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To welcome the new year, IPDGC had a conversation with CEO and President of Global Ties U.S. Dr. Katherine Brown. We asked her about the importance of citizen exchanges and how these programs contribute to the greater U.S. public diplomacy efforts globally. Citizen exchanges are win-win experiences - with the U.S. gaining as much from these exchanges through sharing in scientific research and development, technology transfers, economic growth through trade and business, and cultural enrichment.

Brown also shares how her past experiences have led her to this role in leading the largest and oldest citizen diplomacy network in the U.S.

Global Ties US will be holding its 2020 National Meeting in Washington, DC from January 22-25, 2020. Learn more about the event and how to register here:

(Registration is open until January 10, 2020)

As this year draws to a close, IPDGC would like to recap some of our activities of the Fall semester. We hope that you’ve had the opportunity to attend some of the events:

Your Country, Our War: The Press and Diplomacy in Afghanistan, September 25.

Asia Centre: Fake News Legislation in Southeast Asia, October 17.

Work-Life Balance in a 24/7 Organization panel, November 7.

Please do support IPDGC in the year ahead!

Mark your calendars for the 2020 Walter Roberts Lecture featuring Joseph S. Nye. The talk will be on “Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy”, to be held on Thursday, January 30, 2020, at the GW Elliott School of International Affairs.

More information HERE.

Public Diplomacy Fellow Emilia A. Puma had a great conversation with SMPA Undergraduates Jason Katz and Sarah Schornstein about her career in the U.S. Foreign Service. As a 28-year veteran, Prof Puma talked about her work - most recently as Acting DAS for Public Diplomacy and Central Asian Affairs in the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau and also Foreign Policy Advisor to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (CSAF) among others.

Jason and Sarah also asked Prof Puma about her thoughts about a career in diplomatic service and getting the diversity of experiences that she has enjoyed.

Enjoy the conversation here.

In this episode of PDx, we interview Chris Wurst, the director of the Collaboratory at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. State Department.

Chris also founded the 22.33 podcast which features first-person narratives and anecdotes from people who have been involved with ECA exchange programs. The first season launched on January 2019.

Each week, 22.33 brings tales of people finding their way in new surroundings. With a combination of survival, empathy, and humor, ECA’s innovative podcast series delivers unforgettable travel stories from people whose lives were changed by international exchange.

Listen to the PDx interview with Chris Wurst here.


IPDGC held a small reception to welcome the 2019-2020 Public Diplomacy Fellow Emilia A. Puma to the School of Media and Public Affairs at GWU last week. A number of faculty dropped by to hail the new diplomat-in-residence.

A 28-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, Emilia will be teaching an SMPA undergraduate class on Public Diplomacy (SMPA 3350) for both Fall and Spring semesters this academic year. 

Also turning up to the event was surprise guest, Karl Stoltz and his wife Tania Garry. The 2018-2019 PD Fellow, Karl will soon be leaving Washington, DC. IPDGC Director Janet Steele expressed thanks for his contribution to the Institute and SMPA during his tenure and wished him well for his upcoming posting to Russia to head the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Former PD Fellow Karl Stoltz with a token of appreciation from IPDGC.



Jay Raman, US State DepartmentGWU graduate student Chanson Benjamin talked to Jay Raman, soon-to-be Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, and former Director of the Cultural Division at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the Office of Citizen Exchanges. Jay spoke about his foreign service career and the importance of cultural diplomacy.

Listen to the PDx interview with Jay on Soundcloud.


By Cassie Rudolph, GWU undergraduate (SMPA 3350)

Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement (credit: UNHCR)

The director of U.S. government-funded news organization Voice of America discussed VOA’s future and freedom of the press worldwide at the GWU Elliott School of International Affairs on Monday, May 6, 2019.

Amanda Bennett, who has headed VOA for three years, spoke about the news agency’s energetic work to transmit information to countries with limited freedom of the press and VOA’s new efforts with the population of refugee camps. About 100 people attended the event, hosted by the Public Diplomacy Council, the Public Diplomacy Association of America and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

Bennett noted that VOA, which was founded during the Second World War and broadcasts news around the world in 46 languages today, is a nonpartisan and unbiased source of news, even though almost all of its funding comes from the U.S. government. The organization was originally created to broadcast Allied forces news into Nazi Germany during WW2.

Bennett said that VOA’s reputation rests on the separation of powers between VOA journalists and politic interests. “We are independent of the U.S. government,” she said. “That underlies our credibility. Because as you know from other state-funded organizations, they do not enjoy that same credibility.”

Bennett said VOA hopes to help reverse the current trend of declining press freedom around the world by highlighting the role of journalists and their impact. Global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016, according to a 2017 report from Freedom House. “We’re going to be covering free press in all its intricacies with our journalists around the world,” Bennett said.

