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Foreign Policy Analysis
Shawn Powers of the U.S. Advisory Commissions on Public Diplomacy at the 2018 National Meeting

Shawn Powers of the U.S. Advisory Commissions on Public Diplomacy at the 2018 National Meeting

I have at this time the privilege
and honor of introducing you to Shawn Powers, our keynote speaker. Shawn Powers is the executive director of the United States Advisory Commission on Public
Diplomacy, a body authorized by Congress to promote U.S. government activities to
understand and influence public foreign publics. He holds a Ph.D. from the
Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern
California and has more than a decade of experience working at the nexus of
public diplomacy, development, and national security. Please join me in
welcoming Shawn Powers to the stage. Happy government shutdown day, everyone. Thank you so much for the invitation. Thank you for the really warm
introduction, Christopher. Thank you for your warm welcome. It’s an honor to be here with you today. What an incredible gathering of
ambassadors, diplomatic professionals, citizen diplomats, and community
activists. It’s really been a pleasure to get to know many of you so far and I
hope it’s a wonderful couple of days for you as well.
I’m truly honored and also want to say thanks to to both Jeanne and Franzi for
the invitation and to recognize all the incredible work that they have put into
making sure that this is a successful event.
We’re really excited to have the opportunity to present this year’s IVLP
Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change. We have a marvelous
recipient that I know you’re all very excited to hear from but before that I’d
like to say a few words about the power of cultural and educational exchange
programs and the significance of these programs in the current geopolitical
climate. For 70 years, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy has
operated on one fundamental core idea— that is that, ideas matter. Speaking at a
commission meeting in 1987, President Ronald Reagan noted, “Our public diplomacy represents a powerful force, perhaps the most powerful force at our disposal
for shaping the history of the world.” Since then, the power of ideas has only
become more critical to modern diplomacy and it turns out that not only do ideas
matter but when it comes to international politics, ideas matter a
lot. Today’s diplomacy is deeply intertwined with global communication
technologies and platforms. This shift emphasizes the importance of the public
component of diplomacy, which is a term it created in 1965 by the dean of Tufts Fletcher School of Law, Edmund Gillian, to refer to efforts at
forging a consensus among many nations citizens around key core issues that can
lead us on a path to peace. In an era of Twitter, ubiquitous connectivity, and
disinformation bots, the public dimensions of diplomacy have only grown
in importance. Effective diplomacy today requires a coordinated multi-platform
public component. The United States has a long and noted history in this space.
After World War II, the Marshall Plan helped to rebuild Europe reinforcing
legal political and economic systems that would synchronize much of Europe
and the United States in terms of their national interests the Marshall Plan was
as much about communicating ideas and values as it was about technical
training aid and cooperation the US Information Agency oversaw a
multi-faceted effort during the Cold War to confront communism promoting the
virtues of free market and democratic systems through exchange programs radio
broadcasting and the publication of many books and magazines around the world
they use these forms of public diplomacy to insert the values and ideas of a
free-market and democratic society behind the Iron Curtain and those
efforts contributed greatly to eventually D legitimizing the ideologies
that that allowed for the Soviet Union to to prosper for as long as it did
public diplomacy today of course is not as simple as it was then the
democratization of communication tools combined with the emergence of a handful
of globally connected networks social media platforms means that all
governments as well as anonymous political actors can compete for the
hearts and minds of a global citizenry to borrow from the field of economics
there are few if any barriers to entry in the marketplace of ideas during the Cold War information
represented a scarce and in-demand resource for many living behind the Iron
Curtain a resource that many in Washington DC thought they had a near
monopoly on in 2018 information is no longer a scarce resource people’s
attention is increasingly the scarce resource competing for this resource
that is people’s eyes and ears is an ever more complex and costly endeavor
today’s successful public diplomacy requires cutting cutting-edge expertise
and audience and market analysis content creation technological systems local
media analysis emerging and established social media platforms not to mention a
deep and a nuanced understanding of the values and policies that are driving any
particular public diplomacy campaign but more than any technical expertise more
than any sophisticated tool effective public diplomacy requires trust in a
media weak in a media ecosystem saturated with content where we are
inundated if not overwhelmed with information on a daily basis it becomes
more and more difficult to know who to trust and why we trust who we trust some
describe this as a post truth society where others refer to the emergence of
truth decay I’m less convinced that this is actually a real sea change in our
environment for a couple of reasons one if you look historically it turns out
that every generation looks at the the next generation and says that they don’t
believe in capital t truth enough compared to what we did and if you look
at the history of communication technology the emergence of new and
transformative technologies are always looked at with caution from established
organizations because they fear about the changes in how information flows and
who gets to decide what information goes where but still clearly things have
changed without question we are facing a trust gap now in Washington DC this is
news to know certainly the trust gap exists in a
domestic context and we feel that on a daily basis but it is far more
aggravated when it comes to news and information circulating between nations
in fact today in 2018 we are witnessing greater efforts to control information
flows that originate from another country especially news flows from a
foreign country than we’ve ever seen since the end of the Cold War yet it is
precisely in this environment when cultural and exchange programs become
even more crucial for the maintenance of effective relations and shared progress
towards a more sustainable just peaceful and productive world stripped of all the
