Jan Peterson

Jan PetersonJan is founder and director of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW). Women involved in the group’s organizing efforts credit Jan as a source of their empowerment. They had done fundraising for their organizations, but were left out of decision-making.  “She brought us together and helped us find our power.”

Jan Peterson, Honorary President of the Huairou Commission, was awarded the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honor, one of the world’s most prestigious awards presented to those working on urbanization, in 2009 for four decades of activism for grassroots women and their communities.

Jan has spent her lifetime as an organizer with the mission of empowering poor and working-class women to become community leaders on housing and neighborhood development issues locally in New York City, nationally, and globally. She is the founder of many organizations, most notably the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW, 1974), GROOTS International (1985), and the Huairou Commission (1995), all three of which have consultative status with the United Nations. NCNW has worked with grassroots women, including public housing leaders, across the country to provide the frameworks for them to learn from and support each other. Under her leadership, Huairou Commission’s global membership has expanded to include organizations in more than 50 countries.

In the 1980s, working with NCNW and GROOTS International, she was successful at giving grassroots women a voice at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Through her strong advocacy, Jan has ensured that the global women’s movement incorporates grassroots women’s groups and community development priorities for sustainable human settlements. As a result of these efforts, global agencies such as UN-Habitat, UN Women, and UN ISDR have included women from poor communities in advisory and planning groups. In addition to raising more than millions of dollars for work with grassroots women, Jan has pioneered methods and tools including the Leadership Support Process, the Local-to-Local Dialogue methodology, and the Grassroots Women’s Academy held at each World Urban Forum. Huairou Commission is now part of the UN’s Platform for Action, leading the Economic Justice Action Coalition for the Generation Equality Cluster, following up on the platform developed in Beijing.  

In Brooklyn, she is a longtime member of the Conselyea Street Block Association, a founding member of community development organization St. Nicks Alliance, and a member of Brooklyn Community Board 1, where she started New York City’s first Community Board Women’s Issues Committee. She led advocacy for creation of Swinging 60s Senior Center and Small World Daycare in East Williamsburg, and has been a key leader in the Greenpoint Enterprise Renaissance Corporation, advocating for the historic Greenpoint Hospital site to become a community resource – it is now slated for development as affordable housing and community facilities.  

In her coalition-building work, Ms. Peterson draws on decades of experience in education, policy making, and community organizing. In the Carter White House, she worked as the Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison, as well as in the Office of Policy and Planning in Action (Peace Corps/VISTA). She has most recently taught at the New School Graduate Program in International Affairs and was a member of the Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor, chaired by Madeline Albright. She is also a founder and member of the Advisory Group on Gender Issues (AGGI) for UN-Habitat.

The building at 28 Kingsland Avenue, Neighborhood Women Houses, honors activists Jan Peterson and Mildred Tudy for transforming Williamsburg-Greenpoint through their work as community leaders.

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