Bennett said VOA officials and journalists have recently added a new focus: delivering fair and free information to populations in refugee camps, where access to news is scarce. She said VOA has implemented two pilot projects in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, which houses 165,000 refugees from Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, and also in camps in Bangladesh harboring Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar, where they are persecuted.

Bennett said the people she spoke to at refugee camps are desperate for information about events around the world, and in their countries of origin. She added that VOA officials have tentative plans to introduce VOA programming into every major United Nations refugee camp. She noted that keeping refugees well-informed not only helps their own security and welfare but also encourages them to return home when it is safe to do so. Bennett said interactions she had in 2014 with refugees inspired her to expand VOA’s Learning English Program, which features daily broadcasts in English spoken at a slower pace to promote comprehension among English language learners.

She said that last month, VOA further increased these efforts by introducing person-to-person contact between VOA volunteers and refugee children and adults aiming to learn English. The program has a force of almost 5,000 English language instructors in the Rohingya camps, Bennett said. She said the program will benefit children and adult refugees by teaching them to speak a language that makes them more attractive to employers worldwide.

“I tell the young interns at Voice of America,” Bennett concluded, “That one day you’re going to be walking through a street someplace in America or Southeast Asia and a 25-year-old is going to come up to you and say, ‘I was a refugee, in the Rohingya camps, and I got a job in Indonesia or Thailand or Canada and escaped poverty all because you taught me English.”

Whether fighting on the frontlines of freedom of speech in global hotspots or in providing new opportunities to abandoned refugees, VOA continues telling America’s story to the world and advancing U.S. national interests, one listener at a time.



by Chanson Benjamin, GWU undergraduate student (SMPA 3350)

Public Diplomacy exchanges bring a wide variety of foreign professionals to the U.S. to help them achieve their own goals and, ultimately, U.S. policy goals as well.  One of our goals is to promote the growth of grassroots democratic organizations and free media in developing countries.  The Professional Fellows program brings hundreds of NGO activists, entrepreneurs, journalists and local government officials to America for several months of engagement with mentor organizations here, culminating in a Professional Fellows Congress that unites all the Professional Fellows at the end of their programs.

This May, I had the privilege of attending the final reception for the Professional Fellows Congress in Washington, D.C for their final time in the United States. Over 270 Fellows from 60 countries attended the reception, in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the Department of State, to wrap up their several months of fellowships at different locations across the country.

One such person was Oscar Portillo Dueñas of El Salvador. Dueñas got his start studying journalism in college, interning at both Diario Co Latino and the local U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. After graduating in 2016, he got a job with, a prominent Salvadoran daily, where focuses on multimedia and video stories in the country’s expanding online market.

In February, he was accepted into the Professional Fellowship program. He was mentored by Doha Debates in Washington, D.C. Oscar told me, “I’m really grateful to the State Department for that opportunity.  During his time in America, despite being from a country featuring in U.S. domestic debates over immigration “nobody saw me as different.  No one was judging me for being a Salvadoran.”

Farah Ghodsinia, a peace activist from the Philippines, focused during her Professional Fellowship on community understanding initiatives in Cleveland, Ohio.  Farah was part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).  She worked in Cleveland with the city hall and with the community relations board on person-to-person projects and talked directly with members of local communities.

“What really makes America great,” she told me, “Is how it manages to continue its struggle to include new people in social justice.” The welcoming atmosphere she found in Cleveland was quite different from the American culture she previously saw in movies and on the news. After observing how America has overcome some of its own struggles, she is inspired to return to the Philippines to help resolve Christian-Muslim conflicts on Mindanao.  She said that, as a result of her program, in the U.S. “I learned that the impossible problems we have to overcome are not really impossible.”

Raymond Musiima of Uganda, a Professional Fellow who is National Coordinator at the Africa 2000 Network and Hemophilia Foundation in his home country, fully agreed with this sentiment. He told me, “Issues like food deserts, gender discrimination and  income inequalities are not African or Asian issues. They are everywhere! To me, the difference between our countries and America lays in the path the American people have chosen to take -- in mitigating these challenges.”

Musiima’s Fellowship took him to Michigan State University, where he studied cases of business management. Yet, he added, as important as his vocational training was, the relationship he had with his host family was equally instructive. Comparing it with the technical information and training he received, he said, would be like “choosing between my heart and my soul.”

For Mirela Juka, who is the Legal Counsel at the Down ’s Syndrome Foundation of Albania, the most important part of her experience was the program itself. “New people from all over the world from many different cultures, religions, backgrounds -- all connected by one purpose, which was this professional program.”

