Back Issues of PDAA Today

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

Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age Discussion at June 3 Forum

Nicholas Cull, University of Southern California

You are invited to join the next “First Monday” lunch forum on Monday, June 3, when the speaker will be Nick Cull, Director of the University of Southern California’s Master of Public Diplomacy program, who will discuss his new book, Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. Nick’s bio is available at:

First Monday forums start at 12 noon and take place at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E Street NW, room 602. These programs are free, but we ask that, in order to have an accurate count for catering. Please RSVP to

First Monday programs are presented by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the Public Diplomacy Association of America.

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PDAA Honors Outstanding Public Diplomacy Initiatives

By Domenick DiPasquale

Creative programming, strong leadership skills, and innovative solutions to pressing social needs characterize the work of the four recipients of this year’s PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy.

At the annual PDAA awards ceremony, held this year at the Army and Navy Club on May 5, outgoing PDAA President Cynthia Efird noted that a record 26 nominations had been submitted for the 2019 awards, an indication of the importance of public diplomacy to achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The four winners were:

Natella Svistunova, Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Belmopan, Belize;
Debra Toribiong, Public Diplomacy Specialist, Embassy Koror, Palau;
Chris Hodges, Public Affairs Officer, Consulate Jerusalem (now the Palestinian Affairs Unit, Embassy Jerusalem, Israel);
Niles Cole, Cultural Affairs Officer, Embassy Kampala, Uganda

Natella Svistunova, Public Affairs Officer, Embassy Belmopan, accompanied by Jon Piechowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, receives award from PDAA President Cynthia Efird for combating gender-based violence in Belize. (Photo: Alan Kotok)

Combating gender-based violence is a major Embassy objective in Belize, a nation where an estimated one of every two women is a victim. Natella Svistunova took a unique approach to the issue by enlisting the help of a local entrepreneur, Marie Sharp, whose line of locally produced habañero hot sauces (with names such as “No Wimps Allowed Habañero”) have achieved iconic status in Belize. Their collaborative approach led to the company producing a new sauce – named “Pure Love” – specifically designed with messages to counter violence against women.

To raise awareness of the issue with youth, Svistunova organized a program in local schools to design the label for the new sauce. Further amplifying the impact of this initiative, Sharp committed to send proceeds from the sale of Pure Love to Haven House, Belize’s only shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence. She personally added an inscription to every bottle label that reads in part, “Inspired by the U.S. Embassy in Belize, I am proud to launch and support this special product to help combat gender-based violence in Belize.”

With the product ready to go, Svistunova organized a high-profile event on Valentine’s Day hosted by the Chargé d’Affaires at the Chief of Mission residence. The launch, held in cooperation with Kim Simplis Barrow, the wife of Belize’s Prime Minister and the country’s special envoy for women and children, raised awareness of gender-based violence. Thanks to Svistunova’s comprehensive network of contacts, every media outlet in Belize covered the event on TV and in print, and it was splashed across social media. On her Facebook page, Barrow publicly lauded Svistunova the next day, stating “Thank you to Natella Svistunova, Public [Affairs] Officer at the U.S. Embassy, whose vision and drive brought us to this point.”

Debra Toribiong, Public Diplomacy Specialist, Embassy Koror, receives PDAA award for addressing public health and nutrition issues on the island of Palau. (Alan Kotok)

As Embassy Koror’s sole public diplomacy specialist, Debra Toribiong is by necessity a jack-of-all trades and all issues, but her special focus on improving public health and nutrition has had far-reaching success on the small island of Palau. Ranked as the third most obese nation in the world, with 56 percent of its population falling into that category, Palau confronts a difficult future managing the cost of medical care for obesity-related diseases.

To support the Embassy’s key objective of improving food security and health, Toribiong initiated a multi-pronged campaign aimed at the island’s youth that encouraged them to embrace a healthier lifestyle and diet. She worked with the Ministry of Education to redesign the school lunch program (less imported Spam® and white rice, more locally sourced fish and produce), created an innovative training program to connect school cooks with medical professionals and top chefs to prepare healthier menus, and arranged for the donation of sports equipment to increase school children’s activity levels.

