Exchange Matters / October 31, 2017

Reflecting on the Diplomacy Begins Here Summit in Austin

By Erica McNamara, Senior Program Associate, Communications, Global Ties U.S.

Citizen diplomacy enthusiasts Texas-two stepped their way to Austin, TX for the third of four Diplomacy Begins Here (DBH) Regional Summits organized in 2017 by Global Ties U.S., Community-Based Members (CBMs), and the U.S. Department of State. The Summit convened more than 175 attendees from the diplomatic corps, private sector, nonprofit agencies, and the U.S. government, as well as 200 students participating in a specially-designed Youth Track for next-generation public diplomacy practitioners.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20) spoke on the importance of international exchanges and “diversity as the strength” of the U.S. Photo credit: GlobalAustin

GlobalAustin, a Global Ties U.S. CBM, hosted the Summit on September 19 at the Texas State Capitol Building in partnership with the El Paso Council for International Visitors, Global North Texas, San Antonio Council for International Visitors, World Affairs Council of South Texas, and World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth.

The full-day event celebrated citizen diplomacy on the global stage and explored key topics including sports diplomacy, entrepreneurship, trade, immigration, and journalism. Principle talking points at the Summit were the vital role of citizen diplomats in creating a positive U.S. image in the world, the impact of U.S. foreign policy on local communities, and the role of individual citizens in advancing cross-cultural dialogue.

Stacy White, Director of the Office of International Visitors (OIV) at the U.S. Department of State, and Jacqui Shipe, Global Ties U.S. Board Chair, provided welcome remarks. White emphasized that “the world is safer when nations are not separated by borders, but together breaking bread.” Shipe spoke about the need for cultural competency in advancing diplomatic relations, stating “we have to be a good listener, and we have to be a collaborator” to be a successful citizen diplomat.

Rounding out the morning introductions was Representative Joaquin Castro of the 20th district of Texas. He underscored the importance of international exchanges as means to connect and engage with global communities, noting that “diversity is a strength” of the United States, and that aspiring citizen diplomats should “lend your voice to the conversation as tensions around the world and closer to home make this an important time to engage on international issues.”

A key component of the Summit was the Youth Track, aimed at high school and college students interested in learning more about the theory and practice of international diplomacy. The U.S. Diplomacy Center, a frequent partner of the DBH Summits, arranged a real-world diplomacy simulation that tasked students to think critically and collaboratively about a current global issue. The topic at this Summit was the refugee crisis.

Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou, a 2013 U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Gold Star alum from Athens, Greece, discussed how the exchange program impacted his professional development. Kalavros-Gousiou, founder of the TEDxAthens conference, returned to Greece after his program ended, where he launched both an alumni organization for Greek IVLP participants, and a tech start-up for corporations and entrepreneurs. He noted, “IVLP is a tremendous opportunity to expand your knowledge and your network. International exchanges inspire technology, talent, and innovation.”

The Summit concluded with a music diplomacy celebration featuring local Texan artists, including retired U.S. Ambassador and Austin-resident Greg Engle. Engle, a career diplomat, was joined by fellow musician Stephen Doster for a performance and discussion on their experiences as U.S. cultural ambassadors. Both men have performed and conducted workshops across Africa as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Arts Envoy program. A Texas-two step dance lesson closed out the event.