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2011 PDAA Awards Recognize Public Diplomacy Excellence

Joseph Zilligen and Carla Benini

2011 achievement award winners Joseph Zilligen and Carla Benini (A. Kotok)

Public Diplomacy Alumni Association highlights achievements by professionals in Mexico, Uganda, Turkmenistan, and Washington, DC

Public diplomacy, when done right, combines leadership, imagination, resourcefulness, and plain determination, often under challenging conditions. The Public Diplomacy Alumni Association (PDAA, formerly USIA Alumni Association) recognizes outstanding achievement by individuals and teams at overseas posts and at State Department headquarters that display these qualities, among others. The four sets of winners of this year’s recognition of public diplomacy achievement — the 14th awards in the series that has become an annual event — took place at PDAA’s 2011 annual dinner on May 15 in Arlington, Virginia.

Christopher Teal, for his dedication, vision and leadership in creating Cobertura Segura to train and support Mexican journalists in a high risk reporting environment.

Christopher Teal is the Public Affairs Officer and Deputy Consul-General at the U. S Consulate General in Guadalajara, covering Mexico’s seven western states. Recognizing that out of fear Mexican media were underreporting on drug cartels and thus failing to inform the public of the threats to Mexico’s security, Teal developed a pioneer program — Cobertura Segura — to help protect the lives of journalists and, in turn, to better inform the Mexican people. Working with the University of Guadalajara and non-government organizations (NGOs), he developed online programs to train journalists how to develop sources, cover dangerous stories and get them out to an audience while maintaining their own security. Teal worked with participating reporters to create their own network of print, online, bloggers, radio and TV broadcast journalists and an electronic guidebook, which has become an essential tool throughout the hemisphere. Teal secured funding and support from other government agencies and NGOs to put the program on a expanded basis and to refine the material. The results have been high praise from organizations like the International Center for Journalists and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Joann Lockard, for her leadership and creativity in designing and implementing an interagency public affairs effort that improved the lives of Ugandans across sectors and increased awareness of and receptivity to the U.S.

Joann Lockard, Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, recognized the need for a coordinated, innovative and collaborative public diplomacy effort and developed a plan and team, and introduced creative and appealing new technologies to realize her vision of “One Mission, One Voice.” Through her Uganda Model, a multi-agency effort, Lockard led the design and implementation of an array of programs to reach youth, women, and Muslim communities and to develop their technological savvy and journalistic, political, and entrepreneurial skills. She brought young people from the poorest parts of the country to programs in the capital and arranged scholarships for poor but talented students to attend top U. S. universities like MIT and Amherst. She reached into all sectors with programming on HIV/AIDS awareness, human rights — including in the gay community — and journalistic standards, and engaged with the Ugandan Muslim community through, among other programs, interagency funding of a children’s backpack campaign.

Albina Burashnikova, Nina Afanasyeva and Arzigul Kochkarova, for their commitment, creativity and courage in managing American Corners in Mary, Turkmenabat and Dashoguz, Turkmenistan, and connecting America to tens of thousands of Turkmeni people.

Albina Burashnikova, Nina Afanasyeva and Arzigul Kochkarova are the American Corner Managers, respectively, in Mary, Turkmenabat, and Dashoguz, Turkmenistan. As facility and program managers, they are the face of America in their communities, advising and assisting students to study in the U.S., providing English, Internet and leadership training, managing a rich library of American books and movies, organizing events on U.S. culture and history, and engaging Turkmen alumni of an array of U.S. government exchange programs in outreach activities. That they do all this in one of the most restrictive societies in the world testifies to their courage, energy, and imagination, as they deal with unrelenting pressures and intimidation from local officials. Burashnikova, Afanasyeva, and Kochkarova have had a direct, measurable, and profound impact on the lives of tens of thousands of Turkmeni in the past year alone. Through their efforts, they have empowered a new generation of youth and brought hope about what Turkmenistan and its people can achieve.

Joseph Zilligen and Carla Benini, for their uncommon commitment to duty and their intelligent, steadfast and creative approaches to building broad and strong relationships with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Joseph Zilligen and Carla Benini, both public diplomacy desk officers in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, are the Washington leads in support of the Department of State’s public diplomacy programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively. They were an integral part of the Department’s efforts to secure a 1000% increase in public diplomacy funding for Af/Pak and in ensuring its use in support of key public diplomacy objectives, including increasing media engagement, building communications capacity, strengthening people-to-people ties and combating extremist voices. Their efforts created text messaging platforms where none had existed before, brought television and radio reach to at-risk populations in Kandahar, Afghanistan and both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and helped improve Afghan and Pakistani outreach to audiences in Europe and the U.S.

Zilligen was particularly recognized for his exceptional support for the public affairs section in Islamabad during periods of unprecedented growth in resources and programming; for managing the U.S-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue Communications Working Group; and for his diligent support for Pakistani exchangees in the U.S. Benini was noted for her coordination of a pioneering text-messaging project; for advocating and supporting more European programming on Afghanistan; and for steadfast work on an Afghan journalists tour. 

2011 award winners from Turkmenistan

Ambassador to Turkmenistan Robert Patterson, second from left, congratulates from left Arzigul Kochkarova, Albina Burashnikova, and Nina Afanasyeva for their PDAA 2011 Achievement Award.

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