Among her many other accomplishments, Toribiong has developed catchy social media posts, in the process increasing the Embassy’s Facebook followers from 2,000 when she was hired three years ago to 47,000 today. As her nominating officer, Ambassador Amy Hyatt, said of Toribiong, “she is the most innovative, creative, and dedicated public diplomacy professional I have worked with in over 30 years in the Foreign Service.”

Chris Hodges was recognized for his work guiding media and public diplomacy engagement with Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza during a particularly challenging period of changes in U.S. policy and the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. After the move, Consulate General Jerusalem merged with the Embassy, becoming the Embassy’s Palestinian Affairs Unit. As a result of these events, Consulate morale as well as Palestinian opinion of U.S. policy reached new lows.

To re-energize both the American and local staff in Jerusalem, Hodges worked with an Embassy counterpart to lead a workshop for Palestinian and Israeli staff members at which they could listen to and learn from each other, thereby enabling them to coordinate while working independently. Such efforts were critical to re-energizing and reorienting local staff members so as to maintain their usual high standard of performance during a difficult transition.

To counter Palestinian anger over the Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Hodges enhanced outreach to Palestinians by framing the bilateral relationship as one between two peoples, not just two governments. He likewise used professional and academic exchange programs, English courses, and American Spaces to continue engaging key Palestinian audiences and to forge partnerships essential to U.S. credibility and effectiveness. Through press guidance, media outreach, and interviews conducted in fluent Arabic, Hodges highlighted the message of the enduring U.S. commitment to Palestinians.

In Uganda, Niles Cole designed an extremely cost-effective program to inspire young students, in particular young women, to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related careers. The concept, while directly supporting Embassy Kampala’s mission goals, also expanded U.S. influence in remote, often vulnerable, and hard-to-reach communities; in addition, it countered the narrative that only China is investing in Africa.

Cole helped launch a mobile STEM lab, the “Nile Explorer.” The bus, named to honor the fact that Uganda is the source of the river Nile, travels to remote areas and stops every week to deliver a five-day program that demonstrates to Ugandan students and their teachers the benefits of an interactive educational approach. Since its inception, the Nile Explorer has visited 32 schools across 15 districts, reaching nearly 5,000 students (more than half female) aged 10 to 12.

The program has shown impressive results in the short span of six months that it has been running, with five schools buying computers to continue building computer literacy skills; more interactive versus passive learning at participating schools; and increased interest from girls in excelling in the hard science courses they had normally been steered away from, as the sciences traditionally had been seen as suitable only for boys. Such efforts have allowed the Embassy to demonstrate that while China may be investing in building Uganda’s infrastructure, the United States is building the country’s future by investing in its human development.

The PDAA Awards Committee also gave honorable mention to three other individuals who were nominated: Eveline Tseng, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer in Kabul, Afghanistan; Violeta Talandis, Political/Economic/Public Diplomacy Officer in Asmara, Eritrea; and Yolonda Kerney, Public Affairs Officer in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The award winners were given one-year memberships in PDAA in addition to a cash award.

The Public Diplomacy Association of America (PDAA) is a non-profit organization that brings together professionals experienced in public diplomacy and foreign affairs to examine and support the nexus between the two. In addition to its awards program, PDAA also sponsors quarterly luncheons featuring distinguished speakers, publishes a quarterly newsletter, and maintains an active website. More information about PDAA is available at A list of past award recipients is available here.

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New PDAA Officers and Directors Announced

Janice Brambilla (in white jacket) will become PDAA President on June 1, 2019. She has a long career throughout the Public Diplomacy community, including positions with the Voice of America, International Broadcasting Bureau, Broadcasting Board of Governors, United States Information Agency, and Department of State. (Photo: Alan Kotok)

Janice Brambilla will be PDAA’s new President effective June 1. She succeeds Ambassador Cynthia Efird, who has held the office for the past three years.

Joel Fischman will be the new Vice President, succeeding Tania Chomiak-Salvi.

Other new members of the Board of Directors include Judy Baroody, who will chair the Awards Committee; Joan Mower, who will chair the Program Committee; Domenick DiPasquale, who will serve on the Awards Committee; and Jarek Anders, who will serve on the Program Committee. Pat Kushlis will join the Board and serve as head of National Outreach; she is based in New Mexico.

