up a Bangalore-based Trust called The South Asian Symphony Foundation to further the cause of peace and mutual understanding in South Asia through the medium of music. 

In November 2018, Rao received the Fellowship of Peace Award conferred by the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Center, Washington D.C.  The citation for the Award mentioned that she was being recognized for her “lifetime work toward peace and cultural understanding through diplomacy and the arts.”

Rao is a member of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, on the Board of Governors of the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER) , New Delhi, a member of the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, and a Councillor on the World Refugee Council, a body established by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) that convenes thought leaders and innovators from across the globe to dialogue, debate and reframe how the international community can best respond to the global refugee crisis. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Nrityagram/Odissi Dance Trust, Bangalore, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore and on the India Trustee Board of the American India Foundation.  She is a member of the Advisory Council of the Women in Public Service Project, the Wilson Center, Washington D.C. She is an Independent Director on the Board of ITC Limited, KEC International Limited,  JSW Steel and Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. She is also a member of the Global Board of the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and a member of the International Advisory Board of the School of Global Politics and Strategy, University of California, San Diego.