2016 PDAA Award Winners Demonstrate Creativity in Challenging Environments

Milica Raskovic and Marko Bumbic

Milica Raskovic, right, and Marko Bumbic are among the winners of the 2016 Awards for Excellence in Public Diplomacy, from PDAA (Courtesy American Corner, Novi Sad, Serbia)

(16 May 2016) Promoting the growth of media and ensuring the safety of journalism is challenging throughout the Middle and Near East, and nowhere more so than in Afghanistan.  Yet Tanya Brothen, U.S. Embassy Kabul Assistant Information Officer, showed “extraordinary creativity, diplomacy, and tenacity, in bringing the documentary film Frame by Frame to premiere in Afghanistan at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, an initiative that influenced efforts to legislate protections for media practitioners and foster a free press in Afghanistan.”

Joining Tanya as winners of the 2016 PDAA Awards for Excellence in Public Diplomacy are Public Affairs Officer Stephen Ibelli in Libya External Office, Public Affairs Officer Brenda Soya at Embassy Ouagadougou and Coordinator Milica Raskovic and Program Coordinator Marko Bumbic, both at the American Corner in Novi Sad, Serbia. The awards were announced by PDAA at its annual awards event on 15 May 2016.

Brothen has been “a champion for Afghan media,” wrote Information Officer Susan Doman, who nominated her for the award. Her efforts to convince the filmmakers and participants of a documentary about press freedom in Afghanistan, Frame by Frame, to screen the film within the country for President Ghani, other government officials, journalists and civic leaders led not only to vigorous debates but, arguably, to a decree issued by Ghani two days after one of the screenings calling for efforts to ensure the safety of journalists.

A trailer for Frame by Frame is below.

FRAME BY FRAME official trailer from RED REEL on Vimeo.

Creating robust social media outreach

Stephen Ibelli in the Libya External Office has had the challenging task of promoting the U.S. presence in conflict-ravaged Libya, but working from Tunisia.  With over 80 percent of Libyans getting their news from Facebook, Ibelli revamped the embassy’s Facebook site, making sure that every posting was in both Arabic and English.

His citation reads: “For exceptional analysis, innovation, and single-handed hard work in creating robust social media outreach that engaged Libyans on U.S. policy and culture, established contact with a new generation, and reestablished exchange programs, all while working under the extreme challenges of a post in exile outside the host country.”  

Ibelli began featuring websites of individuals and organizations helping their communities in Libya. He taught himself to film and edit videos and posted photos, videos and press interviews on the illicit trafficking in Libyan antiquities and the risks facing Libyan archeologists. His video of a successful Libyan-American woman entrepreneur reached 714,000 viewers – in a country of 6 million, Deputy Chief of Mission Helen LaFave, wrote in nominating Ibelli.  The Facebook site is gaining 10,000 new fans per week, she said.

Ibelli also convinced the State Department to restart the suspended International Visitor Leadership program, the MEPI Student Leaders Program, and several scholarship exchanges and is using Facebook engagement to recruit candidates. “Stephen leveraged social media to build the people-to-people connections which had been lacking in the U.S.-Libya relationship during forth years of Libyan dictatorship,” LaFave wrote.

Getting embassy staff out of the bubble

U.S. Ambassador Tulinabo Mushingi says he told PAO Brenda Soya that he wanted to get outside the Embassy fortress and outside Ouagadougou to connect with the Burkinabe, exchange alumni, government officials and others and to build “the image of an Ambassador as someone who knows Burkina well enough that I could deliver difficult messages without offending people.”

Soya’s 2016 citation reads: “For greatly improving the image of the United States in Burkina Faso through a monthly series of American Road Shows that got the Ambassador and other embassy staff “out of the bubble” and introduced U.S. policy and culture to Burkinade in every part of the country.” 

Over two years, Soya put together 29 “American Road Show” trips engaging all elements of Burkina society to improve the way its citizens view the United States.  In 2015, Mushingi said he used the Road Shows to advocate participation in elections and urge the population to be patient as the new government set its priorities, to promote community health programs and education for girls.  Mushingi said that Soya’s “comprehensive, meticulously planned, media-focused outreach visits made me, as Ambassador – and by extension the Embassy – accessible and credible.”

Brenda Soya and student

Brenda Soya, left, dancing with a student at a school for the deaf during the Arts Envoy program (U.S. Embassy, Ouagadougou)

American values of volunteerism and community initiative

Rounding out PDAA’s 2016 award winners are Milica Raskovic and Marko Bumbic whose extensive programming initiatives — more than 50 each month — in an environment where only 20 percent of the population have a favorable attitude toward the United States has become a role model for American Corners throughout the region, says nominator William Henderson, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

Their citation reads:“For directing an exemplary American Corner program in Novi Sad focused on the American values of volunteerism and community initiative, including a highly effective donation drive to aid tens of thousands of migrants crossing Serbia in summer and fall 2015.”