Continuing directors include Cynthia Efird (President Emerita), Bill Wanlund (Board Secretary), Mary Jeffers (Board Treasurer), Michael Korff (Communications Committee coordinator and PDAA Editor), Claude Porsella (Member News Editor), Tom Miller (Deputy Chair of the Awards Committee), and Greta Morris (President Emerita and Deputy Chair of the Program Committee).

Jan Brambilla (Alan Kotok)

Jan Brambilla served for over 25 years in senior executive positions in Foreign Service and Civil Service Human Resources Management, Organizational Analysis/Strategic Planning, Executive Performance and Compensation, Policy/Program Development and Implementation, and Budget/Financial Management. Her work took her to assignments throughout the Public Diplomacy community, including positions with the Voice of America, International Broadcasting Bureau, Broadcasting Board of Governors, United States Information Agency, and Department of State.

To contact officers and Board members, write to

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Capitol Hill Chorale to perform in Republic of Georgia; Pre-departure concert set for June 1 and 2 in DC

Capitol Hill ChoraleWith grant support from the US Embassy in Tbilisi, the Capitol Hill Chorale will travel to the Republic of Georgia for a 10-day concert tour in June. PDAA members are invited to the Chorale’s pre-departure concert in DC on June 1 and 2, featuring works that will be performed on the tour: early American music, contemporary pieces by the Chorale’s resident composer, Dr. Kevin Siegfried, Georgian folk songs, and the Georgian Sacred Chants on the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by Zakaria Paliashvili (1871-1933), the “father of Georgian classical music.”

The Capitol Hill Chorale is a 100-voice, auditioned ensemble with members from throughout the metro area led by Frederick Binkholder, who is on the music faculty at Georgetown University. Under his leadership, and in the presence of the Georgian Ambassador, the Chorale gave the American premiere of Paliashvili’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in 2010 on Capitol Hill. The stunningly beautiful work is rarely heard and before the Chorale’s performance, there was no record of it ever being sung publicly since it premiered in Tbilisi in 1909. It represents a musical tradition that was suppressed during the Soviet domination of Georgia for most of the twentieth century. The Chorale created its own performing edition of the work, with advice from Georgian traditional music experts in the U.S. and at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, based on a microfilm version of the original score found in the Lenin Library in Moscow. The Chorale’s American premiere was followed in 2014 by the ensemble making the first-ever recording of the work sung in the Georgian language; the only known earlier recording was done in Church Slavonic.

This concert tour marks a major 2019 public diplomacy project for our embassy in Tbilisi. The Chorale will rehearse and perform with Georgian choirs and traditional music groups in concert halls and cathedrals across the country, with coverage in the Georgian media. PDAA member Katherine Wood is a member of the Chorale.

The DC performances take place on June 1 at 7:30 pm and June 2 at 4 pm at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, 4th and Independence Ave. SE. Advance ticket purchases are recommended and are available online at

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Authoritarian Media: Supercharged in a Digital Age

by Alan Heil

In this era of expanding use of new communications tools, accuracy in media matters as never before. Globally, truth and fairness in journalism is endangered in unprecedented ways.

Shanthi Kalathil, senior director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies, and Dean W. Jackson, assistant program officer on the research and conferences team of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. Photo by Bruce Guthrie.

Two specialists from the National Endowment for Democracy recently explained to a First Monday of the Month forum of the PDC and PDAA how China, Russia, and Iran are exercising “a purposeful use of false or misleading information to undermine political discourse in the West, aimed at democratic elections woven in the democratic square.” They aim particularly at the United States and Europe, but Africa and Latin America as well.

Shanthi Kalathil and Dean W. Jackson were addressing a capacity crowd at the George Washington University’s School of International Studies on April 1.

As Dr. Kalathil put it: “Bot networks clog public debate and amplify disinformation narratives. Russia-originated artificial intelligence engaging curious listeners in Ukraine, for example.”

Mr. Jackson added that about five years ago, the International Forum for Democratic Studies began focusing intensely on pre-existing divides and sentiments that attract masters of disinformation. Protests across Europe against immigrants, he said, were of particular interest. “Fear, anger and distrust,” Jackson added, “are powerful drivers” as concerns escalate.

