Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined members of the National Council of International Visitors (NCIV) on February 17 at their annual meeting to commemorate their 50-year partnership with the U.S. Department of State. Secretary Clinton said:
"...We are celebrating two big milestones tonight -- the 50th anniversary of the National Council, which now has more than 90 chapters connecting leaders from around the world with their American counterparts, and the 70th year of the International Visitor Leadership Program, the State Department's premier professional exchange program, through which 80,000 American hosts -- or we like to call you citizen diplomats -- have cultivated relationships. And every year, 200 international visitors, either individually or in a group, come to the United States for programs designed to reflect their professional interests, from business entrepreneurs, aspiring politicians, civil servants, human rights activists, teachers, and so much more.
"And you know so well that our visitors are able to learn about American Government at the national, state, and local levels; they visit very representative American institutions from the Library of Congress to Walmart. And while our visitors are experiencing America firsthand, Americans learn about their countries.
"Now, this is all part of our larger effort to broaden the reach of our diplomacy. I believe very strongly that in the 21st century, statecraft cannot just be government-to-government. It has to be government-to-people, and most importantly, people-to-people. So we are always looking for opportunities to engage civil society, women, youth, and everyone else. And that's why the work of the International Leadership Program and the National Council are so vital."
The Secretary continued, "...And joining us tonight are 18 leaders who are alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Program. We have called them our 'IVLP Gold Stars,' and we've invited them back to celebrate their achievements. I know that Ann recognized them earlier at the Marriott, but their achievements are really worth celebrating. They come from every corner of the globe, from Afghanistan to Nigeria, from Cambodia to Uruguay.
"And since completing the exchange program, they've helped women get breast cancer treatment in Kosovo, they've started a news radio program in Afghanistan, they've stood up for LGBT youth in China, they've worked in civic education and environmental justice. One is the foreign affairs advisor to the president of the Czech Republic. They have all contributed their experiences, and we congratulate one and all.
"Now, I was looking back and getting the statistics, and these are amazing. Nearly 200,000 people have participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program, including -- yes, indeed -- (applause) -- including more than 320 current and former heads of state and heads of government. And as Secretary, I get to meet so many of them and I'm always so proud when they say, 'Oh, I was a Visitor,' and then they tell me their experience about where they went and where they lived and who they met. For example, Brazil's new president -- first woman president -- right -- (applause) -- and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. So we have a very good relationship with people who know something about us and we know something about them."
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) annually brings approximately 5,000 emerging leaders from around the world to the United States to participate in professional projects with U.S. peers and to gain firsthand experience of American society and culture.
The IVLP partners with the NCIV network, which consists of nearly 80,000 American "citizen diplomats" who host international visitors in communities across the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock describes how citizen diplomacy is making a difference "one handshake at a time" in this blog entry.
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the NCIV and Department of State have launched the "Gold Stars" tour, which honors 18 returning international visitors, who were selected based on the significant achievements they made in their countries or local communities. The "Gold Stars" delegation will return to their original host communities around the United States and showcase how their participation in the international exchange program helped shape their work in their home country. For more information on the program and citizen diplomacy, go to exchanges.state.gov. To read Secretary Clinton's full remarks at tonight's event, click here.