Back Issues of PDAA Today

Back issues of PDAA Today, PDAA’s quarterly print newsletter are now online and available for download.

John Matel recollection by Christopher Data

by Christopher Datta

John Matel

I am writing to mourn a friend, John Matel, who passed away unexpectedly.

John and I are both retired Foreign Service Officers. We were not close friends, but I enjoyed working with him in the State Department, and he often came to my annual Fourth of July party, which, of course, I cannot hold this year.

John loved to talk about politics, and on Facebook we often disagreed with each other. But the debate was always civil and reasoned, so rare to find today.  And, about 80% of the time, we found we could reach an accommodation we both thought we could live with. Sometimes, he actually changed my mind, and sometimes I changed his.  How often does that happen?  Not that the nation’s political leadership was listening to us.  Sadly.

John was a conservative, and I’m a progressive. But John was a conservative in the conservation sense of the word. He loved nature, and he had a tree farm. He was dedicated to the support of renewable resources, most especially when it came to wood, and building with wood. He was an advocate for the replanting of native wood species, which is what he dedicated his tree farm to accomplishing.

John went to Iraq in an attempt to make our policy work in that country. I was opposed to the war, but respected John’s commitment to put his own safety on the line and to do his best to try to help the people of Iraq build a better life for themselves. John never shirked his duties as an American diplomat, even when it would have been easier to have done that.

John loved beer, and he often posted pictures of himself on Facebook enjoying a mug. I love beer, as well, so that was another thing we shared. I know we both agreed with Ben Franklin when he so famously said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

John was an avid bicyclist. He knew all the bike paths, and although he lived some distance from me, he always rode his bike to my July 4th parties. He was certainly in better shape than I.

John was kind, thoughtful, a hard worker, and a dedicated public servant and husband. We need more like him today, and I will miss him. Rest in peace, my friend.

—Christopher Datta

John Anthony Matel, age 65, of Vienna, VA, passed away on June 22, 2020. He was born in Milwaukee, WI, to the late John Matel, Sr., and Virginia Haase Matel. He is survived by his wife, Christine M. Johnson; his daughter, Mariza Matel (Brendan Williams); his sons, Alex and Espen Matel; and his sister, Christine Matel Milewski (Greg Milewski) of Oak Creek, WI. After serving 32 years as a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, John became a self-professed “Gentleman of Leisure…a sometime diplomat, conservationist & seeker of insights.” John purchased his first forest land in 2005 near Lawrenceville, VA, and as a landowner, certified tree farmer & naturalist, managed nearly 500 acres of Virginia forest for timber, wildlife and water quality. He actively served on boards for Virginia Tree Farm Foundation and the Forest History Society, and promoted southern pine ecology and working landscapes. John led by example, and worked to restore longleaf and shortleaf ecosystems on dedicated parcels of his land, a promise for the future and a beauty today. John’s diplomatic posts with the U.S. Department of State in Brazil, Norway, Poland, Iraq, and the U.S. let him do what he loved: working to understand societies, information, and behaviors, and shape strategies to engage networked publics. His proudest accomplishments included working with Iraqis to rebuild their communities after ousting al-Qaeda in Anbar Province, and sending over 26,000 Brazilian students to study STEM fields in top American universities. His career in diplomacy included broadening experiences as President of the Fulbright Commission in Brazil, Senior International advisor at the Smithsonian Institution, and State Department Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. A memorial celebration will be held at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to The Nature Conservancy, Directed Gifts. Online condolences may be made at

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Robert A. Powers

Robert A. Powers

Robert A. Powers (age 88) passed away on June 8, 2020. He is survived by his two sons Patrick (Margaret Anne) of Richmond VA, and Michael of Springfield VA. He had three grandchildren Lt Zachary Powers, USN, of Bremerton WA, and Erinn and Mallory Powers, both of Richmond VA. Bob was predeceased by his devoted wife of 58 years, Betty Rae.

Born and raised outside of Boston, Bob was the youngest of six children in a large, Irish Catholic family. Growing up in a family that had fallen on hard times during the depression, he became a genius at repairing broken down engines, often repairing the cars of his father’s friends. After graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force and left for Korea after the war broke out. He later quipped, ‘I told them I wanted a career and they thought I said Korea!”

