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Sousan Abadian

Dr. Sousan Abadian has an independent practice, teaching, speaking and consulting internationally on leadership, innovation, and culture change. She helps her clients cultivate adaptive leadership skills and inner exponential technologies to enhance their well-being, creativity, resilience, and performance.

Dr. Abadian earned a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University, an M.P.A. in International Development from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and an M.A. in the Anthropology of Social Change and Development, also from Harvard University.  She was an associate at Cambridge Leadership Associates facilitating workshops and giving keynotes on Adaptive Leadership. Most recently, she served as a Franklin Fellow at the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2017-2019). Her portfolio included preventing violent extremism, rights of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Asia, gender issues, atrocity prevention, and cultural restoration.  She has also been a Fellow at MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values as well as at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. Her earlier research on healing the effects of long-standing collective trauma and cultural damage, a key contributing factor in violence and impoverishment, was described by Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen as “pioneering” and “highly original.” 

Sousan has delivered talks and facilitated leadership trainings for international audiences from the business and nonprofit worlds, for government and religious leaders, tribal chiefs, conflict resolution experts, as well as civil society actors, both independently and as an Associate at Cambridge Leadership Associates. She is equally comfortable facilitating meaningful conversations and processes in mud huts, in religious sanctuaries, as she is in corporate settings. 



A global citizen with feet planted in diverse worlds and disciplines, Sousan has command of a vast and unique field of experience. Early in her career, she studied international economic development and cultural anthropology, focusing on culturally appropriate and gender sensitive poverty alleviation strategies in non-Western contexts. Beginning in the early 1980s, she traveled to Bangladesh and India to research BRAC, Grameen Bank, and other micro-lending enterprises and methods of income generation for the poorest of poor, mostly women and children. 

Sousan's research interest in population policies was a natural outgrowth of her concern for the welfare of impoverished women, their children, and the natural environment. She was among the early researchers who wrote about the importance of investing in women’s health and education as a means of reducing fertility. In “Women’s Autonomy and its Impact on Fertility,” lead article for World Development (1996), she provided an econometric analysis demonstrating that reducing population worldwide requires empowering women -- giving them greater autonomy and say over their lives. She also surmised that this requires leadership to initiate and sustain the necessary cultural changes, and trained at Harvard's Kennedy School in their Adaptive Leadership programs.   

Turning her attentions closer to home, Sousan began to research tribal communities in the U.S. and Canada. In her Harvard doctoral dissertation, From Wasteland to Homeland: Trauma and the Renewal of Indigenous Peoples and their Communitiessupervised by Nobel Laureate in Economics Amartya Sen, she describes how unresolved collective trauma contributes to keeping individuals and their communities stuck in generational cycles of poverty and violence, and how some have broken through by undergoing healing and exercising leadership. 

Having plumbed the depths of trauma, Sousan has also trained in positive psychology and non-traditional modalities to bring a deeper understanding of what it takes for individuals and cultures to become healthy, resilient, and innovative. She offers talks and workshops, coaching and consultation for individuals and organizations internationally so that they can create from a place of expanded possibility and wellbeing.


Sousan currently lives in the Washington D.C. area, and before the pandemic, you might have found her riding her bike or writing at her favorite spot at the National Cathedral or Caffe Amouri in Vienna, VA. She has two beautiful children, David and Ariana.

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