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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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