Exchange Matters / January 15, 2021

Reflection of a Board Chair

By Christopher Washington, Ph.D., Provost and Executive Vice President, Franklin University

As a citizen of the United States, I’ve had the opportunity to join other citizens in shaping foreign relations by both hosting international visitors and showcasing our many cultures and distinctive communities. I’ve learned that citizen diplomats come in all shapes and sizes and include educators, business professionals, nonprofit leaders, artists, athletes, military officers, and tourists.

I’ve always maintained an image in my mind of the exemplary citizen diplomat. For me that person is Phyllis Duryee. Phyllis consistently displays an appreciation and passion for international cultures; she taught a college course titled “Global Cultures,” and regularly hosted events for international visitors. I vividly recall attending one of Phyllis Duryee’s Kentucky Derby events where she invited a group of International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants, colleagues from work, friends, and neighbors into her home. It was an authentic and colorful Derby event, punctuated with big derby hats for all guests, festive foods, and horse race selections. I remember arriving at her home as a stranger to her guests, and departing that evening after making many new friends. Phyllis has remained faithful to the creed of citizen diplomacy, promoting peace and prosperity across borders one handshake and hug at a time.

On Being Invited In

I was fortunate that Phyllis Duryee invited me in to serve as a community resource for the International Visitors Council (IVC) in Columbus Ohio, a Community-Based Member of Global Ties U.S.  IVC is a small but mighty central Ohio based community of citizen diplomats who go to great lengths to roll out the red carpet to visitors from many nations. Through IVC I’ve enjoyed sharing information about my country, city, and university. In turn, I learned a great deal about our guests and their cultural traditions, befriended many visitors to the United States, and learned more about myself and my affinity for Phyllis-style citizen diplomacy

In 2015, I accepted the invitation of Jennifer Clinton, Ph.D. to serve on the Global Ties U.S. Board of Directors. I envisioned my service on the Board as a way to pay into the treasury of fellowship that so generously rewarded me with cross-cultural insights and international friendships across borders. Upon reflection, I never expected that our world would change so much in just six years, nor could I envision the extent to which my natural desire to learn more about the needs of our Global Ties Network and expertise in organizational change management would be enlisted in group planning and governance as we adapted to a changing world.

Sixty Years of Excellence

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Global Ties U.S supporting our Network by promoting excellence in citizen diplomacy. We inhabit a world still striving for more peaceful and prosperous relations among citizens of many nations. We are involved in this important work. In recognizing our 60th anniversary, I was hoping for a signature party with 900 of my friends at our National Meeting. However, the recent global pandemic has necessitated that we host our National Meeting virtually. Nevertheless, given the creativity of our Network members and event planners, I fully expect a virtual National Meeting to reflect the spirit of our organization and to further nurture relationships among us

Contemplating the Future

As I transition board leadership to the most capable hands of Jackie Miller, President and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Seattle, I’m proud to say that our leader Katherine Brown, Ph.D., and Global Ties U.S. staff and board have a shared posture that both appreciates the transformative power of our Network’s past citizen diplomacy efforts, and demonstrates a willingness to adapt to the current signals and forces of change that will shape the nature of our future work. Our shared priorities are reflected in the pillars of our strategic plan and include: 1) strengthening the Network; 2) creating impactful messaging; 3) building the operational backbone; and 4) diversifying revenue for sustainable growth. 

Strengthening the Network

Over the short-term, we plan to support a strong, healthy, global network of organizations that administer quality exchange programs. However, we have to do so in different ways. We have to be more mindful of the health and wellbeing of all involved in our programming, including staff and volunteers. Fortunately Global Ties U.S.‘ federally-funded programs are continuing via virtual means. Making this shift required adapting member services, offering supportive webinars, and developing guides and toolkits to support core activities such as virtual exchange, advocacy, and media engagement.  As we think about our long term capacities, we recognize the need to be more representative of the U.S. population. We will seek to invite in a wider segment of the American population into the work of citizen diplomacy. While there are current calls for accelerating diversity, equity, and inclusion across our Network, the ideas will need to be followed up with action, measurement, and improvement.

Creating Impactful Messaging  

Under Katherine’s leadership, our staff has provided more communication with Network participants via Zoom meetings, social media, and strategic communications during this pandemic. In the longer term, our Network will need to develop a common and relevant narrative around the impact of international exchange programs as a strategic asset of diplomacy. This narrative will necessitate greater alumni engagement as a way to tap into the impact exchange alumni are having on their respective communities. 

Building the Operational Backbone 

In anticipating a greater mix of virtual and hybrid meetings and exchange programs in the near term, our Network will need to continue to advance our skill and ability at leveraging technology more purposefully. In the long term, we will need to embrace the rapid evolution of communications and information technologies, and work collaboratively to resolve a number of questions related to costs, operational efficiencies through increased cooperation, considering centralized vs. decentralized approaches, and exploring new partnership arrangements.

Diversify Revenue for Sustainable Growth

Our primary work is to support the Global Ties Network with the Community Partnership Grant. To complement this work, Global Ties U.S. has proceeded to diversify revenue sources for our members through projects such the Expo 2020 Dubai project, and a new program with the U.S.-ASEAN Water Smart Engagement. On the horizon, there are a number of other possibilities intended to support the sustainability of our Community-Based Members including: partnering with federal and private sector entities; partnering with institutions of higher education and other NGOs to establish innovative and effective exchange programs; and engaging our Advisory Council in fundraising for special purposes.

Our Strength Is Our Network!

The accelerating rate of geopolitical, technical, and social changes have given rise to a number of societal vulnerabilities to achieving peace and prosperity across borders, further amplifying the need for citizen diplomacy. Government shutdowns and the global pandemic experienced during my time as Board Chair serve as reminders that knowledge of the future is imperfect, and that no one possesses the magic crystal ball to determine precisely how the future will unfold.

As Board Chair, I’ve learned that a diverse group representing National Program Agencies, Community-Based Members, and societal stakeholders, working closely with the U.S. Department of State, can serve as a pair of corrective lenses in looking to the future.  With a strong desire to maintain IVLP and other exchange programs as a strong pillar of public diplomacy, and a commitment to adapting to changes in our world, the Global Ties Network is setting the stage for the next generation of Phyllis Duryees to showcase the diverse cultures and people of the U.S., and to create lasting bonds with people from communities around the world. If our past is prologue, I am highly confident the Global Ties Network will have what it takes to serve as a cornerstone of public diplomacy for the next 60 years.