Upon returning home, his musical prowess was discovered by a local disc jockey, and the next thing you know he had enrolled at the Berklee School of Music. He sang professionally for a time and even landed a gig with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey! Eventually he realized that a performer’s life wasn’t for him, but music continued to play a big role for the rest of his life.

While still a young man, he started work as a field representative for a cutting-edge photographic typesetting system. His technical skills led to a job at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, where he installed a new printing press for the United States Information Agency (USIA). While in Manila, Bob met the love of his life, Betty Rae, with whom he would spend the next 58 years until her passing in 2019.

He subsequently became a Foreign Service Officer, and throughout his career, Bob and Betty Rae lived all over the world. He loved his work and always appreciated the friendships he made across the globe.

He had numerous adventures during his time abroad, tales of which he enjoyed sharing. In 1967, while at his second overseas posting in Lebanon, Bob ran the embassy evacuation during the Six Day War. As one of the last Americans left in blacked out Beirut, he received transfer orders to Vietnam. From the frying pan into the fire! On his next foreign assignment, while managing the Binational Center in Guadalajara Mexico, he noticed he was being followed to and from work. The US Consul General had been kidnapped the year before, so bodyguards were assigned to him and his family. His two sons thought that was pretty cool. This was followed by a posting in Santiago, Chile. After returning to Washington and studying at the Inter-American Defense College, Bob became the US Public Affairs Officer in Panama City, Panama, during the turnover of US Canal Zone to Panama.

Bob then took a sabbatical from the USIA to work for the Multinational Peacekeepers (MFO) overseeing the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. During this period, he was stationed in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Rome, Italy. He returned to the USIA and ran the Regional Program Office (RPO) in Vienna, Austria, where he had a front-row seat to witness the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. He finished his career as a Senior Foreign Service officer in Washington, DC.

In his retirement Bob joined a writers group and began recording his life story. He penned individual stories until, over time, he amassed enough for a book. Unfortunately, age and cancer made it difficult for him to complete his quest. Finishing his book is now a goal for his sons. Bob lived life to the fullest with his sweetheart Betty Rae and loved every bit of it. Amazed at the life he lived, he often said “I never thought I would live this long!”

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

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Public Diplomacy Critical at a Perilous Time

by Joe B. Johnson

Distinguished scholar Nancy Snow, who teaches at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies in Japan and holds the Walt Disney Chair at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University in Beijing, warned against cutting ties with China at First Monday Forum on June 1.

Professor Sherry Mueller introduced Prof. Nancy Snow at the June 1, 2020, First Monday forum.

Professor Snow discussed both the coronavirus pandemic and racial tensions dominating the news in the United States and around the globe. Not only are there hot zones of viral contamination; there are “hot zones in our thinking.  We’re about to close our channels of communication with China,” Snow asserted.

Public diplomacy answers an urgent need at this moment of inequality and pandemic, she continued – “opening minds to understand the other side.”

Calling out political leaders, Snow said, “Right now, at the very top, there’s a lack of empathy and understanding.”

China’s aggressive diplomacy is rooted in the belief that its story has not been shared with the rest of the world, according to Snow. However, her Chinese contacts are worried that China’s Wolf Warrior stance invites “blowback” that will limit the country’s ambitions for technological advancement.

Nearly 100 guests participated in the session via the Zoom conferencing platform. First Monday Forum is sponsored by the DC-based Public Diplomacy Council, the Public Diplomacy Association of America, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

“The global pandemic,” according to Snow, has killed 900 people in Japan, a relatively small number for a nation of 125 million. “If you look around, people everywhere are wearing masks almost universally in Japan as well as in South Korea.”

People in those two countries are serious about prevention measures, which were applied early in Taiwan as well: a remarkable feat for three governments adjacent to the People’s Republic of China, where the disease originated.

Snow summed up:

“Edward R. Murrow warned about the necessity of respect for other societies ….  We can all be change agents.

“These are mournful times, but telling America’s story to the world remains a challenge, and an opportunity to make a real difference. We public diplomacy practitioners can make that real difference through dialogue in many settings, including one-on-one conversations with influential friends abroad.”

Snow co-edited the second edition of the Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy with Nicholas J. Cull of USC. The Handbook came out in January of this year.

