All across America, in communities large and small, citizen diplomats make a difference in the world. Every day they work as champions for people-to-people collaboration to make the world a friendlier and more interconnected place. They welcome international exchange students into their homes and communities. They volunteer their time and energy to create opportunities for people from different backgrounds to get to know one another – to appreciate each other’s similarities – and to embrace each other’s differences.
Citizen diplomats serve as ambassadors for American values overseas. Every virtual conversation between a school in the northeast and a school in the Middle East, every long-awaited pen-pal letter, every international visit or study abroad experience - is a chance for the international community to get to know real Americans. This strengthens invaluable connections for the United States and serves to create bridges to U.S. innovation and investment, as well as opportunities for genuine connection and friendship. As Under Secretary Goldstein said, “this type of diplomacy makes a big difference.”
This is why we created the Citizen Diplomacy Award - to recognize American citizens and organizations exhibiting leadership in generating impactful, long-term support for U.S. foreign policy objectives in public affairs and public diplomacy. The award also reflects our “Engage America” public outreach initiative, an ongoing dialogue between the American public and the State Department about the value of diplomacy and its tangible impact on American lives.
This year’s award recipient is Iowa’s Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association (CBSCA) for their outstanding work in advancing citizen diplomacy for over 30 years. Its long-lasting and impactful partnerships span four sister cities on three continents, and represent some of the most interesting, as well as demanding, areas of the world -- such as Tobolsk, Siberia, Russia; El Hajeb, Morocco; Karadah (Baghdad), Iraq; and Herat and Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association has done great work facilitating collaboration between Iowa and these diverse regions by pioneering innovative initiatives – including humanitarian assistance, language development, professional education, virtual exchanges, and creative arts projects – all firmly grounded in the belief in the power of citizen diplomacy to pave the way for greater international cooperation and cultural understanding.
What made Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association stand out was their focus on utilizing technology to engage young audiences. Their virtual partnership between a school in Herat and the Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, for example, creates unique opportunities for students in Iowa to learn more about what it is like growing up in Afghanistan, while at the same time enabling youth in Herat to practice their English skills and learn more about daily life in Iowa.
Our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Steve Goldstein, presented the award to Council Bluff Sister Cities Association’s board members, Rick Burns and Dr. Philip Meyer, both of whom have played instrumental roles in forging Council Bluff’s sister cities partnerships.
.@UnderSecPD Steve Goldstein presents the Bureau of Public Affairs’ second annual #CitizenDiplomacy Award to Council Bluffs (Iowa) @SisterCitiesInt for being an exemplary ambassador for U.S. values on the global stage and serving as a bridge to U.S. innovation and investment. pic.twitter.com/tAkVjFGM2x— Department of State (@StateDept) January 29, 2018
Mr. Burns served as an Army Civil Affairs Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Dr. Meyer, a founding member of the Council Bluffs Sister Cities Association, utilized his medical training as a pediatrician to identify specific medical needs and deliver critical medical supplies. Their efforts as citizen diplomats have produced professional exchanges, cultural exhibitions, and have empowered young people to have critically important conversations via virtual platforms to be able to get to know one another.
Council Bluff Sister Cities Association’s work serves as a model to all citizen diplomats about the impact they can have, both within their communities and beyond, in promoting peace throughout the world.
Every citizen can play a role in diplomacy, and serve as an ambassador for American values. We applaud those inspiring efforts made by American citizens every day to create friendships and start global conversations. The relationships citizen diplomats build with other people allow us to communicate better, inspire more, and reach a wider audience to tell America’s story.
About the Author: Kathryn Wellner serves as Special Advisor for the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State publication on Medium.com.
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