Q&A From Foreign Policy and the People


Q: While there are a few exceptions, it seems like the most high-profile subnational initiatives are currently led by Democrats – both from the Biden admin and cities like LA, NYC, and Atlanta. How can subnational engagement be better understood as a bipartisan issue that supports both rural and urban areas?

A:  Subnational diplomacy is not a partisan issue – because it is about how we translate the benefits of international engagement to our communities, and that can happen everywhere. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is hugely engaged – hosting the Smart Cities Expo USA and currently chairing the US Conference of Mayors.  Indiana and Ohio have robust international trade programs – even hosting dedicated offices overseas. Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad served as US Ambassador to China and created lots of China/Iowa exchange opportunities during his three terms in office.  In sum, communities should consider their priorities (is it education? is it agriculture? is it a particular region of the world?) and use that to start building or expanding their engagement in a way that benefits their residents. 

Q: Can you give an example of where diverse, non-DC voices have informed foreign policy?

A Yes, there are many. Cities like L.A. are a part of the Urban20 (U20) and Urban 7 (U7) that inform the G20 and G7 processes.  In climate — you can look at Climate Mayors and C40 and ICLEI as city networks that have been tremendously impactful in advancing commitments like the Paris Agreement.  L.A. also hosted the Summit of the Americas this past June, and the State Department announced the Cities Summit of the Americas to be held next April in Denver.  Separately, I think diaspora communities – in L.A. and throughout the U.S. – can have an important impact on foreign policy by creating grassroots and sustained pressure on how we think about specific global relationships. 

Q: Has the City of Los Angeles done any study on the levels of international awareness and willingness to engage internationally of the people of Los Angeles?

A: This is a great question.  I am not familiar with any polling that shows broad opinions – but this comes up a lot in the context of specific themes, like climate — where Angelenos overwhelming support greater action, including internationally.  This is also true for major global events – like the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, where welcoming the world continues to be very popular with residents.  Here in L.A., we have programs like the Mayor’s Young Ambassadors program, where LA College Promise (Community College students) can participate – entirely for free – in study abroad programs through our office that are hosted in partnership with our Consulates here in L.A.  And the results from surveys we’ve taken after those trips show that students overwhelmingly feel closer to international affairs after travel – and many change their courses of study and career plans.

Q: What are some more ways that city-level global engagement is being institutionalized and made ‘evergreen’ in Los Angeles? (ie, so that it outlasts annual budget cycles and the terms of visionary leaders such as Mayor Garcetti and former Councilmember LaBonge). How can outside organizations play a better role in this? (sister city partnerships, advocacy, programming, etc)

A: I think this is a critical question, and something that we’re obviously working to think about as we transition to a new mayoral administration in the coming months.  I think community organizations play a critical role in helping incoming leaders – both the new Mayor and Councilmembers – understand that we need to continue the vanguard presence that our Mayor’s Office of International Affairs have built.  It is critical that these new leaders focus on issues like housing and homelessness — but we also need to express that our international presence helps bring new resources and ideas to solve those problems as well.

Q: Is there any governmental office focused on subnational diplomacy in Illinois or Chicago?

A: Chicago has some of the world’s vanguard thinkers and leaders on city diplomacy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  Chicago Mayor Lightfoot doesn’t have a dedicated international team, but her administration is engaged across a number of city networks and initiatives. 

Q: Do you know of any examples of how community organizations or the U.S. Department of State have reached potential U.S. applicants of high school exchange programs, who are not already connected to international relationships or metropolitan areas?

A: ECA’s Youth Programs Division offers approximately 1,100 U.S. high school students a fully funded opportunity to study abroad from three weeks to an academic year in more than 30 countries.  Students live with host families, engage with local schools and communities, and gain language and leadership skills to be competitive in the global workforce. Our outbound programs include the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), the Future Leaders Exchange Abroad (FLEX Abroad), the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad (YES Abroad), the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), and Youth Ambassadors. 

While our implementing partners take the lead in recruitment, we strive to include underserved and underrepresented populations in all our programs including students who do not already have “international relationships.”  The Youth Programs Division makes regular presentations to several schools and stakeholders — our recent outreach targets students in diverse communities, both urban and rural, while a recent presentation to the Wisconsin school counselors’ association is now available to all counselors throughout the state, including rural locations.  When ECA’s youth monitors visit schools in person, they provide the schools with information on our outbound programs.  These schools vary widely in location, size, and student demographics.  For example, a monitor who visited schools in Washington State last year also visited schools in the rural northern panhandle of Idaho.

In addition, the Youth Programs Division is finalizing a series of story-telling videos produced by diverse alumni to reach new audiences.  Our implementing partners use robust social media campaigns among other tactics to also reach new audiences.  Application statistics demonstrate a healthy representation of rural applicants.  For example, for the 2022/23 application cycle, 20 percent of YES Abroad and CBYX applicants were from rural areas, with 60 percent from suburban areas.  For the same application cycle, 11 percent of NSLI-Y applicants came from rural areas, and 56 percent came from suburban communities; also 14 percent came from families with under $45,000 yearly household income.  Approximately 30 percent of NSLI-Y’s recent applicants heard about the program through a teacher or advisor, and about 31 percent heard about the program through an internet search.