Nirupama Rao was Foreign Secretary in the Government of India (2009-2011) and earlier served as Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka and Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. She was Ambassador of India to the United States from 2011 to 2013. On retirement, Rao was a Fellow at Brown University and also taught there from 2015-16. She was George Ball Adjunct Professor at Columbia University in Fall, 2018. In 2019 she was a Pacific Leadership Fellow at UC San Diego. She is a Global Fellow of The Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC, Councillor of the World Refugee Council, a Member of the Board of Governors of IIM, Bangalore and ICRIER , New Delhi. She holds the degree of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) from Pondicherry University and is a recipient of the Vanitha Ratna Award of the Government of Kerala.
During 1992-93, Rao was a Fellow at the Center for International Affairs (now the Weatherhead Center) at Harvard University.
Ambassador Rao is the founder trustee of The South Asian Symphony Foundation and has established the South Asian Symphony Orchestra. This is a project aimed at greater people-to-people connectivity in South Asia and among the South Asian diaspora.