Hill Climbers: Seeking a Better World

Posted February 6, 2009 at 3:42pm

After 24 years of working on the Hill, Peter Yeo is moving on. He’s leaving the daily grind of being a Congressional staffer to become vice president for public policy at the United Nations Foundation and executive director of the Better World Campaign. In a way, it seems that Yeo has been on the road to this position for a long time.

[IMGCAP(1)]Until the beginning of this month, Yeo was deputy staff director for the majority office of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He started in 1999, when Democrats occupied the minority office and then stayed on when they became the majority in 2006.

With President Barack Obama putting great emphasis on the United

States re-engaging other countries and re-establishing its foreign policy, Yeo said it seemed like the perfect time to take his new job.

“It’s an exciting time to be working on U.N. issues,” he said, and to be part of the effort to “make sure that the U.N. is part of that re-engagement.”

Yeo came to Washington to pursue his love of policy and politics, but his passion has always been for foreign affairs.

“My great-grandfather was from Shanghai and my mother always told me stories about him growing up there,” he recalled. The stories sparked his interest in China and world affairs and led to his decision to work in politics.

When Yeo graduated from Wesleyan University in 1985, he decided to make a career of his love for politics and policy, and took a job as a legislative assistant to then-Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.). It was four years before he got to work on foreign affairs, but when the time came, Yeo says he was quite happy.

Yeo moved from Gejdenson’s office to the Resources Committee and then the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Trade, where he worked from 1989 to 1994. The following year, he became a political appointee on legislative affairs for the State Department and stayed there until 1999, when he first became deputy staff director for the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Working on the global HIV/AIDS bills in 2003 and 2008 are Yeo’s most memorable achievements on the Hill, but he says the most significant moment during those 24 years came when he met his wife. Both were working for Connecticut Representatives at the time, and have been married for 18 years.

In his new job with the U.N. Foundation, Yeo will be working on many of the same issues he worked on when he was with the committee, such as global health and climate change. However, he will also be pushing the U.N.’s message to lawmakers and staffers, promoting not only the organization’s agenda, but also its value to the United States.

Part of the challenge will be breaking down misconceptions about the U.N. and reinforcing the idea that it is a “cost-effective and streamlined institution” that can be beneficial to U.S. interests. He will also be working on what he calls the “never-ending task” of keeping Members and staffers up to date on U.N. achievements.

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