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Smart Power and Citizen Diplomacy

Sherry Mueller

Sherry Mueller (National Council for International Visitors)

Sherry L. Mueller

Remarks as prepared for the Public Diplomacy Alumni Association
November 30, 2011
DACOR-Bacon House, Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Joe, for that gracious introduction.  I’m grateful to you, Mike Schneider, and the PDAA board for this welcome opportunity to offer some reflections and begin what I hope will be a spirited discussion.

I joined the USIA Alumni Association in the 1980s because your programs have always given the best overviews of what was happening in our field.  This was the time I taught the first course on public diplomacy at the School of International Service.  At the time Dean Olson did not like the term “public diplomacy” so we named the course “Information and Culture as a Dimension of Foreign Policy.”

Each class enjoyed a field trip to USIA including the VOA.  Distinguished colleagues such as Stan Burnett, Wilson Dizard, and Jock Shirley came to meet with my students on campus.  Life sometimes comes full circle and next fall I will be teaching at SIS, my undergrad alma mater, a course entitled: Cultural Diplomacy and International Exchange.

My graduate study at the Fletcher School sparked my interest in public diplomacy.  Vice President Hubert Humphrey inaugurated the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy when I was a student.  I took the first courses ever offered at the Center.  Ambassador Ed Gullion, credited with coining the term “public diplomacy,” was my Dean.

Faculty member Dr. Albert Harkness, whom a few of you may remember, served as my dissertation advisor.  He earned his Ph.D. under the supervision of Samuel Elliot Morrison so I was in good hands academically.  But what I valued most was his extensive experience as a career Foreign Service Officer.  Because of him my dissertation was practical – the first on a public diplomacy topic at Fletcher – focusing on the evaluation of the International Visitor Program.

One of the gifts I am giving this holiday season is a riveting book entitled:The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens.  Thirty-seven year old Greitens records his experiences as a Rhodes Scholar who traveled the world participating in humanitarian projects from Bolivia to Rwanda.  As he worked in refugee camps and other challenging environments he concluded that doing good was not enough.  You had to be strong to protect the weak, to prevent atrocities.

So he became a Navy SEAL (The compelling journey of SEAL training alone – only one in ten makes it through this ordeal – is worth the price of this book.)  Ultimately, he commanded combat forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There he learned that it wasn’t enough to be strong.  To be effective you had to do good – to build relationships over time.  The book is about smart power that Professor Joseph Nye describes so well.

Building relationships over time is the overarching goal of public diplomacy – and citizen diplomacy.  Citizen diplomacy is the concept that the individual citizen has the responsibility to help shape U.S. foreign relations, as NCIV members phrase it, “one handshake at a time.”

There are two types of citizen diplomacy.

1. Spontaneous Citizen Diplomacy – those opportunities each of us has to affect others perceptions of the United States as we go about our daily activities.

For example:

– A GW student befriends a foreign student in class;

– A business representative learns about the customs of the country where she is hoping to close a deal – aware that her actions affect others willingness to buy U.S. products and services, travel to U.S. tourist destinations, or send their children to U.S. universities and colleges;

– You hear a foreign language on a DC street corner and see a couple looking puzzled and pouring over a map.  You offer to give directions.  It may be a little gesture but it makes a big impression.  It is just such cumulative gestures that the city of Philadelphia is encouraging in its quest to become “the friendliest city in America.”

2. Deliberate Citizen Diplomacy – when individuals choose to participate – as guest or host – in international exchange programs designed to build positive relationships, they are engaging in deliberate citizen diplomacy.  Often they do this through various organizations ranging from Partners of the Americas to People to People.

To the extent these exchanges are government-funded, they are part of a nation’s public diplomacy.  For instance, NCIV receives some funding from the U.S. Department of State; most is passed on to our members in the form of grants.  I hasten to add that these grants cover only a part of the dollars needed to implement the IVLP locally.  On average, our members raise $6 for each $1 of federal money received.  Also, those modest federal dollars leverage priceless volunteer labor that is the heart of the IVLP.