Raskovic and Bumbic have spearheaded programming that has highlighted the importance the United States has put on volunteerism and community initiatives and on citizens taking personal responsibility for the well-being of their neighborhoods and communities.  With more than 6,000 members and over 100 volunteers, the Novi Sad American Corner has set up mini corners at major public events, initiated a multi-module business English workshop for the unemployed, and offered a book delivery service to the elderly and housebound.

As tens of thousands of migrants began to enter Serbia, the Center organized a donation drive to benefit the refugees collecting, sorting, transporting and distributing over 800 pounds of clothing, food and hygiene items.  The Corner also launched the first authorized TOEFL – teaching of English as a foreign language — testing center in Novi Sad.

Raskovic and Bumbic tell what the award means to their work in the following video.

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Mal Whitfield Memorial Service Set

Mal Whitfield in 1948

Mal Whitfield, no. 136, running in the 1948 Olympics. (Courtesy, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Washington, D.C.)

(17 May 2016) A memorial service for U.S. Information Agency sports and youth officer Malvin Whitfield is set for Wednesday, 8 June. In addition to his work for USIA, Mr. Whitfield was an Olympic gold medalist in 1948 and 1952, and a Tuskegee Airman during World War II. He died on 19 November 2015 at a veterans’ hospice in Washington, D.C.

The memorial service is scheduled for 10:00 am on Wednesday, 8 June at Washington National Cathedral, followed by burial at Arlington National Ceremony. Buses will leave Washington National Cathedral about 2:00 pm for Arlington Cemetery, with the burial taking place about 3:00 pm. Buses will return to the cathedral following the burial.

Mr. Whitfield won two gold medals in the 1948 games in the 800 meters and as part of the 4 x 400 meter relay team. He repeated his 800 meter gold medal victory in 1952. Beginning in 1955, Mr. Whitfield conducted sports clinics for State Department and USIA, which continued for 30 years. In this capacity, he visited some 130 countries, with most of his clinics in Africa.

In November and December 2015, many former colleagues posted their memories of their experiences with Mr. Whitfield on Public

Hat tip: Neal Walsh

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Amb. Kenton Keith: “Vital importance of person to person engagement”

Flags in State Department lobby


(14 May 2016) Remarks by Amb. Kenton W. Keith on receiving the DACOR Foreign Service Cup at Foreign Affairs Day, 6 May 2016, U.S. Department of State. Reprinted with permission.

Thank you Amb. Ewing,  Mr. Director General, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very grateful to have my name included among those on this prestigious cup.  I would like to accept on behalf of the many who toiled in the vineyards of public diplomacy as members of the US Information Agency, and those who do so today within the Department  of State.

When USIA was amalgamated into the Department, the overwhelming concern was the protection of the function in a Department that was not accustomed to placing a high priority on Public Diplomacy.

Some worried that if the sacred budget for exchange programs and cultural programming were to be bundled in the same resource competition as traditional State Department requirements, it would be the public diplomacy requirements that would suffer.  Others feared that the best of the public diplomacy officers would eventually gravitate to faster career tracks in the political or economic cones.

Many foresaw that the public diplomacy function would diminish in effectiveness with the blending of one agency – which emphasized engagement with publics – with another agency which emphasized private engagement with governments.

From a broader perspective, the end of the cold war seemed to signal a moment in history when competition against a single hegemonic adversary was at an end, and the need for a dedicated public diplomacy agency was also at an end.  However, we now realize that the cold war evolved into new, more complex and frustrating challenges around the world, and America’s vision has come under ever-increasing challenges.

In recent years I have had the opportunity to lead inspections of various missions in Europe and Latin America, and I have been positively impressed with the quality of the Public Diplomacy officers I have encountered.  They are bright, hard-working and dedicated.

I have also found that officers in other cones have better learned to employ public diplomacy tools than was the case in my 32 years of active service.  This is good news indeed.  But it is also true that the culture of public diplomacy professionals that was bred and cultivated in USIA has suffered.

I confess that I am among the dinosaurs who have been left behind in the new battlefield of social media.  Yet I recognize its importance, and it is the impressive new colleagues in diplomatic service who will have to take up this challenge.  Still, I sincerely hope that we will never lose sight of the vital importance of person to person engagement.  Or as Edward R. Murrow put it, “the final three feet.”

Again, I am truly honored to be awarded the Foreign Service Cup.  I thank my friend and colleague Tom Homan for nominating me, and the DACOR committee that selected me for the award.

Thank you.
Amb. Kenton Keith

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New VOA Director Visits May 2016 First Monday Forum

Amanda Bennett swearing in

Amanda Bennett, left, is sworn in as Voice of America director by John Lansing, CEO of BBG. Acting director Kelu Chao holds the bible. (

(24 April 2016) Amanda Bennett, Voice of America’s new director, will visit the next First Monday Forum, on Monday 2 May at American Foreign Service Association in Washington, D.C. Bennett was sworn in as VOA’s director on 18 April 2016.