He cited Russian activities in Ukraine, and even Spain, as target countries. “Educated audiences,” he added, “are not immune.” Debates over climate change offer another example. “Too often,” according to Jackson, “rumors and fabrications by the purveyors of disinformation get a leg up on accurate and honest journalistic content.”

So What are some Effective Responses?

In the NED specialists’ views:

  • Fact-checking and instilling media literacy are essential, but in the new media age, not sufficient.
  • There’s a need to address seriously the impact of the new technologies (artificial intelligence, for example, as well as reasons for the decline of traditional media).
  • We must figure out how to expand the supply of quality, well-sourced information that people need and want.
  • More person-to-person communication. In general, this can be more persuasive and more credible.

Asked about the role of U.S. government funded broadcasts such as the joint RFE/RL-VOA around the clock Russian program, Current Time, Dean Jackson felt that an emphasis on countering Moscow-originated disinformation on that program stream is helpful. Current Time originates at RFE-RL’S headquarters in Prague.

Earlier this year, VOA and RFE/RL launched a second, 24/7 multimedia stream in Persian, called VOA 365. This new largely digital multimedia venture (also with TV, radio and on-line programming) reaches more than a quarter of Iran’s population in addition to Persian-speaking consumers around the world. That diaspora can make a huge difference in personal relations with relatives at home.

On April 3, VOA Director Amanda Bennett appointed VOA veteran staffer Doug Bernard as Director of Press Freedom news. He’ll be working with Voice journalists in the central newsroom and with English and language division broadcasters to curate an agency-wide English web page featuring all Voice press freedom reports, weekly profiles of journalists under fire, and live social media feeds.

The new Press Freedom website will be inaugurated May 3 on International Press Freedom Day. It will be available to all U.S. funded international networks, including RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcast Network in Arabic and Radio-TV Marti to Cuba in Spanish.

In late March, Burundi (ranked 150th out of 189 countries in press freedom) announced it will continue to block broadcasts from the BBC and VOA as it had during the previous election year in that central African country. The BBC termed this “a serious blow against media freedom.”

VOA Director Bennett said: “We are alarmed that reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA. We stand with the people of Burundi against those who are restricting their access to accurate and reliable information.”

I highly recommend a new book on press freedom by David E. McCraw, deputy general counsel of the New York Times. Its title: “Truth In Our Times.”
His conclusion: “The authors of the First Amendment were not naïve. They understood from hard-edged experience that lies were inevitable, the urge to deceive grounded in human nature. But democracy’s remedy was an informed citizenry that, in the fullness of time, would pull the lever for truth over falsity. The alternative — a government that used its power to decide who spoke and who was silent, what was real and what was fake — was untenable. We come closer and closer to learning that every day.”

Reprinted by permission from the Public Diplomacy Council

Alan Heil
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More

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Annual Award Brunch Set for May 5: Excellence in Public Diplomacy Focus of Event

PDAA’s premier event of the year, the annual awards brunch, is set for May 5. It will again take place at the Army and Navy Club. The event runs from noon to 2:30.

PDAA celebrates its tradition of honoring excellence in public diplomacy. In all but five years since 1993, PDAA has honored professionals in government agencies and non-government organizations working in more than 50 countries and in the United States whose work makes a difference in projecting American policies, ideas, and culture to the rest of the world.

The 22nd annual PDAA Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy recognizes the outstanding work conducted over the past year by members of the Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff (LES) members, employees of binational centers and American Corners, and EducationUSA advisers. For a complete list of past recipients, please go to

Tickets for the event this year remain $45.00 per person.

The Army and Navy Club is located at 901 17th St NW, between I and K Streets in Washington, DC. The club is easily accessible by Metro, just one block from either the Farragut North or Farragut West stations. On Sunday, there is street parking available in the area. However, for those who would like valet parking, it is available at a cost of $13.00.

To purchase tickets, you can reserve below with a credit card, or complete the form on page 7 of PDAA Today and send with your check, payable to PDAA, to Treasurer Mary Jeffers. The deadline for purchasing tickets is Fri., Apr. 26.


Optional: The PDAA Awards Program is one of our most important activities. To make a voluntary contribution:






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