Natika Washington, director of Global Programs in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. (Vandana Jain/Sanbubble Photography)

Whether she is traveling to villages deep inside Tanzania or working side-by-side with leaders in developing countries, Natika Washington has one singular goal – to invest in the financial and social well-being of women and girls globally.

As the director of Global Programs in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, Washington oversees the design and implementation of several multi-million dollar initiatives aimed at empowering women socially, politically and economically.

“Women are the major change-makers on the ground in the developing world, but they are not equipped with the necessary tools and resources to excel,” said Washington. “We give small grants to grassroots organizations that will directly impact women and girls.”

Since setting up the groundbreaking program in 2010, Washington and her team have awarded $50 million in grants to local community-based organizations in more than 70 countries striving to meet the critical needs of women and girls. These grants are supported by congressionally allocated funds and through donations from private sector partners.

The small, high-impact grants of $50,000 to $500,000 fund innovative programs in several key areas, including promoting the full engagement of women in the economic and political spheres, mitigating the impact of violence against women and ensuring that women’s needs from health to education to food security are targeted and addressed. While each of the programs are relatively small, they have the potential to have a lasting effect.

Who is Natika Washington?

POSITION: Director, Global Programs, Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues, Department of State

RESIDENCE: Washington, D.C.

AGE: 34

EDUCATION: University of Phoenix, B.S. in Business Communications; Working on a MBA at George Washington University

AWARDS: Excellence in Government Senior Fellow, 2013; Superior Honor Award for mainstreaming gender programming within the State Department, 2012; Franklin Award for Leadership, 2011; Franklin Award for establishing the first ever gender small grants program within the State Department, 2010

HOBBIES: Anything related to food. Cooking, wine tasting, brunches and travel

“If your target audience is women and girls, you are looking at a very different investment and approach that takes time,” said Anita Botti, former chief of staff and principal deputy in the Office of Global Women’s Issues.

Through the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas initiative, for example, Washington’s office identified 24 projects in 24 countries to support broader economic empowerment and development for women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly for indigenous and rural women.

In Liberia and Bangladesh, grants are helping non-governmental organizations support vulnerable and expectant mothers by providing culturally appropriate pregnancy information, education and social support.

Washington strongly believes that by supporting the programmatic goals of the local organizations, the grants help to strengthen their ability to bring about positive change in their communities.

As the co-founder of the What to Expect Foundation and one of Washington’s grantees, Lisa Bernstein has seen this first-hand.

“This program is an opportunity to have the federal government do international work that uses local expertise to have double the impact,” said Bernstein. “This is the work that you as a taxpayer hope the federal government is doing internationally.”

Although the grantee programs have yielded successful results, Washington said she must continually “sell the idea that investing in global gender education and equality will have a positive impact on the state of women around the world.”

“Every day, I must remind the ‘suits’ that women are the backbone of the global economies,” said Washington, who served for 10 years in the Air Force.

The challenge of helping women and girls is a task that Washington is more than willing to take on.

“When the U.S. government invests in something as basic as early education, I feel a strong sense of purpose in knowing that I am the person who has enabled women to improve their lives. This is the best feeling a public servant could ever ask for.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fed-player/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at fedplayers@ourpublicservice.org.