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Nirupama Rao

Former Public Policy Fellow and Asia Program Advisory Board Member

Professional affiliation

Former Indian Foreign Secretary; Former Indian Ambassador to Washington and Beijing

Full Biography

Nirupama Rao is a former Indian Foreign Service officer. She retired as Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, the senior most position in the Foreign Service, being the second woman to occupy the post (2009-2011). She was the first woman spokesperson (2001-02) of the Indian foreign office. She served as India's first woman High Commissioner (Ambassador) to Sri Lanka (2004-2006) and to the People's Republic of China (2006-2009). She was Ambassador of India to the United States from 2011 to 2013. In retirement she has taught at various universities, including as a Senior Visiting Fellow in International and Public Affairs at the Watson Institute at Brown University where she taught an undergraduate seniors course on "India in the World" and as George Ball Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Her book entitled "The Fractured Himalaya: India Tibet China, 1949 to 1962" was published by Penguin India in October 2021. Ambassador Rao was a Fellow at the India-China Institute of The New School, New York in 2016, Public Policy Fellow at The Wilson Center, Washington D.C. in 2017 and Pacific Leadership Fellow at the School of Global Politics and Strategy, University of California at San Diego in 2019. She is a Global Policy Fellow of the Wilson Center. She was a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow from 2015-2016 and a Practitioner-in-Residence at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Italy in 2017. She is a member of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, a member of the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, on the Board of the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER), and a Councillor on the World Refugee and Migration Council. She is also a Member of the Board of Directors of the US India Business Council and heads the Board of Trustees of the India board of the American India Foundation (AIF). She has an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (2012) from Pondicherry University, India. She is a staunch believer in the power of social media as an advocacy platform for policy and currently has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Ambassador Rao is the recipient of a number of awards recognizing her contributions in public service. She received the K.P.S Menon Memorial Award in 2010, the Sree Chithira Thirunal Award in 2011, the Vanitha Ratna Award of the Government of Kerala in 2016 and the Citizen Extraordinaire Award of Rotary International in 2018. She is also the recipient of the Fellowship of Peace Award of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington D.C in 2018.

Ambassador Rao is a Founder-Trustee of The South Asian Symphony Foundation (SASF) ( - a not-for-profit Trust which is dedicated to promoting mutual understanding in South Asia through the creation of a South Asian Symphony Orchestra (SASO).

Previous Terms

May-July, 2017: “Telling it on the Mountain: A Diplomatic History of India and China, 1949 to 1962”