Snow fielded questions from multiple participants in the hour-plus dialogue, which can be viewed at

Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service. He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More

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Out and About from Home

by Patricia H. Kushlis

As a Santa Fe resident, I’ve been spending most of my time working from, eating at, and practicing my oboe from home as well as taking walks along the arroyo next to my house since the novel coronavirus first crept into this southern Rocky Mountain state by mid-March. I thought momentarily once quarantine was announced here, that I would use the time to organize my files, read some books, take naps, and binge watch movies while scarfing on pickup lunches and dinners from favorite restaurants plus having groceries delivered to my front door.

It has turned out differently.

After sending out numerous emails postponing the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum’s annual April symposium on the Warming World until, hopefully, April 2021, the board decided to embark upon a different and novel programming approach: a summer webinar series. Its title is: Summer with SFWAF: Hot Weather, Hot Topics. Several of us had already started watching webinars by other organizations. Luckily for us, Krista Peterson and Steve Kerchoff – both board members and former FSOs who were experienced with information technology and willing and interested in seeing whether we could make the new technology work for us – were the most enthusiastic and experienced. After watching numerous programs by other organizations, we then ran two internal trials – programs for board members by two board members who had recently volunteered abroad – to help us work out as many of the bugs as we could before embarking on a more ambitious, public effort. These trials convinced us we could move programs online.

So. . . the first webinar we will be offering to SFWAF members and friends will be on Wed., May 20. It will be by Ambassador John Lange, a specialist in pandemics and now a senior fellow at the UN Foundation. The Ambassador had previously agreed to be a 2020 symposium speaker on climate change and disease spread until, of course, the symposium was put on indefinite hold and his travel cancelled.

What have we learned thus far about this new technology? ( 1) The webinar platform – despite its increased cost – is far superior to a Zoom meeting platform for our type of programming; (2) A single effective speaker for about 30 minutes then comments and q’s/a’s from viewers for about another 20-30 minutes is, for us, more effective than a panel – at least at this point; (3) It takes a small team of two to three people behind the scenes to make the program work comfortably and the webinar platform is more complex to operate than a meeting;( 4) Depending on the topic and the ease of the speaker using PowerPoint, such a presentation can be very effective in a webinar, particularly if pictures are integral to the talk; (5) Instructions to viewers as to how to participate in webinars at the beginning of the session are really important; (6) It is important to ask viewers to hold questions (unless they are points of clarification submitted in writing) until the end of the talk and then asking them to submit the questions either in writing or orally, with the manager controlling the order of questions to keep the flow of the presentation intact – but also allowing plenty of opportunity for viewer participation.

Our plan is to hold two webinars a month on Wednesdays from 11:00 to 12:15 MT over the summer, and we are currently looking for foreign affairs experts comfortable with the webinar format and willing and interested in speaking to our audience. Moreover, if conditions necessitate it, we will continue the webinar format into the fall.

We know that the two International Visitor Committees in New Mexico (Global Ties Albuquerque and the Council on International Relations in Santa Fe) are holding webinars that are different from ours in terms of approach. We also understand from Peter Becskehazy in Tucson, AZ, that the International Visitor Committee (Citizen’s Diplomacy Alliance) there is “planning a Zoom conference with three retired Ambassadors to discuss how the countries they served in are dealing with COVID-19, and the executive director is in touch with former IV grantees about how they are coping in these trying times.”

But, we also wonder about public affairs offices abroad and how effective it is for their staffs to be confined to contacts exclusively through the Internet.

We still have many questions ourselves here in Santa Fe about programming in the age of COVID-19 including financial ones for webinars, but most of all we’d like to hear from you about your experiences and activities during this peculiar period in 21st century history. So please be in contact and let us know how you are and what you are doing. You can reach me at or on my cell phone: 505-550—6392 and leave a message. I’ll return your call.

PDAA Board Member Patricia Kushlis

Pat Kushlis is a member of the PDAA Board of Directors and president of the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum.

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Virtual First Monday Recording Added to PDAA Video Channel

The recipients of this year’s Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy were featured in a Virtual First Monday program on May 4, 2020. To view the recording, go to

PDAA has added a new recording to its video channel on Vimeo. The new recording presents the “Virtual First Monday” forum that took place on May 4, 2020, in which the four recipients of the 2020 PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy discussed their efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The forum was part of the regularly scheduled First Monday program sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Association of America, the Public Diplomacy Council, and USC’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. Normally, the forums take place over lunch and are hosted by George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Because of the ongoing novel coronavirus health emergency, the May 4 program was conducted via the Zoom® video-conferencing software.

