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Winners of 20th Annual PDAA Awards Hailed for Creativity and Innovation

Dolores Prin at school

Dolores Prin, second from right, at a school in Okinawa (U.S. Consulate General Naha)

(11 May 2017) The 2017 winners of the 20th annual PDAA awards for excellence in public diplomacy demonstrated exceptional innovation, ability to connect with foreign audiences, and affect real change in challenging environments.

PDAA, a volunteer, nonprofit organization of current and former State Department, broadcast, academic and private sector public diplomacy professionals, honored the five awardees at their annual award event on May 7 in Washington, D.C. Nominations were received from U.S. embassies in every region of the world and from Washington, demonstrating the excellent work by dedicated public diplomacy practitioners, Cynthia Efird, PDAA president said in opening remarks.

The awardees this year included Public Affairs Officer Dolores Prin at the American Consulate General in Okinawa, Deputy Public Affairs Officer Justen Thomas in Embassy Havana, Miami Media Hub Director Lydia Barraza, Public Affairs Officer Jay Raman in U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, and Educational Adviser Alia Alkhraisha in Dubai.

In their nomination of Prin, Consul General Joel Ehrendreich and Country Public Affairs Officer Margot Carrington commended her for helping “foster an image of America as a positive force in the Okinawa community.”

Local media and government have long been hostile to American military presence in Okinawa, which provides unique challenges to regional interests and the U.S.-Japan alliance, Ehrendreich and Carrington said. Dolores Prin redefined how the U.S. Consulate would reach out to the public, particularly young Okinawans.  “At the center of her strategy was the creation of ‘Washintan’, the Consulate’s own cartoon character and unofficial spokesperson,” they said, explaining that nearly every Japanese city has its own character. Since arriving in Okinawa, Prin’s use of  Washintan – a play on Japanese words loosely meaning “cute little eagle” — has helped increase Japanese Facebook “likes” by over 600%, triple English Facebook views, increase Twitter followers from 1,700 to over 16,000, expand the numbers of people using American Corners, and attract new students to the EducationUSA advising center.

The collaboration of officers Lydia Barraza and Justen Thomas, also working in another extremely challenging media environment, significantly influenced the public narrative in support of normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, wrote Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis in nominating the two. “Their ability to ‘fill the media space’ allowed us to build a consistent narrative on our terms, not those of our policy’s opponents,” he said.

Thomas conducted more than 100 interviews with Spanish-language outlets from Miami and fielded more interviews in that period than any other U.S. government spokesperson in a foreign language, DeLaurentis said. Barraza daily inputs were instrumental in helping the ambassador prepare for media engagements with outlets from NBC and CNN to BBC and EFE, which reached tens of millions of viewers around the world. Barraza also relaunched the International Visitors and Leadership Program.

Public diplomacy doesn’t always have to highlight the latest policy issues to be effective and strategic, as PDAA’s award recipient Jay Raman demonstrated in improving U.S.-Cambodian relations through his work on cultural preservation.

“Under Jay’s leadership, U.S. support for Cambodia’s cultural patrimony has been a notable bright spot, providing a much needed boost during a period of increasing strain in the bilateral relationship,” Deputy Chief of Mission Julie Chung wrote in nominating Raman for the award. Chung said that Raman is overseeing the largest project in the history of the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) – the ongoing restoration of the Phnom Bakheng temple. The work has far reaching consequences because of the great importance the Cambodian government places on its cultural heritage as a source of both pride and as an engine for economic growth, Chung wrote.

Importantly, Raman worked to have looted Cambodian cultural property held in private U.S. collections returned, including a piece recently repatriated by the Denver Art Museum, and has worked in international forums in ensure the sustainable development of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. Raman also had dubbed into Khmer and sponsored a tour in seven rural provinces of the U.S. film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, about the indigenous rock-and-roll culture that was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.  This film is generating important discussions of historical issues in areas that were most affected by the war.

Education Adviser Alia Alkhraisha in Dubai, United Arab Emirates has organized and participated in over 60 major outreach events on behalf of EducationUSA, reaching an audience of more than 38,000 students, educators and university representatives, wrote Alfred Boll, Branch Chief for EducationUSA in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in nominating Alkhraisha.  As a result of Alkhraisha’s initiatives, Boll said, for the first time the UAE Ministry of Education has allowed her to do outreach in the public schools. The number of visitors to the educational advising center has doubled over the last year and the number of Emirati high school graduates pursuing higher studies in the United States has grown for the sixth consecutive year.

Alkhraisha’s methods, PowerPoints, briefing materials, and handouts are so effective that they are now being used by other EducationUSA centers across the 19 countries in the region, Boll wrote.

PDAA’s mission is to foster understanding, recognition of and support for public diplomacy through educational and social activities.

For more information about PDAA’s activities, please visit www.publicdiplomacy.org.  You’ll also find there a complete list of PDAA’s award winners since 1993. Photos from the awards ceremony on 7 May 2017 are in the slideshow below.

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