Sister Cities, ACYPL, IIE, and other organizations that administer exchanges also involve private fundraising and volunteer time and receive federal funding.  To this extent they are part of U.S. public diplomacy.  Other organizations such as Friendship Force International or the Experiment in International Living (now part of World Learning) receive no government funds.  They implement exchange programs involving citizen diplomats that go well beyond public diplomacy.

Last week I was talking to the editor of the USC journal on public diplomacy about the next issue they are producing on citizen diplomacy.  He was describing the difficulty of arriving at common definitions for these terms.  In any case, the term citizen diplomacy is more widely used now than at any time since President Eisenhower hosted the White House Summit on Citizen Diplomacy in 1956.

NCIV played an essential role in convening the heads of sister organizations at the first Wingspread Conference on Citizen Diplomacy hosted by the Johnson Foundation in 2004.  Out of that grew three National Summits on Citizen Diplomacy.  (The first coincided with a Sister Cities Conference in 2006, the second with the NCIV National Conference in 2008, and last year, the third was convened by the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy headquartered in Des Moines.)

Perhaps the most significant result of this effort to get the concept of citizen diplomacy to the “tipping point” are the community summits on citizen diplomacy held throughout the United States.  NCIV has allocated $143,400 in private dollars to give seed grants to 34 of our members to organize a total of 54 summits to date.  They take the lead in convening the leaders of other organizations with international missions.

Lots of good work is being done beyond the Beltway. 

Here are highlights of recent summits:

1. The Albuquerque CIV in cooperation with the University of New Mexico organized events spanning two days that included an opening session featuring Fulbright alumni hosted by the Isleta Pueblo.  Plenary speaker Cari Guittard, focused on corporate citizen diplomacy – the stake business has in building these relationships.  Some of you remember Cari when she worked for Charlotte Beers at State and as Executive Director of Business for Diplomatic Action.  You can hear her in DC on February 18 at the NCIV National Conference.

2. The Community Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas began with a Parade of Nations and opening plenary at the spectacular Clinton Presidential Center.  In a letter prepared for that occasion, President Clinton said: “Although the concept of citizen diplomacy is straightforward, the results can be profound.  By encouraging and empowering individuals to shape and strengthen foreign relations “one handshake at a time,” the Arkansas Council for International Visitors creates a powerful network of engaged individuals from around the world.”

Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, shared the projects his students, whom he described as citizen diplomats, work on throughout the world.  A panel of international company representatives explained why they picked Arkansas as a location for their businesses.

3. The Arizona CIV hosted a stellar Celebration of Citizen Diplomacy – Arizona on the Global Stage at the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.  Republican Congressman Ben Quayle was most articulate about Arizona’s need to reach out to the rest of the world.  Our member there is doing an excellent job of advocacy for State Department exchange programs in general, and the IVLP in particular.

A few lessons learned

When Joe and I discussed my presentation today he offered me the irresistible opportunity to reflect on my 33 year career in the international exchange field and distill a few lessons learned — some may have implications for the PDAA as well as for NCIV.

1. Advocacy with the U.S. Congress must be a top priority.  NCIV has become an active domestic constituency for the IVLP – and for ECA exchanges in general.  One of the best books I’ve ever read on nonprofit management is Forces for Good.  The methodology mirrors that of the Jim Collins’ From Good to Great book in that authors Heather Grant and Leslie Crutchfield tease out the six characteristics of highly successful nonprofits.  One key characteristic is engaging in advocacy.  Wise NGO leaders realize it is not enough to deliver quality services; you must also influence the public policies affecting your field.

