NYC Welcomes Natalia Quintavalle in the Consul General’s Office: An Interview with Italian Journal

The first woman to be appointed as Italian Consul General in New York, Minister Plenipotentiary Natalia Quintavalle took her seat at the Park Avenue Consulate in September 2011. The prestigious assignment is only the last of a series of important achievements in her diplomatic career, which has seen her actively work in the defense of human rights and in the promotion of Italian culture and interests in the world.

IJ: In the course of your diplomatic career, you have worked in very different environments, from Toulouse to Riad. What are your expectations for such a hectic and culturally vibrant city as New York?

NQ: Toulouse was my first post abroad. The town was and still is culturally and socially rich and the Italian community quite diverse and stimulating. Riad was for me a completely new world where I learned to understand the real meaning of the expression ‘dialogue among religions and civilizations’. I was the first women diplomat in both these posts and my work was an everyday challenge but I survived and it seems that I didn’t do a bad job. What could I say about NY which does not sound hackneyed or stereotyped? In the summer of 2004, a few months after my arrival in New York, I suddenly realized that in spite of spending almost 12 hours in our mission or the UN I had been to more concerts, musical, operas, conferences, exhibitions and performances than in the 4 years just spent in an although international, beautiful and rich town as Geneva. So, I expect to keep up with this trend.

IJ: This will be your second time in New York, having previously worked in the city as First Commercial Counselor of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations. What are the main tasks and activities you are going to perform as the new Italian Consul General?

NQ: The role of Consulates has changed enormously in the last decades, following the changing environment and the evolution of the Italian presence in the world. NY is the prototype of a new way of taking care of the Italian presence, interests and potentialities. My predecessors took care of the social and administrative needs of the Italian residents and assisted them in emergency situations. At the same time they did a lot to promote the image of our country both in the economic and cultural sectors. I will do my best to continue what they started with the aim of further improving exchanges and mutual understanding between the two countries, without forgetting that Italy is part (an important part) of ‘old Europe’, an increasingly integrating region of the world. The protection of Italian interests in New York involves also the promotion of the understanding of what the European Union is and what it represents in the contest of international relations.

IJ: You have been long active in the human rights field. What are your main goals and what is the commitment that Italy is called to fulfill in this respect?

NQ: I am convinced that Human Rights play a crucial role in guaranteeing peace, preventing conflicts and fostering the growth of stable and democratic societies. What happened in North Africa is strictly linked to violation of Human rights and fundamental liberties and a solution to these crises and the Libyan crisis in particular cannot be found without guaranteeing the respect of Human rights. Thanks to our policy of protecting Human Rights through dialogue with States and cooperation in multilateral forums, Italy has been recently elected for the second time in the Human Rights Council with an almost unanimous support by the General Assembly membership. The promotion of freedom of religion or belief and the protection of religious minorities, together with the promotion of gender equality, the advancement of women and the fight against violence against women are main priorities of our Human Rights foreign policy. In this framework we are promoting an initiative together with other countries, mainly African countries, to stop female genital mutilation.

IJ: What advice would you give to a young person willing to start a diplomatic career today?

NQ: To be a good diplomat today is more difficult than it was at the time when diplomats were for the local authorities and the Italian communities the only representation of the government in a foreign country. The new diplomat is part of a country system where other administrations and non-governmental entities bring their original contributions. A young person willing to start a diplomatic career should ask him/herself three questions: a) Am I ready to work in a team, sharing tasks and honors and assuming common responsibilities? b) Am I ready to be a ‘generalist’ for the rest of my life, specializing only in facilitating a teamwork to represent Italy at its best? c) Am I aware that the ‘diplomatic life’ has an unavoidable impact on family relationships? Am I ready to invest a considerable amount of energy in trying to minimize the negative effects and maximize the best part of it? If the answer is Yes to the three questions, then it’s a good start!

IJ: There is so much talking about the current Italian “brain drain” migration. Based on your personal experience, do you think that, in spite of the crisis, Italy is still able to provide the new generations with opportunities for growth and advancement?

NQ: It is undeniable that a certain number of young Italians leave their country looking for better opportunities for research. It is also true that Italy is still able to attract young people from abroad applying to Italian centers of excellence in the field of nuclear physics or in the health sector and many initiatives at different level have been taken to improve the quality and effectiveness of Italian scientific research system.

IJ: You are the first woman to be appointed as Italian Consul General in New York. It is an important personal achievement. Do you think it is also emblematic of a social change that calls for an increasingly active role of women in traditionally male careers?

NQ: I hope so! Thanks also to the efforts of our association DID (Donne Italiane Diplomatiche), our administration is reserving a growing attention to the added value women can bring in a traditionally male career. Still there is a lot to do to achieve the real cultural change we need to ensure that women diplomat find an environment conducive to a full development of their skills and professionalism.