Among the most compelling presentations at the recent World Affairs Councils of America conference in Washington, D.C., was from Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the former chair and CEO of Carlson Companies

The Minnetonka-based firm was the first North American travel company to sign the industry’s international Code of Conduct to end child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking of children for sexual purposes. The travel industry has a vital role in combating this scourge, Nelson said in an interview before her prepared remarks.

Speaking of the course she co-teaches at the University of Minnesota, she said, “One of the things we talk about is that there is this growing commitment of business to partner with the public sector and nongovernmental organizations on one of the largest problems the world faces.” The best result, she said, “is when the corporate skill set is most closely aligned with the problem. In our case we train thousands of people around the world, and adding this training was consistent.”

It’s also consistent with Nelson’s noted civic engagement. Her work in the community was recognized at the conference and by the Obama administration, which in April made Carlson the first company to win the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons.

After her address, Nelson sat on a panel with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Ending trafficking “cuts across partisan lines. It’s international, and it’s a problem right here,” Portman said.

“You see the suffering,” said Blumenthal. “And yet also you see the potential for transformative change. If we can save people, rescue them, protect them and prosecute wrongdoers, this issue can be effectively addressed. But it will take awareness and action at every level.”

Awareness should spur action, Nelson said. “Sometimes in life, if you don’t know about something, you don’t feel uncomfortable not taking a stand on it. But once you know it, then you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Do I have the courage to step out on this?’ ”

Marilyn Carlson Nelson did just that.