Exchange Matters / February 19, 2015

Letter from the President: Reflections from February 2015: Much to Celebrate yet Still a Long Road Ahead

All of us at Global Ties U.S. and our network have much to celebrate, thanks to of the outstanding effort on display as we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the International Visitor Leadership Program. This issue of Exchange Matters features the highlights and take-aways from those meetings.

Everyone deserves praise for ensuring that U.S. Department of State Exchange Programs received the recognition they deserve as an important tool of public diplomacy. For the first time, we organized a Latin America Dialogue and joint reception with the Organization of American States. Add to that, the Department of State offered foreign policy sessions that helped participants contextualize programs they run. Perhaps most significantly, we heard from the wife of the Vice President of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, and from the IVLP alumus and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica. Our members and friends clocked-in hundreds of visits to their representatives on Capitol Hill. Finally, the real fruits of all of our labors, international alumni groups, came from throughout the world to attend.

We as a network have much to be proud of for demonstrating excellence, relevance and innovation over a 75-year period. About 335 heads of state and government are alumni of the program, among other luminaries, in large part thanks to the contributions of the IVLP partner organizations that have made the program work.

However, more needs to be done to ensure we are reaching out to communities that have not contributed to the ranks of the world’s leaders in proportion to their size but are likely to do so in the future. Richard Morais, the 2015 Citizen Diplomat of the Year Awardee, alluded to these challenges in the remarks he delivered at the National Meeting. The award-winning journalist and author reminded us that as we celebrate the building of a global community, we must reach out to those who feel threatened by the introduction of a foreign element into their traditional culture, and have the potential to react negatively.

Just one week after our National Meeting, the White House hosted a summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) that brought together representatives from 60 different countries, government, and civil society and community leaders.

February’s news underscored Richard Morais’ message: 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya; the development worker Kayla Mueller was killed in unclear circumstances while held captive by ISIS; three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC were murdered over a parking spot dispute with a neighbor; a rash of anti-Muslim acts across the United States; and members of Europe’s Jewish communities and free speech advocates were killed in France and Denmark.

Vice President Joseph Biden reminds us “We have to … engage our communities and engage those who might be susceptible to being radicalized because they are marginalized.”

“Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant communities, a sense of opportunity, (and) a sense of belonging that discredits the terrorist’s appeal to fear, isolation, hatred, resentment.”

I noted three key messages from the CVE summit:

  • We must stand with our friends and allies around the world
  • Many problems don’t lend themselves to a military solution
  • We must transform the environments that give birth to extremism by preventing them from coming into being

This is a call to action—people-to-people exchanges will foster our ability to develop friends and allies around the world and permit us to unite with them. The IVLP is a perfect example of a transformational tool designed to alter the environment which gives birth to extremists. (See Richard Lebaron’s piece and quote at this link:

All things considered, we have made significant progress. However, in view of the obstacles ahead, we clearly have a long way to go. As recent events show, the work we do is critical. Let’s stand united as a national and international network of organizations and reinvigorate the IVLP to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

By Jennifer Clinton, PhD, President, Global Ties U.S.