“There is no greater multiplier in the fight against poverty than an educated female.”
—Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
An intrepid chronicler of strong and resourceful women, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about the power of resilience, courage, and grit to overcome obstacles. She is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a CNN National Security Analyst, and the author of the New York Times bestsellers Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield and The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, about a young entrepreneur who supported her community under the Taliban.
Lemmon, who earned her MBA from Harvard, brings business acumen to inspiring stories about people working to better their communities against long economic odds. She also speaks about her own experiences growing up in a community of single mothers, and about being the first in her immediate family to graduate from college.
Lemmon began her career as a journalist in Washington. From 1997 to 2004, she covered presidential politics and public policy issues for the ABC News Political Unit. She also served as an editorial producer during the first year of This Week with George Stephanopoulos. In 2004, she left ABC News to pursue her interest in international development and earn her MBA. While serving as a vice president at the global investment management firm PIMCO, she began reporting from conflict regions.
Lemmon has reported on Afghanistan since she made her first trip to the country in 2005. She has written about Afghanistan’s politics and economy, the evolving roles of Afghan women, and the country’s small but important cohort of young entrepreneurs. In 2011, after years of immersive research, she wrote The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, the “transporting, enlightening” (People) story of Kamila Sidiqi, a fearless entrepreneur who started a dressmaking business in her living room. Eventually, her business created jobs and hope for 100 women in her war-town Kabul neighborhood.
Lemmon’s second book, Ashley’s War, tells the story of Cultural Support Teams, the US Army’s pilot program to put women on the battlefield alongside Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan. The idea was that women could access places and people that had remained out of reach, and could build relationships—woman to woman—in ways that male soldiers in such a conservative country could not. Film rights to the book were bought at auction by FOX 2000 and Reese Witherspoon’s production company. Ashley’s War was also named to the 2016 Special Operations Command Commander’s Reading List and the 2018 Defense Intelligence Agency’s Reading List.
In addition to her work on foreign policy and the fight to end child marriage, Lemmon has written a number of pieces about women and girls for The Atlantic, including “We Need to Tell Girls They Can Have It All (Even If They Can’t),” which earned a shoutout in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
In Lemmon’s next book, slated for 2021, she examines what ISIS has left in its wake in the Middle East: a radical experiment in women’s equality in an unlikely place, led by Kurdish women who spent years battling the Islamic State.
Lemmon served as a contributor to The Atlantic’s Defense One site and writes regularly on national security and foreign policy issues. She appears frequently on broadcast networks including PBS, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, and National Public Radio to discuss national security issues. She delivered the opening talk at TEDxWomen 2011, arguing that investing in women can positively transform the global economy. Her presentation was named a TED Talk of the Day.
Lemmon has consulted for the World Bank and penned working papers for the Council on Foreign Relations, arguing for comprehensive, long-term, collaborative approaches to help entrepreneurs in fragile states and developing economies overcome challenges in accessing capital, markets, networks, and business-skills training. Her writing has been published by The New York Times, The Financial Times, Fast Company, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, and The Daily Beast.
Gayle has spoken at Harvard, West Point, Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and many other universities; she delivered the commencement address at Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2018. She has also spoken to audiences at the United Nations, Facebook, the RAND Corporation, the Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Women’s Leadership Symposium, Coldwell Banker, and Novartis Pharmaceuticals, among other military and corporate audiences.
Lemmon graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. She earned an MBA from Harvard, where she received the 2006 Dean’s Award for her work on women’s entrepreneurship. She was a Fulbright scholar in Spain and a Robert Bosch Foundation fellow in Germany. Today she serves as Partner and Chief Marketing Officer of technology company Shield AI, which develops AI systems to protect the lives of service members and civilians. Lemmon also serves on the boards of Mercy Corps and the International Center for Research on Women and is a member of the Bretton Woods Committee. In 2018, she received an inaugural Cultural Vistas Award in recognition of her “notable contributions toward advancing global skill-building opportunities for students and young professionals.” She speaks Spanish, German, and French, along with some Dari and Kurdish.