The four recipients of the 2020 awards featured in the program are:

  • Zennia Paganini, Public Affairs Officer, Yemen Affairs Unit (based at Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
  • Public Affairs Section, Embassy Luanda, Angola (Deneyse Kirkpatrick, Public Affairs Officer)
  • Meghan Luckett, Assistant Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Riad Yazbeck, Cultural Affairs Specialist, Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

Information on the four recipients and on the annual awards program is available here.

The video of the Virtual First Monday program is available at It joins other PDAA videos, including the October 7, 2019, First Monday forum that focused on the twentieth anniversary of the merger of the U.S. Information Agency into the State Department.

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PDAA Honors Outstanding Public Diplomacy Initiatives

by Domenick DiPasquale

The recipients of this year’s Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy were featured in a Virtual First Monday program on May 4, 2020. To view the recording, go to

Whether engaging difficult to reach audiences in the Middle East, countering Russian disinformation in the Baltics, or resetting a historically contentious bilateral relationship in Africa, the recipients of the 2020 PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy used a mix of outside-the-box thinking, deep understanding of their audiences, and superb leadership abilities to demonstrably advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

“This year’s recipients have shown particularly impressive ingenuity, given the conditions they are working under,” said PDAA President Joel Fischman. “Budgets are woefully inadequate, and many officers and Locally Employed Staffers have had to carry on virtually, at a distance, because of security concerns and now the coronavirus. Their creativity, perseverance, and commitment to their goals bode well for the continuing high standards of our profession.”

The four recipients are:

  • Zennia Paganini, Public Affairs Officer, Yemen Affairs Unit (based at Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
  • Public Affairs Section, Embassy Luanda, Angola
  • Meghan Luckett, Assistant Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Riad Yazbeck, Cultural Affairs Specialist, Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

Zennia Paganini – Yemen Affairs Unit

ABOVE; PAO Zennia Paganini with Yemeni students in Cairo.
RIGHT: front page of the Houthi newspaper headlined “What Are The American Embassies Planning?!”. Paganini is on the left and Yemen Affairs Unit Ambassador Christopher Henzel is on the right.

The ongoing multi-year civil war between the central Yemeni government and insurgent Houthi forces led to the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2015. Working from this embassy-in-exile, PAO Zennia Paganini singlehandedly has maintained American influence and a ‘virtual’ presence not only among Yemenis still in country but also among the Yemeni diaspora scattered throughout the Middle East.

Paganini has used virtual platforms to reach audiences inside Yemen, such as the network of English-language professionals and students built up over the years, and in-person programming among key Yemeni contacts in exile. An example of the latter was a day-long workshop for 32 Riyadh-based Yemeni journalists on the theme of promoting peace and tolerance with social media.

With a majority of Yemenis younger than 30, Paganini created an initiative called MAP – Make a Place for Yemeni Youth – that works to educate diaspora youth, support Yemenis’ economic empowerment, and strengthen the country’s civil society institutions. Evidence of the effectiveness of this and other youth-oriented programs was found in an unlikely place: the front page of the Houthis’ official newspaper, showing Paganini with youth contacts and journalists in Riyadh and Cairo under a banner headline reading “What Are the American Embassies Planning?!”

Public Affairs Section – Embassy Luanda

Hip-hop artists Wordsmith with the local at-risk youth orchestra in Angola.

Angolan Vice President and U.S. Ambassador Nina Maria Fite giving a joint interview.

A historically contentious quarter-century relationship between the United States and Angola formed the backdrop for the work of PAO Deneyse Kirkpatrick and her seven Locally Employed Staff at Embassy Luanda. Using an array of public diplomacy tools, Kirkpatrick and her staff broke new ground in strengthening the Embassy’s relations with the Angolan government and opening new avenues of bilateral cooperation.

