CEO of the International Women’s Forum
Back when Stephanie O’Keefe was growing up, it was nearly unheard-of for a student from Hinton to end up at Harvard University. But that’s exactly what she did, and her world changed forever when she got there.
O’Keefe says moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, fresh out of high school was a very difficult transition. “One of my freshman roommates expected me to show up with no shoes or teeth,” she says. “I was totally alone. I didn’t know anyone. But it gave me an opportunity to dispel misconceptions about West Virginia and create a community for myself. I realized it was time for me to learn and to explore the world in every way possible.”
Going away allowed O’Keefe to learn about other kinds of people, reflect on where she came from, and discover what she valued. She also learned to evaluate every opportunity that came her way. In fact, her professional path has been “very non-linear,” including a post on former Governor Gaston Caperton’s task force on Children, Youth, and Families.
“The mandate for our group was to create a mechanism by which services could be delivered to children in a more efficient way. We set up a 501(c)(3), and the program still exists today, working to improve the lives of children. I am still so proud and honored to have been part of that work.”
She took a break from working out of the home for four years when she had children and feels fortunate to have had the connections that helped her find her way back when she was ready. “I think this is something the world needs to be more mindful of. It’s critically important to allow and provide an on-ramp for women as their priorities change over the arc of their lives,” she says.
O’Keefe currently serves at the helm of the International Women’s Forum—a global organization made up of women from 33 countries who meet to foster cooperation and problem-solving across professions, distance, and cultures. She organizes biannual conferences in different locations around the globe, where prominent women meet to examine global issues in a local context through a woman’s lens. Her next conference is in Las Vegas later this year, and some of the world’s most brilliant women will meet there to discuss authoritarianism and democracy, clean water, and mental health.
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Since 2014 WV Living magazine has been honoring West Virginia Wonder Women, amazing women who are raising the bar in their communities, serving as beacons of light in their industries, and forcing change for the greater good. WV Living is proud to celebrate these Appalachian mothers, millennials, and mavens proving that in a time full of uncertainty, divisiveness, and hate, love for one another is all we really need. No need for bulletproof bracelets or a golden lasso of truth—these women are creating a better West Virginia with their can-do attitudes and Mountain State spirit.