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How a Cargill security analyst keeps people safe and women moving forward

December 17, 2018

How do criminal cartels and gang violence threaten Cargill’s employees in Latin America? How might political protests snarl local operations? And what’s the best way to avoid grass snakes?

Those are the questions Claire Prestwood works on every day — the last one more so when she’s in the field touring facilities. As one of three senior security intelligence analysts for Cargill Global Security, she’s responsible for monitoring security risks, scanning intelligence and anticipating threats to keep Cargill’s people and businesses in the Latin America region safe.

“I get to look at that part of the world every day with a specific goal to protect people,” she said.

The issues she handles cover a range of Latin America’s most pressing security questions, from economic and political instability to corruption to drug-trade fueled crime. Her role is born from a career that started with dual masters’ degrees in public policy and Latin American studies.

A retired four-star Army general for whom Claire worked as a research assistant in graduate school became a mentor. As she explored career options, he told her she should think about enlisting. She told him she wasn’t doing any push-ups.

Instead, he helped steer her into risk analysis, studying criminal cartels and counterterrorism.

Her resume caught the eye of Claude Nebel, the head of global security who spent much of his career with the U.S. State Department, running security and intelligence for U.S. embassies and other assets abroad.

“Claire, with her background, was just perfect,” he said. “She can take a look at what’s going on provide us with surgical, concise, proactive intelligence on what the risks are.”

Supporting women in the field

At Cargill, she’s excelled both on and off the clock, heading the Cargill Working Mother’s Network and co-founding the Center for Women in International Leadership and Diplomacy.

The center — founded with Silvia Ontanenda-Everson, Ecuador’s former consul general in Minnesota — aims to open more doors into international and government careers for young women, particularly those in the Midwest who might not see the same path or connections as young people in Washington or on the coasts. It is working to partner with academic institutions in the Midwest for mentorship and advocacy initiatives.

Her work on the center earned her a 2018 Community Leadership Award from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton — a touching surprise, she said, for doing what she simply sees as her duty to pay back the opportunities she’s been afforded.

Already she’s helped a handful of young women make connections to help build their careers.

“A lot of it was is young women saying, look, I’m really interested in Latin America, or I just am interested in an international career in intelligence. And I said, OK, this is this is what the field looks like, this is what you need to do, this is probably what your options will be.”

As someone who frequently was the only woman in the room through much of her professional life, she knows what it means “to have someone in your corner.”

“You can know everything, but you also have to know the people who can help you open doors and provide you with those opportunities,” she said. “A lot of people did that for me, and now it’s my turn.”