The initiative by Embassy Luanda’s public affairs section centered on the 2019 commemoration marking the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves arriving in the present-day United States. Programs ranging from a hip-hop artist to a cooking demonstration by a South Carolina chef to four performances by and national television coverage of the U.S. dance troupe Step Afrika! highlighted the two nations’ shared cultural heritage. The presence of the Angolan vice president and six cabinet officials at Step Afrika!’s final performance garnered major media attention.

Beyond such immediate impact, this public diplomacy initiative strengthened the potential of long-term institutional relationships. The president of Angola created an inter-ministerial commission to mark the 400th anniversary; a task force was organized to identify possible projects to be supported by the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation; and an International Visitor leadership program exchange built institutional linkages between the Angolan Ministry of Culture and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Meghan Luckett – Embassy Vilnius

ABOVE: The November 2019 outdoor concert that was a centerpiece of the Laisves Banga public diplomacy campaign. Held in downtown Vilnius’ Lukiškių Square, it commemorated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
RIGHT: Laisves Banga means Wave of Freedom and the main graphic of the campaign was the wall (Iron Curtain) being knocked over and creating a domino effect (or wave) of freedom throughout Europe.

A relentless Russian campaign has targeted Lithuania with disinformation intended to stoke nostalgia for its Soviet past, drive wedges in Lithuanian society, and portray the country as a failed state rather than the modern democratic success story it is. Assistant PAO Meghan Luckett played a central role in Embassy Vilnius’s efforts to successfully counter this false narrative and remind Lithuanians, especially the younger generation, of the inspirational role their country played in unshackling other captive Soviet Bloc nations.

Luckett coordinated the Embassy’s support commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, the August 1989 event during which two million Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians joined hands to create a 650-kilometer-long human chain to peacefully protest Soviet occupation. She convinced the nation’s public broadcaster, LRT, to join the Embassy’s multi-dimensional “Courage To Be Free” campaign, immediately boosting that campaign’s visibility and impact.

Luckett also shepherded to fruition a major component of that campaign, an open-air concert attended by thousands in downtown Vilnius’ Lukiškių Square to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years earlier. Through repeat broadcasts and online access, the concert was ultimately viewed by 800,000 Lithuanians – more than a quarter of the country’s entire population.

Riad Yazbeck – Embassy Beirut

Cultural Affairs Specialist Riad Yazbeck meets with women from the Shia community in Lebanon.

Embassy Beirut’s senior cultural affairs specialist Riad Yazbeck visits an English language class in Akkar, Lebanon, that is part of Embassy Beirut’s Teaching Women English program. The program is part of the Embassy’s effort to bring American cultural and social values to the most vulnerable segments of Lebanese society.

Riad Yazbeck, the senior cultural affairs specialist at Embassy Beirut, capitalized on his personal connections in Lebanon’s Shia community to advance not just public diplomacy initiatives but also the Embassy’s political reporting on this major player in Lebanese politics – the sect considered most at risk for violent extremism due to the influence of Hizballah and Iran over many of its members.

When months-long civil unrest erupted in Lebanon in 2019, Yazbeck’s network of contacts among the Shia allowed him to collect extensive information about Shia participation in the protests despite Hizballah restrictions. Yazbeck used this information to draft a reporting cable on the Shia involvement; this cable was included in top-level briefing materials for the Secretary of State and recently was cited in the Presidential Daily Brief.

With this analysis showing there had been misconceptions about Lebanon’s Shia population and its degree of allegiance to Hizballah, Yazbeck then instituted a greater degree of interaction between the Embassy and the Shia through an English language training program he manages. The program is aimed at women in at-risk communities and includes components on entrepreneurship, public speaking skills, and combatting gender based violence.

Celebration of Public Diplomacy Excellence

“The PDAA awards committee was encouraged to read accounts from across the globe of how public diplomacy professionals are continuing to break boundaries by using all means available to communicate our nation’s policies, values, and hopes for a united approach to solving the world’s problems,” said Judith Baroody, PDAA Board member and chair of the awards committee. “It was especially inspiring to see how our public diplomacy colleagues are focusing on the most critical and difficult issues, and finding creative ways to address them.”

The traditional PDAA luncheon in May honoring award recipients has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. PDAA instead will hold a May 4 teleconference for its membership during which the four winners will be announced and invited to make short remote presentations, live or pre-recorded, about their work.

To make a financial contribution to support the PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy, click here.

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