On a recent trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh, I visited Dhaka University to see a Banyan tree that Senator Edward Kennedy planted there in 1972 to commemorate Bangladesh's independence. At the time of Senator Kennedy's historic visit to Bangladesh, he was the most senior U.S. government official to ever visit the newly independent country. More than 10,000 students attended the tree planting ceremony. They, and many more people in Bangladesh and around the world, were inspired by Senator Kennedy, the democratic ideals he embodied, and his personal commitment to public service and volunteerism.
From this visit 40 years ago, a deep bond between Senator Kennedy and Bangladesh developed and endured. The American Center of U.S. Embassy Dhaka, in partnership with the Liberation War Museum, recently launched the Edward M. Kennedy Center for Public Service and the Arts (the EMK Center), a new public-private partnership model that also serves as a way to honor that legacy and build upon it for a new generation. Its official mission is "to engage, inspire, connect, and empower citizens of all ages to better themselves, their communities, and our world."
On my trip to Dhaka, I helped launch the EMK Center, located in the city's Dhanmondi area, and witnessed how such partnerships are transforming the way in which we communicate and connect today all around the world.
The EMK Center, which will open to the public in September, will offer many programs and public service initiatives, on issues ranging from youth leadership to civil society development. It will be a gathering place where Americans and Bangladeshis can interact informally and openly to exchange ideas, experience each other's cultures, and get to know each other. Working as partners, the EMK Center and the Liberation War Museum will be able to offer enhanced and more innovative programming because of their combined networks, resources, and the different expertise and experience they each bring to the table.
The Bureau of International Information Program's American Spaces are at the vanguard of such partnerships. American Spaces are by definition a partnership between U.S. Embassies worldwide and their local hosts. At American Spaces, people from almost every country on the globe have first hand access to all things American. American Spaces are a place where people learn English, meet and interact with American experts and speakers, view American exhibits and multimedia installations, stay informed through the Centers' media resources, and in some countries, access the internet where internet access is otherwise limited or restricted.
The world has changed dramatically since Senator Kennedy's fateful visit to what is now Bangladesh. We have powerful communications tools today, especially social media, that would have been unthinkable at that time. These tools are integral to the success of modern partnerships. The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka's Facebook page, one of the Department's largest, is just one example of how lively and dynamic social media communities are redefining the concept of partnership. The U.S. Embassy's Facebook page, like all social media, is a place where new ideas and different perspectives are respected, encouraged, and given space to grow.
Even with the astounding connectivity that modern technology allows us, there is no substitute for personal contact. An ideal partnership today is one that fully integrates the real and virtual worlds. IIP's American Spaces embody this ideal and are a vital part of our ongoing public diplomacy effort to engage the world.