speaker’s ceremonies and sparkles at its core what is an exchange program the
beauty from my perspective of international exchange programs is that
they are fundamentally an expression of trust from the perspective of the
participant deciding to endeavour on an exchange program requires a leap of
faith in a foreign government and society it is in fact a profound
statement signifying both that I had something to give and to learn and gain
from experiencing another culture and all of its diversity and complexity as
well as recognising the need for greater cross-cultural understanding we don’t
have all the answers on our own simultaneously when a government decides
to invest in an exchange program when it decides to invest in the professional
development before in citizen a highly qualified and vetted citizen but
fundamentally a stranger it is also a profound expression of trust trust that
the experience will not only be productive for the participant but also
for the American communities that have a chance to engage and interact and learn
from the participant trust that’s spending time together sharing
experiences and our talents will help forge greater consensus around many of
the thorny and divisive issues that continued to plague the global
society today but even more specifically the International visitor Leadership
Program which everyone here is very aware of is uniquely trust-building at
its core its roots date back to 1940 and we were just discussing its roots at
lunch and I may actually need to go back and dust up some history here but I’m
gonna try my best it’s roots date back to 1940 when Nelson
Rockefeller initiated an exchange program of 140 journalists and academics
from Latin America to come to the United States since then the IVLP program with
the help of dedicated network of community based nonprofit organizations
many of which are represented in this room have greeted over 225,000 visitors
to the United States that’s a remarkable number of people what’s special about
IVLP from my perspective is that it connects young and emerging leaders from
abroad brings them to the United States and then arranges for them to travel
together to a handful of different and diverse cities around the country
participants engage not just with professionals and experts but with
American families and students this is to say it is not designed to simply
showcase our best and brightest though we do hope the best and brightest are
involved at some point instead the program is designed to help participants
experience the complexity of American democratic society not just from the
perspective of Washington DC but by eating hot dishes in Minnesota sushi in
California and meat and three in Mississippi and if you know what meeting
three is good for you this component perhaps more than any
other is central to IVLP success and its long-lasting impacts built into the
program itself is an act of trust an invitation to see America and all of its
warts and scars on your own terms and it is this trust that we as a global
community of peace seeking individuals need now more than
I was I was speaking with a group of mid-level
Chinese government bureaucrats last month they were travelling here on a
program sponsored by the Chinese government’s hosted by a local
university near Washington DC in order to facilitate better knowledge exchange
between our governments civil society organizations and theirs it was a truly
lovely group of individuals I really really enjoyed the experience I was
providing them an overview of US government public diplomacy programs and
as I transitioned into talking about our exchange programs I mentioned the IV lb
program in particular and mentioned how overall the US government supports the
exchange of over 55,000 participants each year as I was getting to the
details I had my first question which is very exciting in the front row a young
man raised his hand and with the help of a translator he asked me the following
question he says regarding your professional
exchange programs what types of active activities are permissible and what
types of activities are off-limits basically he was asking me bureaucrat to
bureaucrat how do you make sure that these government-sponsored exchange
programs portray your country or your government in a positive light
after all he said why would the US government or any government for that
matter invest hundreds of millions of dollars in these programs if they can’t
guarantee that it will improve how people see that government’s policies
later on in response I said outside of some very basic rules don’t break the
law show up on time every time be respectful to your peers your
colleagues and your hosts outside of basically those you are free to do
whatever you like there’s no restrictions on where you can go
activities and that sort of thing as long as you’re still showing up to all
the important meetings that have been arranged I also mentioned that these
programs were designed to be decentralized organized at the local
level by non-government and local groups and while supported by Washington DC the
itineraries and the the focus of the conversations by and
large were decided far far away from the foreign policy apparatus of the US
government as my answer was translated in the room I heard a collective gasp
then I saw the smiles followed by whispers back and forth between the
participants this highly professional and disciplined group was all of a
sudden resembling a high-school class right before the end of the day and then
I had a follow-up question how do you know these programs work how do you know
they are sound investments of taxpayer dollars the answer to that question of
course is simple we know these programs work because of participants like Sophie
Lam Pro this year’s social innovation and change IVLP Alumni Award winner she
along with Tony Blair Indira Ghandi Antonio Guterres Boutros boutros-ghali
and many others are prior a proud IVLP alum in history shaping change agents
you’ll get to hear Sophie’s story in just a minute and it certainly is an
inspiring one so if he is not just bound for greatness she already embodies it of
her many accomplishments she co-founded impact hub in Athens and has led this
organization into a leading change agent not just in Athens but in Greece and
increasingly in Europe syncing up nonprofit organizations activists
educators and policymakers the impact hub is living proof that no matter what
challenges we face there is always hope and a path towards happy democratic
sustainable and productive societies so if he’s work with the disenfranchised
and refugee communities in Greece is especially heartening to me as she is
tackling one of the greatest challenges Greece and many other governments face
today with solutions grounded in mutual respect justice and most importantly
individual and collective empowerment

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