NCIV’s annual breakfast on the Hill, collaboration with the Alliance, advocacy training at National and Regional Conferences, and ongoing relationship building with members of Congress and their staffers (especially at the state and district levels) are vital.  Senator Cardin spoke at the NCIV Regional Meeting in Baltimore last June.  Senator Lugar and Congressman Moran spoke at our 50th Anniversary Gala.  They were key to passing both the Senate and House Resolutions commemorating NCIV’s 50th Anniversary and recognizing the impact of the IVLP and of the NCIV network that includes almost 80,000 volunteers.

2. Outreach to alumni should be considered an integral component of the program.  Maintaining good relationships with alumni enables our diplomats to elicit cooperation from other nations on topics ranging from water conservation to the prevention of epidemics.  The State Department started its Office of Alumni Affairs in 2004 and employs 1 FSO, 5 civil servants, and 6 contractors.  There are approximately 90 Alumni Coordinators at posts around the world working on alumni engagement.

Since 2003 one of the signature events at the annual NCIV National Conference has been an IVLP Alumni Luncheon.  With travel funded privately (first United Airlines and then Carlson Companies), various alumni have described the impact of their U.S. experiences.  They include a Yemeni NGO leader with long-standing ties to Minot, ND, a Japanese journalist, and a Czech presidential advisor.  Willem Post, the TV commentator on US Presidential elections in The Netherlands was our first speaker.  Willem was so impressed by the volunteerism of the NCIV network that he worked with the Mayor to found The Hague Hospitality Center for Foreign Media and Visitors modeled after NCIV member organizations.

Willem was instrumental in working with the U.S. Embassy to establish the IVLP Alumni Association and that launch coincided with a self-funded “NCIV Visits” trip to The Netherlands.  In September, there was an “NCIV Visits France” trip thanks to our Embassy in Paris and the Cercle Jefferson, the IVLP Alumni Association that boasts more than 500 members.  Their directory is a veritable Who’s Who of French leaders.  Our trip to Paris was planned to coincide with the 10th Anniversary of the Cercle Jefferson and included memorable events at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hotel du Talleyrand – the splendid palace the U.S. Embassy purchased to host such special occasions.

The State Department gave NCIV two remarkable 50th Anniversary gifts.  The first was arranging for Secretary Clinton to speak to our members in person.  The second was funding 18 distinguished alumni for the Gold Star tour enabling them to participate in NCIV’s 50th gala and national conference and to visit a key community that was a part of their original trip.  One of my favorite stories involves Alice Nkom from Cameroon.  As an IVLP participant in 2003, she learned about The Oregon Bus Project, a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization, founded to foster meaningful political dialogue.

After her IVLP experience, Alice started a version of this project called “Get on the Bus,” and registered more than 300,000 voters.  When she returned to Portland after the conference, she said she has been born twice – once in Cameroon, her birth home, and once in Portland as a citizen activist.

3. Despite the assertion Burdick and Lederer made in the book The Ugly American — “Average Americans, in their natural state, are the best ambassadors a country can have,” — not everyone is a natural citizen diplomat.  They need training.  NCIV’s mission is not merely to promote citizen diplomacy; it is to promote excellence in citizen diplomacy.  NCIV provides tools and implements training programs.  One key characteristic of good exchange programs emphasized during training is the need for reciprocity.  We must identify resource people who know their subject matter to meet with visitors.  But that is only half of the job.  We also must identify resource persons who engage in a genuine dialogue.

Some of you remember that the brass plaque on the old USIA Building read “Telling America’s Story.”  I have always argued it should have read “Telling America’s Story is Done Best by Good Listeners.”

4. Participants learn much more about our democratic institutions, who we are as a people, and what we value by the way the program is administered, than they do from any expert we may recruit to interact with them.  The British scholar Giles Scott Smith, author of Networks of Empire, reported on his extensive research on the impact of the IVLP on European leaders noting that it is the freedom of movement and exposure to diverse points of view that truly impressed these visitors.

