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PDAA Announces 2021 Awards for Achievement in Public Diplomacy

by Domenick DiPasquale

Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding, public diplomacy practitioners across the globe continue to engage their local audiences creatively on key policy issues, as clearly evidenced by the winners of the 2021 PDAA awards for achievement in public diplomacy.

Whether showcasing U.S. support for democracy and human rights, combating trafficking in persons, encouraging entrepreneurship, or crafting calibrated messaging on immigration policy, this year’s award winners employed strategies ranging from old school printed flyers to cutting edge social media campaigns to effectively communicate with foreign publics.

The four winners of the 2021 PDAA awards are:

  • Public Affairs Section, U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau
  • Sohini Das, Public Engagement Specialist, U.S. Consulate General Kolkata
  • Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy Algiers
  • Allyson Hamilton-McIntire, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Mexico City

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To kick off International Education Week, check out the EdUSA Go! Buses that ran all over Hong Kong. People were urged to post a photo and tag the Consulate on Facebook. Posters received an EducationUSA souvenir for the best photo.

Public Affairs Section, U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau. Confronted with the Chinese Communist Party’s harsh crackdown on democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, as well as attempts to implicate the United States in the resulting political unrest, the Consulate’s public affairs section (PAS) launched a campaign on multiple media platforms to push back against Beijing’s repressive measures. It was accomplished by highlighting positive USG support for Hong Kong and its autonomy, spotlighting Chinese government efforts to restrict Hong Kong’s fundamental freedoms, and reinforcing shared U.S.-Hong Kong values through expanded people-to-people ties.

These efforts included op-ed placements in major local newspapers; producing or facilitating statements by U.S. and allied officials, including one issued by the G-7 group, decrying Beijing’s draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong citizens; and prominently tracking on the consulate website–right to the present day–Hong Kong citizens arrested under that law.

Beyond the steady drumbeat of this media blitz that kept attention on Beijing’s crackdown, the PAS successfully countered Chinese propaganda by highlighting America’s positive local and global roles, rallying public support from likeminded partners, and building networks to foster shared values between the United States and Hong Kong. After the Fulbright program was suspended in Hong Kong, for example, PAS launched an independent network of USG exchange program alumni. The PAS team accomplished all this despite limitations imposed by the covid-19 pandemic as well as ongoing PRC propaganda and harassment of consulate staff.

ConGen Kolkata’s Trafficking in Persons effort

Sohini Das, Public Engagement Specialist, U.S. Consulate General Kolkata. Combatting human trafficking is a priority for U.S. diplomatic missions in India. With eastern India a major trafficking hub, Public Engagement Specialist Sohini Das at the U.S. consulate in Kolkata has developed a multi-layered approach to the problem. The cornerstone of this initiative is the Anti-Trafficking-in-Persons Conclave that brings together key anti-trafficking players to address new and ongoing challenges. Targeted activities throughout the year culminate in the annual conclaves, which have produced significant collaborations leading directly to positive legislative and judicial results.

Das employed a range of public diplomacy resources in her efforts. Using the State Department’s Arts Envoy Program, for example, she brought U.S.-based digital storytellers to work with eight trafficking survivors to create short films advocating for the inclusion of survivor voices in policymaking. Likewise, capitalizing on the great popularity of field hockey, Das used the Sports Visitor Exchange to bring American collegiate field hockey players to participate in a hockey and leadership camp for 107 tribal girls from heavily-trafficked districts.

Noting that the West Bengal government had launched an effective school-based trafficking prevention program with local police, Das envisioned expanding it to three neighboring Indian states. All three subsequently launched pilot programs based on the West Bengal model, empowering youth to work with police to report on and prevent trafficking in their communities. As schools closed as a result of the pandemic, Das also worked with stakeholders to address emerging trends in human trafficking. Her efforts resulted in training programs bringing together more than 1,500 police officers, 4,000 educators, 12,000 community workers, and a half-million young people to counter traffickers’ recruitment efforts in India’s worst-affected states.

Scenes from the red carpet premiere of AmEmbassy Algiers’s Andi Hulm

Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy Algiers. Algeria faces a significant youth bulge in its population, high unemployment, and a stagnant economy dominated by inefficient state-run companies. In response to this challenging environment, the Embassy public affairs section produced and broadcast a “Shark Tank”-style reality television show, Andi Hulm (“I Have a Dream”), to promote the importance of entrepreneurship and to support U.S. businesses in Algeria.

The 60 original contestants competed in challenges related to sales and marketing, business operations, product design, management, and teamwork. The ten-episode show, which took place at American businesses operating in Algiers, resulted in the crowning of a champion who received a cash prize and went on a State Department-funded incubation exchange in the United States.

The series aired on Algeria’s most-watched television channel during primetime, reaching millions of Algerians weekly and garnering social media buzz and positive press reviews. Some participants in the show went on to start successful business ventures of their own. In addition, the show gave a much-needed jolt to the image of U.S. brands in Algeria; multiple companies featured in the show saw their revenues spike.

Ambassador Roberta Jacobson on migration

Allyson Hamilton-McIntire, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Mexico City. The Central American migrant surge at the U.S. southern border posed major challenges for Embassy Mexico, in particular the need to communicate different messages to those who had pending U.S. asylum cases and to the much larger number who did not. Assistant Information Officer Allyson Hamilton-McIntire took on the daunting high priority task to develop a finely nuanced communication strategy on migration policy aimed at these two very different audiences.

For the thousands of migrants with pending asylum cases, Hamilton-McIntire filled the existing information vacuum with detailed guidelines, timelines, and procedures on the asylum process. The real challenge she faced, however, was publicly distinguishing between these relatively few migrants the United States would admit and the legions drawn north by dire domestic conditions in Central America.

To reach this latter group, Hamilton-McIntyre employed an entire litany of communication tools from traditional to contemporary – TV monitors at migrant shelters, roadside billboards, printed flyers, and, where possible, the WhatsApp groups that migrant caravans employ – to deliver clear information on U.S. immigration policy. Numerous interviews she arranged for Embassy representatives and other authoritative U.S. officials reiterated and reinforced in key border regions and migration source countries the deterrence message aimed at potential migrants.

Public Diplomacy Association of America awards for achievement in public diplomacy. Retired Foreign Service Officer Judith Baroody, chair of the PDAA awards committee, noted the large number of worthy, well-documented nominations. “We were so concerned that the pandemic and draw-downs (reductions in personnel) would have made it impossible to do innovative and effective public diplomacy projects that we came close to skipping the awards this year,” she said. “The courage and creativity of our PD colleagues working overseas turned out to be inspiring. It was a bit heartbreaking not to recognize all the exceptional PD initiatives taking place around the world, but we are pleased that four different geographic regions are represented among the winners.”

Due to continuing covid-19 restrictions, PDAA will not hold the annual in-person awards luncheon to honor the winners. Instead, as it did last year, PDAA will hold a videoconference later in the spring for its members, during which the four winners will be invited to make short remote live or pre-recorded presentations about their work.

Public Diplomacy Association of America, formerly the USIA Alumni Association, is a not-for-profit, voluntary, 501(c)(6) organization, with some 400 members. PDAA members have worked in or with the information, education, and cultural programs which the U.S. Government incorporates into the conduct of its diplomacy abroad. Its sister-organization, the Public Diplomacy Council, is a U.S. -based nonprofit organization committed to the academic study, professional practice, and responsible advocacy of public diplomacy.

Previous recipients of the award can be seen here. To support financially the awards, please go here.

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