How does diplomacy happen today? Where does it begin, and where does it end? The increased complexity of a globalized and highly networked world has pushed nations to incorporate an “all of society” approach to international affairs. Non-governmental organizations and individuals play a more central role than ever before in advancing relationships between individuals and nations. The opportunity has never been greater for building strong networks and providing opportunities for these networks to tackle our toughest global challenges. And, the need has never been greater for increased collaboration, education, and engagement at all levels of society. It’s a need we see clearly every day here at Global Ties U.S., and it leads us to one key question: How do we better engage the American public to better leverage power of exchange programs?
Answering that question led to the birth of Diplomacy Begins Here, a series of regional summits throughout the United States. Our vision was to combine dynamic discussions around key issues in foreign policy from leading experts both from Washington and across the country, with sharpening the skills of hundreds of exchange program implementers. Through it all, we would increase the understanding of the role exchange programs play in shaping international relations.
Eight summits later, the concept was more successful than we could have ever imagined. Under the leadership of the U.S. Department of State and our community-based member hosts in Phoenix, Huntsville, Seattle, Detroit, Los Angeles, Louisville, Denver, and Manchester, we collectively brought together 1,447 attendees from within our network and beyond. It brought together citizens from all walks of life. Our youngest attendee, just 14 years old, had been a host brother for youth exchange programs throughout his childhood. One of our oldest attendees has been hosting home hospitality dinners for almost her entire adult life. Most importantly, over half our attendees came from outside the Global Ties Network, bringing together unique perspectives from people working in business, state and local government, education, and social enterprises to celebrate the impact of exchanges across the U.S. All together, over 600 organizations were represented at the events.
The summits also proved themselves as an effective tool for advocating for exchanges. We received messages of support from 19 Members of Congress, including 6 in person! A similar number of local and state government leaders participated as well, who are the next senators and congressmen. The State of Colorado declared July to be Citizen Diplomacy Month, and for our summits in Seattle and Denver, the local government declared it IVLP Day, in honor the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
The messages from our summits reached far beyond those who attended, through over 500 social media posts and a dozen engagements with newspapers, television, and radio . This spring and summer our IVLP Gold Stars –alumni of the program who were invited back to share their success and reconnection with communities in the U.S.–served as terrific ambassadors for our work, sharing how their experiences in the U.S. have shaped their vital work back home. We also took special care to develop the next generation of citizen diplomats through career sessions with Department of State diplomats in residence and foreign policy simulations for students conducted by the U.S. Diplomacy Center.
Most importantly, the partnership underlying the summits was the key to their success. They also serve as a model for the kind of collaboration and partnering that can revitalize the international exchange field. Our colleagues from the U.S. Department of State brought their vast foreign policy and exchange expertise, along with vital funding for the summits. We offered up our experience with event planning, communications, and advocacy. And, of course, our 15 stellar local host organizations brought their deep connections to their states and cities, as well as the knowledge of exactly how to bring the world to their doorsteps. The spirit of collaboration was alive through each of the summits, and we’re incredibly grateful to all our hosts for taking on this new challenge, helping us learn and improve along the way, and shaping a terrifically successful inaugural year for Diplomacy Begins Here.
Today, diplomacy happens everywhere, in communities across the country and world. These summits show the power of bridging the local and global in partnership with organizations from all sectors. We will continue our regional summits in the next fiscal year, and will put out a request for proposals for our members to host the next round of four summits during the 2016 fiscal year. In the meantime, be sure to check out the social media recaps, videos, and photos available at here.globaltiesus.org.
By Jason Terry, Associate Director, Events & Training, Global Ties U.S.