Bennett is a veteran reporter and editor, with two Pulitzer prizes to her credit. She joins VOA from a stint as contributing columnist at the Washington Post. Bennett earlier served as executive editor for Bloomberg News, where she created and ran a global team of investigative reporters and editors, and also co-founded the Bloomberg News’ Women’s Project.

Her work with the Wall Street Journal led to her winning one of the 1997 Pulitzer awards for national reporting. In 2001, Bennett’s team at the Oregonian in Portland received the Pulitzer prize that year for public service. She was a member or co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board from 2003 to 2010, as well as on the boards of the Gerald Loeb Awards, the American Society of News Editors, and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

First Monday forums are a joint project of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and Public Diplomacy Council. The event takes place on Monday, 2 May 2016 at 12 noon, at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E Street NW, Washington DC (Foggy Bottom metro). Sandwiches and refreshments will be served.

The event is free, but advance registrations by e-mail are required:

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Visit to French Ambassador’s Residence

French ambassador's residence

Residence of the Ambassador of France in Washington, D.C. (AgnosticPreachersKid, Wikimedia Commons)

RSVPs for waiting list being accepted.

(Updated 24May 2016) The Embassy of France and PDAA, an association of public diplomacy professionals, take great pleasure in inviting you to a talk and reception at the Residence of France on Wednesday, June 8, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  Nathalie Broadhurst, the Deputy Chief of Mission for France, will discuss “The Challenges of Europe and their Impact on France, the United States and the American-French Relationship.”   Mme. Broadhurst, who has also had postings in China, previously served as the deputy assistant secretary for the United Nations and multilateral organizations and the director of the office of Development Policies in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This special event will take place at a critical time for Europe:  just two weeks prior to the vote in Great Britain on a “Brexit,” Great Britain’s possible departure from the EU.  Mme. Broadhurst may also comment on the migrant crisis and efforts to counter terrorism.   In addition to PDAA members and guests, several representatives of the French Embassy and the French community in Washington will also attend, expanding the opportunities for an exchange of views.

If you wish to attend, please reply to with your name and the name of your guest as soon as possible.  Approximately 70 members and guests of PDAA will be able to attend.  Please reply by Wednesday, June 1.   (Registrants may bring more than one guest.)

The beautiful and historic Residence of France is located at 2221 Kalorama Road, N.W., in the Sheridan-Kalorama area of Washington, D.C.   Street parking is available, but those attending may wish to car pool.

We look forward to seeing you at this event.

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The Space Education of a Foreign Service Officer

International Space Station

International Space Station (

(2 April 2016) Editor’s note: Retired FSO and PDAA member Bill Parker tells how he became a space — as in extra-terrestrial space — enthusiast. Bill has been Special Advisor to the Space Foundation since 2007, a gig as he explains, “continuously excites and surprises me with its very robust global engagement.” This essay first appeared on the Space Foundation Web site, and is reprinted with permission.

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Reporting for duty at Offutt Air Force Base, to assume the position of Foreign Affairs Advisor (POLAD) to the Commander of United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), was an immediate shock. Having served as a Foreign Service Officer (diplomat) for over 31 years, my previous assignments had been to foreign countries or the occasional “ultimate hardship assignment,” Washington, D.C. I thought my lifelong infatuation with NASA might have prepared me for the extraordinary space education I was about to receive. Following several wise recommendations (orders), I jumped at the opportunity to attend my first Space Symposium and get an inside glimpse of our remarkable global space enterprise — through the lens of this amazing event, which the tremendous Space Foundation team has been refining over the years.

For those unfamiliar with its preeminence in the industry, the Foundation’s annual Space Symposium has brought scores of thousands of U.S. and international (government, commercial and military) folks together over the years. In many ways, the Space Foundation has figured out how to foster and grow collaborative opportunities throughout the ever-expanding space community to advance how we view and support space endeavors. If you haven’t noticed, space is now truly democratized. In the eyes of this former Minister-Counselor, no other organization understands this global dynamic quite like the Space Foundation does.

Among other peak experiences of working with this unique group was a trip to China made a few years back. Leveraging its prerogative as a non-governmental organization, working to keep informal lines of communication open despite the challenges of the official U.S./China space dialogue, Foundation leadership organized an historic “Unofficial/Informal” visit where important new personal, professional and institutional relationships were forged. Traveling the Chinese countryside by bus, accompanied by former U.S. astronauts and our Chinese hosts, afforded me the most comprehensive immersion into the nexus of Chinese and U.S. space endeavors. As you can imagine, being among the first westerners to visit certain facilities and to reside at “The Taikonaut Hotel” while touring launch facilities in the Gobi Desert, has been the subject of many sidebar discussions during any number of Space Symposia. Other such engagements have fostered cross-cultural communication and an ongoing positive dialogue with our Chinese Space interlocutors that is both current and robust.

Continue reading The Space Education of a Foreign Service Officer