In Pakistan, art is being used to give voice to young Pakistanis, displaced persons and refugees – many in remote and marginalized regions – on difficult national issues. In Equatorial Guinea, where political opponents are routinely arrested and held without charge, discussion groups and roundtables are being initiated to engage audiences on universal human rights. In Saudi Arabia, women activists, committed to addressing issues of domestic violence, child abuse and women’s rights, are mobilizing to run for municipal elections. And in Swaziland, the visually impaired are, for the first time, able to have access to new information technologies.
Much of this is happening due to the creativity, commitment, and outstanding professionalism of the 2014 recipients of the 17th annual PDAA Award for Achievement in Public Diplomacy, honoring their efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy through creative, innovative and effective public diplomacy strategies. PDAA, which is a volunteer, nonprofit organization of current and former State Department, broadcast, academic and private sector public diplomacy professionals, recognized the six awardees at an annual dinner held May 4 in Washington, D.C.
Working in an extremely challenging programming environment, PDAA’s first three awardees conceived, organized and implemented an exceptional multi-dimensional exchange program: “Pakistani Voices: A Conversation with The Migration Series” combining speaker programs, hands-on workshops with social and tradition media outreach to more than 375 artists, students, educators and museum professionals across Pakistan. International Information Program’s Attia Nasar, then-Islamabad Public Affairs Officer Ajani Husbands, and Rachel Goldberg with The Phillips Collection collaborated in the multi-year project that focuses on the use of art to generate positive discussions on U.S.-Pakistani relations, as well as provide a conduit for communication on challenging social issues.
Posted to Equatorial Guinea where independent media are severely restricted and websites deemed “critical” of the government are blocked, first-tour PAO Ashley White found creative ways to put together high-impact PD programs on human rights and democracy. White organized a series of roundtables with students, government officials, legal experts, and civil society representatives featuring not only the ambassador but also high-level civil rights and election experts. These were the only uncensored fora Equatorial Guinea has had in years, said Ambassador Mark Asquino. On her own time, White started an “English Speaking Roundtable” that meets twice weekly with students to strengthen their language skills and understanding of U.S. society and values.
Saudi Arabia is a country where programs targeting women and youth are highly restricted. But this has not stopped Cultural Affairs Specialist Naimeh Hadidi from building a nationwide network that fosters partnerships between the Mission and women leaders in Saudi Arabia to support their efforts to battle gender apartheid in the country. “She has almost singlehandedly led USG outreach in hard-to-reach remote and ultra-conservative areas, places Embassy staff would ordinarily never be able to access,” Deputy Cultural Attaché Marlo Cross-Durant said in nominating Hadidi. Through her efforts, 41% of Mission Saudi Arabia’s nominees to the FY 2014 International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) program were female and later this year a group of nine Saudi women activists that are mobilizing women to run in the 2015 municipal council elections in Saudi Arabia – the first elections open to women candidates and voters in the country – will visit the U.S. to meet with American women who are running for office, managing election campaigns, raising money and managing media.
Awardee Morrison Mkhonta, Director of U.S. Embassy Mbabane, Swaziland’s Information Resource Center, wanted to help some of the more than 92,000 visually impaired people in Swaziland, where few organizations exist to advocate for their fundamental rights. Mkhonta helped obtain resources to purchase technology used to translate print materials to braille or audio, launched a training center to help in using the new information tools, and played a key role in opening up a world of information that had heretofore not been accessible to many people in Swaziland with disabilities.
PDAA’s mission is to foster understanding, recognition of and support for public diplomacy through educational and social activities.