The new Estonian Ambassador attended the same Thanksgiving dinner I did last week.  She said her successful career and appreciation of the United States were directly attributable to the Fulbright grant she received to study at the Fletcher School.

5. As a fan of Peter Drucker who once said “Partner or die,” my experience has convinced me that we should judge the success of our organization by the power and scope of partnerships we forge.  To illustrate, NCIV’s overarching 50th Anniversary goal was building multigenerational leadership at the local and national levels.  Not the passing of the torch but getting people of each generation to take leadership roles and to work together.

One of the best things that happened during my tenure at NCIV is our ongoing partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA.  It started when the director of Global Action for the Girl Scouts came up to me after I spoke at the National Summit on Citizen Diplomacy last year.  In a subsequent phone conversation we decided to propose to State’s Office of International Visitors that there be a Multi-Regional Project for Girl Scout and Girl Guide administrators from around the world.

The State Department liked the idea (who knew Secretary Clinton had been a Girl Scout?).  Earlier this month 23 visitors from around the world participated in a project that culminated in the Centennial Celebration of the Girl Scouts of the USA in Houston.  My colleagues at the Girl Scouts said this project strengthened the movement worldwide in addition to being life-transforming experiences for the participants.  Now NCIV members who host Summits on citizen diplomacy are asked to involve the Girl Scouts.

6. Not all public diplomacy audiences are abroad.  The latest IIE Open Doors statistics show that there are 723,000 international students at US colleges and universities.  While there are some stellar programs, how many students actually visit American homes and make real friends in the United States?

Moorhead Kennedy, one of the hostages in the 1979-1980 Iran crisis, reported in his book, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral, that some of his captors had studied at U.S. universities.  What he wrote then is still true: “We have in the foreign student community in this country something that could be a terrible time bomb or a tremendous source of international understanding – both in what they come to know about us and in what American students learn from them.  We are training a generation not only of foreign leaders but of American leaders, and it is terribly important therefore that our foreign students not be isolated, that they mix, form a part of the community of the universities where they are staying, for their sake, but even more for our own.”

What a missed opportunity for both public and citizen diplomacy.  It is interesting to note that in the last 20 years the U.S. market share of the world’s international students has decreased from 40 percent to 18 percent.
What you can do to help

There are three major ways you can contribute to NCIV and its efforts to promote citizen diplomacy and international exchanges.

– Sign up to help NCIV’s advocacy efforts vis a vis the U.S. Congress.  You know and can enlist other colleagues around the country.  We need your help.  You are superb writers.  You can take NCIV or Alliance action alerts, issued electronically, and craft the letters that will let Congress know that there IS a domestic constituency for the State Department exchange programs including the International Visitor Leadership Program, Fulbright, and others.  Just give me your card or contact information marked advocacy

– Your fine writing skills can also be used to craft op-ed pieces and letters to the editor.  Underscoring the vital importance of exchanges is essential.

– Become an annual donor to NCIV because we put private dollars to excellent use for our advocacy and coalition-building activities.

Many of you contribute to NCIV.  I’m pleased to have this opportunity to thank you publicly for this indispensible financial support.  At minimum we need you to join NCIV as an individual member.  It is an excellent way to stay connected to the field.  You will receive a printed or electronic version of our monthly newsletter and invitations to NCIV events – many here in DC.

Finally, a heartfelt Thank You for all you have done to represent the United States with integrity and for understanding how important Mr. Murrow’s “last three feet” are abroad and here at home.

In this time of particularly disheartening headlines, it is useful to remember another Murrow admonition: “Our task is formidable and difficult but difficulty is one excuse history has never accepted.”

Dr. Mueller served with NCIV first as Executive Director and then as President until September 30, 2011. Before coming to NCIV, she worked for 18 years at the Institute of International Education (IIE), first as a program officer and then as Director of the Professional Exchange Programs staff. During this time she was also an adjunct professor, pioneering the first course on public diplomacy at American University’s School of International Service (SIS).
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