On Saturday, I celebrated my 100-day anniversary with the Department of State. To say that I am inspired and humbled to be part of America’s team charged with advancing our ideals and strengthening our security, is an understatement. Every day I’m in awe of our Foreign Service officers and civil servants around the globe. I’m also particularly invested in recognizing one of the less visible, but highly effective, groups of Americans aiding our diplomatic efforts: our diaspora communities.
Just think about this: More than 60 million Americans are first or second generation. They are members of strong and vibrant diaspora communities – communities who have strong linkages to other nations but for whom America is now home. I have said time and again that foreign policy begins at home with private businesses, religious and community organizations, and private citizens. It should be no surprise that our diaspora communities are one of our most important resources. They’re our people-to-people ambassadors to far-away places and uniquely help bridge both geographic and cultural divides. They are changing the way governments and non-governmental organizations approach international development.
For diaspora communities, diplomacy and development are intrinsic and personal matters, not high-level policy -- it is about their friends and families, and the homes of their forebears.
I learned something firsthand about the power of these communities when I represented Massachusetts for twenty nine years in the Senate -- and saw the vitality and contributions of Haitian Americans and Pakistani Americans after earthquakes shattered their home countries and communities in Massachusetts rallied to their aid, cementing ties and demonstrating the ideals of the United States. I saw it in Massachusetts’ Irish-American community during years of intense negotiations over peace back home, and in the vitality of Portuguese and Cape Verdean communities along southeastern Massachusetts.
There is even more that all these communities can contribute to America’s foreign policy -- helping us reorient our ties to diverse corners of the globe, helping us fuel economic growth and prosperity. Whether through an Iraqi-American delegation of medical volunteers, a Turkish-American women’s empowerment network, or an Ethiopian-American entrepreneur, these individuals and communities are change agents whose efforts to advance science and technology, promote philanthropy and volunteerism, and build economies by creating sustainable businesses and jobs should be recognized, celebrated, and scaled.
Today, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development host the 2013 Global Diaspora Forum, which is the largest global gathering of diaspora communities in the world and will include satellite gatherings in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Miami, Toronto and Dublin, Ireland. Under the theme, “Where Ideas Meet Action” – the 2013 Global Diaspora Forum highlights inspiring stories from prominent diasporans such as the CEO of Chobani Hamdi Ulukaya, supermodel and maternal health advocate Liya Kebede, U.S. marathoner Meb Keflezighi, Baltimore Raven James Ihedigbo, and U.S. skater and diplomat Michelle Kwan. The event also showcases exemplary diaspora-driven initiatives and encourages the next generation of diasporas to get involved in building up their countries of heritage.
With a strong focus on next generation diaspora engagement and leadership, our goal is simple: to make clear that diaspora communities are making waves cross-generationally, cross-culturally, and across borders in new and inspiring ways that the international diplomatic and development communities, NGOs and governments worldwide can learn from and leverage.
We invite you to join us for the Global Diaspora Forum by going to www.diasporaalliance.org and joining the discussion on Twitter using #2013GDF.
About the Author: John Kerry serves as the U.S. Secretary of State.