Susanne Peterson, Tibetan Nuns Project's new U.S. Operations Manager.
After a substantial search the Seattle administrative office of the Tibetan Nuns Project has hired a U.S. operations manager, a Microsoft veteran named Susanne Peterson, to help guide the organization through the coming years.
Peterson, 51, said she sought the position because it met a set of goals she’d developed after a decade at Microsoft in marketing and community-building.
“I felt that once I got to a certain place in my life I really wanted to utilize my skills in a way that was more meaningful to me and contributed to the well-being of people in this world,” she said. “In particular I'm interested in working for women’s causes and advancing their opportunities in education and success in leadership roles. I want to help further women’s opportunities around the world, especially women who haven’t had the opportunities that I’ve had.”
After leaving Microsoft in 2005 Peterson volunteered for the State Poverty Action Network, a project of the Solid Ground non-profit in Seattle. There she coordinated membership and volunteer activities and got high marks from the organization for her contributions.
The Tibetan Nuns Project also was established in response to a real need. It was founded in 1987 to develop new monastic settings for a large influx of nuns escaping from Tibet and arriving in India. Tibetan Nuns Project has evolved into a unique organization that supports nearly 700 nuns in six nunneries in India through direct sponsorships from people around the world.
The organization moved from Berkeley to Seattle three years ago. It now operates out of a simple but cheerful one-room office, painted white with large windows, on the fourth floor of an old loft building in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
The TNP mission is to provide essential care for ordained Tibetan women, as well as supporting their secular and Buddhist educations. Many of these nuns are now receiving levels of training they didn’t get even in pre-Chinese Tibet and they’re advancing rapidly in their studies.
“I was so impressed by how much work has been done, and how much the organization has accomplished,” Peterson said. “I was especially drawn to the organization because of its education program that combines courses in English, mathematics, social studies and computers as well as courses in Tibetan philosophical studies and dialectics. Essentially traditional values, with skills and knowledge the nuns need to live in the modern world.”
In her new role as U.S. operations manager, Peterson faces the challenging task of running the Seattle office and tracking donations from hundreds of sponsors from all over the world, as well as managing volunteers, fundraising, community building and events. She also communicates with the main office in India and regularly transfers funds to India to support the nuns and nunneries there.
Basic sponsorship costs $360 a year for each nun. Peterson said she’s been impressed by how dedicated the organization’s sponsors are, even in difficult times.
“We have this amazing outpouring of support for our work, for the nuns and the nunneries, from all over the world,” she said. “We have quite a few sponsors who have been sponsoring nuns for years and years. Even in the economic downturn people are supporting our work and nuns through thick and thin.”
While she’s not specifically a Buddhist practitioner, Peterson said she’s been meditating regularly for years and that she’s happy to be in a position to learn more about the Dharma. She’s also very interested in learning more about the nuns themselves and hopes to travel to India to spend time with them to better understand their culture and day-to-day practices.
“One of the other reasons I am so thrilled about getting this position is being able to learn more about Buddhist lineages and being involved in the Buddhist community. It’s a huge opportunity for me and I am very grateful,” she said, adding that she’d like to make a trip to India in 2009.
Peterson also is interested in developing ties to the members of Northwest Dharma Association and to the Buddhist community in the region.
“First what I want to do is get everything running smoothly here, to make sure we’re getting funds directly to India so the programs can continue,” she said. “Then I want to introduce myself to the local community and figure out what’s going on and where it makes sense for us to engage.”
For more information about the Tibetan Nuns Project, please visit: www.tnp.org.
Contributor: Steve Wilhelm.
Photo: Courtesy Tibetan Nuns Project.