March 18, 2019
Women in Business Awards 2019

Globalist Torrey helps broaden World Affairs Council's appeal

Photo | J. Fiereck Photography
Photo | J. Fiereck Photography

Megan Torrey

Chief Executive Officer

World Affairs Council of Connecticut

After an arduous two-hour climb to the Tiger's Nest monastery in Bhutan last year, Megan Clark Torrey took a minute to be thankful as she surveyed the spectacular Himalayan landscape.

"I'm the luckiest person. I love what we do," Torrey said, recalling the moment.

Torrey, CEO of the World Affairs Council of Connecticut (WACC), led a tour of Nepal and Bhutan focused on learning about Himalayan cultures. Overcoming the effects of altitude and the steep terrain, Torrey and 17 others trekked to Tiger's Nest and toured the grounds of the Buddhist holy site.

"It was a really special experience," Torrey said.

All in a day's work for the Hartford-based nonprofit executive, who has traveled on behalf of WACC to countries including Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Turkey. In just one four-month period in 2018, she visited Ireland and Taiwan in addition to Nepal and Bhutan, all while representing the World Affairs Council.

Torrey's job allows her "to be able to work in a field where I get to explore all kinds of global issues and to bring those global issues to the community," she said. "It's so essential that we understand what's going on in the world, because inevitably what is going on in China, what is happening in the Middle East, what is happening in Venezuela, impacts all of us in ways maybe we don't understand on a daily basis."

Under Torrey's leadership, the World Affairs Council of Connecticut has expanded from its historic roots. Founded in 1924, WACC traditionally educated Hartford's elite on foreign affairs, often seeing ahead of the curve on topics like Japanese and German imperialism in the decades before World War II. "We've had this really great history of staying on top of global trends," Torrey said.

Even as WACC continued to draw top-level speakers, its membership and audience had stagnated by the time Torrey first came onboard as program director in 2003.

Her mission as program director was to expand the organization's offerings and make changes to draw a more diverse audience.

"The biggest thing I wanted to do was make our organization accessible, to break down those barriers of perception — that you have to be a certain age or have a certain educational level to come to our programs," Torrey said. She focused on social media outreach and lowering the cost of programs to expand the group's audience.

When it came time to pick a new leader of WACC in 2013, Board Chairman Peter Kelly championed Torrey ahead of candidates with more conventional backgrounds.

"I had worked with Megan and she was an extraordinarily talented young person," said Kelly, a nationally known lawyer and political consultant. "She's completely committed to the subject matter … she's without fear. She's just very capable, she works very comfortably with people of significant standing in the world."

Kelly also praised Torrey's fundraising acumen and success in creating new audiences for WACC events. Developing global literacy in Connecticut's young people has become a major focus of the organization under Torrey's stewardship.

The number of high school students participating in WACC's Model United Nations program has grown from 600 in 2015 to 1,000 in 2018, with more growth expected this year. Another signature effort is the pilot Connecticut Certificate of Global Engagement program, which allows students to earn credit for foreign language and world history study.

"We know that equipping our youth with global skills is going to make our workforce strong," Torrey said.

Links with the state's business community have also been renewed, with the establishment of a senior advisory council made up of top-level executives from around the state.

"That's step one. … The next step from that would be to actually create a resource for the training of people in second layer of management in international business," Kelly said. "We have a huge amount of international business in this state."

Finding a passion

Working on world affairs in her home state was a dream job for Torrey, a native of Newington. A high school French-class trip to Paris was Torrey's first introduction to world travel.

"I realized I found my passion — that understanding and knowing about the world was something that I wanted to do," she said. After earning a bachelor's and master's degree in international relations at Central Connecticut State University, Torrey did graduate work in Paris but was called home to care for ailing relatives.

"When that was over and it was time for me to find employment, I was very lucky to stumble upon the World Affairs Council," Torrey said.

Challenges ahead for her organization include expanding its fundraising base, navigating the rancorous political climate and keeping focus on the underlying issues affecting global affairs in a time of incessant "breaking news."

"I'm so lucky to be the steward of this organization at this particular time in history," Torrey said. "What happens in the world impacts all of us."

Q&A

What legacy do you want to leave after your career is over?

I want to be a part of building a future that is better than our present. To me, that means a community that is globally connected, a thriving economic center of global business connections, secure in the understanding that competitive advantage can be found in embracing our differences rather than our divisions.

It's made up of the 1,000-plus high school students who participate in the Model UN each year, the influence of the 100-plus global leaders and experts who visit our community each year without payment to share their singular expertise, the 10,000-plus community members that attend our events each year and leave with a deeper understanding of the world, or a shift in understanding about another culture, or a wider window into the impact they can wield. It's the fabric of the community they build together — if I can claim a fraction of that as my legacy, I've done my job.

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