Juka’s Fellowship was in Denver, where she was impressed with the importance that local citizens placed on the outdoors, especially their love of hiking. Before this exchange program, she told me, she had mostly known about America through movies and television. “When I came here myself, I saw a very strong community feeling that I didn't expect. I saw a welcoming environment and a strong connection in families.”

Talking with many other Fellows at the ending reception, I heard the same feelings repeated by all.  They agreed that America is not great because our country has no challenges in her path. Instead, they felt, America is great because she confronts her challenges and finds ways to overcome them.

The American story, they said, is not one of easy victories.  It is one of hope. It is a story that inspires exchange visitors with the ultimate message: “If America can do it, so can you.”

GWU undergraduate student Isabella Marchese interviewed retired Senior Foreign Service officer Thomas Miller for the latest epsiode of Public Diplomacy Explained, PDx.

As the chair for the Walter Roberts Endowment Advisory Committee, a professorial lecturer at the George Washington University, and an ardent PD watcher, Miller is able to share his career path and experiences, while also offering observations on current challenges in public diplomacy; including building credibility with the press, an alternate take on soft power, and countering disinformation.

Listen to his interview here: PDx Explained

By Cassie Rudolph (GWU, Political Communication, Class of 2020)

Public diplomacy takes many forms, which are constantly shifting and adapting to meet the ends of an evolving world. The emergence of social media, for example, has changed the structure of many public diplomacy strategies and propaganda campaigns root and stem. But while social media may change the way in which messages are spread, other changes are changing its content as well. The concept of eco-diplomacy has emerged as a new form of public diplomacy in the past couple of decades, and it has quickly risen in popularity and importance in global diplomatic relations.

The U.S. Department of State defines eco-diplomacy, or sustainable diplomacy, as “the practice of advancing ecological protection by conducting diplomacy that leverages examples of conserving natural resources, sustainable operations, and effective environmental stewardship.” The idea that sustainability and environmental stewardship could be used as a means of developing foreign relations is still a young concept, very much still being shaped by diplomats working today.

The first consideration of eco-diplomacy as a concept occurred in 1992, when the United Nations held its first-ever Conference on Environment and Development, which focused on sustainable development standards going forward. During the summit, the UN came together to create Agenda 21, a plan of global action focused on environmental stewardship and development for the 178 participating countries. Since then, the CED has met twelve times to determine the way forward for some of the most pressing global environmental matters today.

In the United States, we have seen eras of eco-diplomacy come and go with each Administration. The terms “sustainable diplomacy” and “eco-diplomacy” were first coined by the Department of State under the Obama administration, although President Carter had made environmental relations a foreign policy priority decades before. President Carter’s solar panels were removed from the roof of the White House under the subsequent Reagan administration, and the policy push was also dropped. Similarly, under President Trump, the Administration has downplayed environmental sustainability as a policy value for U.S. diplomacy.

So what exactly does eco-diplomacy look like? That depends on the country involved. Some have taken more traditional diplomatic routes or tried to lead by doing, such as the introduction of the first LEED Platinum U.S. Embassy in 2009, under the Obama Administration. Other states have taken less direct methods to promote eco-diplomacy, with some countries becoming well-known for their advancements in sustainable technologies or conservation efforts.

A quintessential example of eco-diplomacy in the form of eco-tourism— a feature that stands out among the rest in both function and beauty – is located in Kallang, Singapore. Singapore features solar-powered “super-trees”, which reach anywhere from 80 to 160 feet tall, and are in fact not trees at all, but are rather tree-like structures that hold the world’s largest vertical gardens. The trees’ location, called “the Garden by the Bay,” also features the world’s largest glass greenhouse.

“The Garden by the Bay” has attracted 20 million visitors in the first three years of its opening, and the gardens are only the first chapter of Singapore’s plans to integrate flora and fauna into city life in what officials describe as a transition from “Garden City” to “City in a Garden”.

“The Garden by the Bay” serves as a prime example for the power of public eco-diplomacy. Singapore is famous for being a smaller developing country based on trade and commerce; it has now become a world leader in what the future of city life may look like.

Indeed, it’s entirely possible that we will soon see cities begin to transition into a more symbiotic design with the world around them. A residential building in Milan, Italy, incorporated the idea of “vertical gardens” into the basic designs of their buildings, which helps in mitigating smog, producing oxygen, and creating a potential habitat to reintroduce fauna into the city.

These are just a few examples of ways that countries and individual cities can use eco-diplomacy to change their public reputation to show alignment with the values of environmental stewardship. In the era of imminent global climate change, those who adapt fastest may have significant diplomatic advantages over those that are left in the past. The best path to success in the global competition for “soft power” may be the greenest one.