Something truly special happened last week. The Secretary of State brought over a hundred Ambassadors to Washington to meet directly with her and other top officials to discuss a simple question: "How can we do better?" Usually, we hold our Chiefs of Mission conferences on a region-by-region basis. All of the Ambassadors from the Middle East and North Africa will get together at the main State Department building here in DC one month, then a few months later, everyone from Europe will come, and then a few months from then we'll bring together everyone serving in embassies in Africa. This time, Secretary Clinton called everyone back to DC for a Global Chiefs of Mission Conference.
Think just for a second about what it means to bring everyone here at once. It's truly unique. For the first time in American history, what we call a “Charge d'Affairs,” or a deputy who has been placed in charge, was at the helm of almost every embassy around the world. U.S. ambassadors from all over the world were here in Washington for a full week to discuss the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, and how we can adapt to the changing landscape of conducting foreign affairs in the 21st century.
Secretary Clinton started the conference by welcoming everyone to “the first ever, in American history, all-hands-on-deck ambassadorial conference,” and the conversation was as vibrant and diverse as the nations where our ambassadors serve. Our discussions ranged from achieving foreign policy goals in more cost-effective and efficient ways, to harnessing technology for our diplomatic efforts, to increasing U.S. exports and creating jobs at home, to working with partner governments and local communities to create a safer, more prosperous world for us all.
The QDDR clearly outlined the importance of equipping our Ambassadors on issues like these. As Secretary Clinton wrote: “Running an embassy is more complicated than ever. We will give our Chiefs of Mission the tools they need to oversee the work of all U.S. government agencies working in their host country, essentially serving as the Chief Executive Officer of a multi-agency mission … [and using] 21st century statecraft to extend the reach of our diplomacy beyond the halls of government office buildings.” At the first ever Global Chiefs of Mission Conference, we discussed how State Department and USAID personnel can collaborate more often on interconnected issues, across regions, with others in the interagency, and with the private sector.
This was one issue we particularly focused on: how can we do better by empowering our ambassadors to build partnerships with businesses, foundations, academia, faith-based groups, and diaspora communities? Last week, I think we took several steps in the right direction. On the first day, we discussed several of the flagship partnerships that our office, the Global Partnership Initiative, has launched in the last year. Then, on the second day of the conference, we launched a series of QDDR companion products that provide our ambassadors with policy guidelines for partnerships, which clarify the legal guidance and streamline the process for working with the private sector, and tools including best practices, case studies, and talking points for Ambassadors.
In the one-on-one conversations I had with several ambassadors, I heard that these tools are already helping them become better CEOs of their embassies. At the conference, they were already sending e-mails from Washington to their private sector counterparts across the world, so that they can begin discussing how to accomplish shared goals when they return back to their embassies. But we want that to be just the start. In an increasingly networked and interdependent world, effectively forging partnerships with private sector and civil society actors is an essential part of America's ability to conduct foreign affairs at all levels, from the ambassador on down to the entry-level foreign service officer.
The ambassadors I met, along with the thousands of dedicated Americans serving in embassies across the world, would probably agree: it is an exciting time to be an international problem-solver. And it's all because we are asking ourselves questions like "How can we do better?" -- while knowing that we don't have all the answers, but we are actively seeking the partners who want to work with us to find solutions.