About the Author: Dr. Esther Brimmer serves as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.
Last week, the United States announced that we were joining the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative led by Spain and Turkey under the auspices of the United Nations. Headed by its High Representative former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, the Alliance works to improve understanding and help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism. We joined the Alliance's 120-member Group of Friends in recognition of the Alliance's innovative and inclusive approach to improving relations between diverse cultural groups around the world.
We support the Alliance in its work promoting policies and initiatives aimed at improving relations between diverse cultural groups by serving as a clearing-house of ideas and information among governments, international organizations, NGOs, corporations, and universities. And although we joined the Alliance's Group of Friends only last week, the United States has been quite active within the Alliance at many levels since its creation. The U.S. government has participated as an observer at Alliance-related events for several years, including major conferences in Madrid, New York, and Astana; and we sponsored one of the Alliance's early projects, a 2007 successful Citizen Dialogue in Spain.
American universities and NGOs also have worked with the Alliance for several years on efforts and initiatives to promote intercultural understanding. For example, the German Marshall Fund of the United States conducted earlier this year an International Fellows program for the Alliance, bringing a group of North American and European emerging leaders to visit several Muslim communities in North Africa and the Middle East, and a group of Northern African and Middle East emerging leaders to visit the United States and Europe -- all in the spirit of improved and mutual understanding. The Alliance also will sign soon a Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO, to cement the working relationship between those two bodies.
Many U.S. government programs and initiatives that the Department of State already conducts dovetail nicely with the goals of the Alliance. Whether it is cross-cultural exchanges, arranging media tours for foreign press, or youth outreach, the United States has a vast array of programs and projects that seek to further intercultural understanding. The Alliance is an excellent venue and vehicle for us to gather, share, and implement some of our ideas and best practices with other governments and institutions that share those goals.
I am looking forward to such exchanges next week, when I will lead a small U.S. government delegation to the Alliance's Group of Friends Forum in Rio de Janeiro. This will be our first meeting as an official member, and since we are so new to the Alliance of Civilizations, we will spend much of our time working to develop further areas for cooperation on the Alliances four main program areas of youth, education, media, and migration.
There was no entry fee for the U.S. to join this initiative, nor are there any fees for us to participate in its upcoming meetings. Contributions to its operating trust fund are entirely voluntary, and we can participate in only the programs we choose. The Alliance's administrative overhead also is quite small compared to other major organizations and initiatives -- its budget this year is projected to be only about $3 million, and it is led by an efficient staff of 13 in New York.
So we are pleased to be formally joining this exciting and relatively new initiative. While we may not agree with every program or paper that is produced under the umbrella of the Alliance, the important point is that the Alliance is a means to promote dialogue, something the United States has always supported. As the President said in his , ”[I]n order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground."