Institute of Politics

Samar Ali

Founding President & CEO of Millions of Conversations & Co-Chair, Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy

  • Office Hours:

    April 17 & 18

    *Open to Current UChicago Students

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  • Seminars:

    April 17 & 18

    *April 17 is Open to Current UChicago Students; April 18 is Open to the Public


Samar S. Ali is a Research Professor of Political Science and Law at Vanderbilt University, the founding President and CEO of Millions of Conversations, and co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy. Her work focuses on positive compromise through promoting conflict-resolution best practices among people, communities and nations experiencing polarization due to the connection between violence and labeling. Ali has 14 years of experience in international relations and legal practice, working at the intersection of civil rights, national security, and economic development.

Her career has taken her from South Africa, where she worked with Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, to the White House, where she worked with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on counterterrorism measures. As an associate with Hogan Lovell US in Washington D.C., she helped to establish the firm’s Middle Eastern practice in the United Arab Emirates, and later joined former President Jimmy Carter in an international delegation observing Egypt’s 2012 presidential election. She returned to Tennessee to serve as assistant commissioner for international affairs for Gov. Bill Haslam (R), then co-founded Lodestone Advisory Group, a multinational consulting firm specializing in internationalization, while serving as a mediator on the Syrian conflict through her law practice with Bass Berry and Sims PLLC.

After experiencing a public smear campaign that falsely claimed Ali was hired to indoctrinate the state of Tennessee into the use of Sharia Law, she co-founded Millions of Conversations, a nonprofit organization that aims to unite Americans around common values for a shared future by fostering dialogue among those who hold different opinions, views, or beliefs. Under her leadership as Founding President and CEO, Millions of Conversations developed a foundational model for countering the cycle of hate and progressing towards a peaceful future.


"Difficult Conversations in Difficult Times: A Palestinian American’s Perspectives on Transcending Divides"

We live in an era of entrenched polarization, between our national politics, urban and rural discordance, the conflict in the Middle East and tensions over the constitution of basic facts and more. An isolating pandemic, the degradation of social media and many other factors have combined to make it so. Yet so many of us are seeking a path to productive discourse and respectful dissent that is the bedrock for a functional democracy. Samar Ali - who grew up in a Tennessee town that she has called the “real-life version of Schitt's Creek," the daughter of Palestinian and Syrian parents - has devoted her adult life to intentional listening, teaching and transcending divides. A research professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, the founding President and CEO of Millions of Conversations and Co-Chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy, her work intersects national security, human rights and economic development and questions around identity. Come for the deconstruction of the “scare script” and stay for the tools she gives to fight off the “hate-industrial complex.”

Suggested Viewing:

TEDx Talk: "How to Bridge Political Divides — From Two Friends on Opposing Sides" featuring Samar Ali & Clint Brewer

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