US Center for Citizen Diplomacy Champions Global Engagement Through a National Campaign

In 2007, 64 million Americans travelled outside of the United States. In 2009, this number fell to 61.5 million. In the United States, 462,979 individuals volunteered for international organizations at home in 2008; only 390,572  did so in 2009. It’s clear that since the recession began, the number of people engaged in cultural exchange—or citizen diplomacy—has markedly declined.

Clearly there is a correlation between the lagging economy and people’s enthusiasm for cross cultural engagement. When challenges arise there is a natural tendency to turn inward and to perhaps perceive others with a bit more hesitation, but even in a less than ideal economic environment we live in an interconnected world. We rely on one another more and the ability to successfully communicate across cultures matters more than ever before.  It is exactly during these times that we must embrace opportunities for cultural engagement – whether it’s overseas or just around the corner.

As the Vice President of Global Citizenship and Volunteerism at CDC Development Solutions, I am responsible for designing programs that engage people across cultures, sectors, industries, and geographies to deliver shared value. What does this mean? It means helping people find ways to better understand one another, to develop common ground, and to learn how to overcome interpersonal or intercultural differences to solve problems and exchange ideas. Citizen diplomacy is as simple as a handshake.

In conversations about citizen diplomacy, I often think of John F. Kennedy and his commitment to uniting people around the world through collaborative action. In one of his last stump speeches in the 1960 campaign, Kennedy spoke to a group of students at the University of Michigan. Many claim these brief remarks were motivated by the same drive that led to the founding of the Peace Corps five months later.

In his inaugural address, Kennedy asked the American people to join him in his pledge to improve the world. It’s easy to mistake Kennedy’s inaugural address for a rallying cry for the Cold War, but mixed in with the rhetoric of “us” and “them” is a call to citizen diplomats everywhere:

“If a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.”

While the competitive environment of the Cold War is long behind us, the mandate for broader global citizen engagement lives on. The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD) is working to reverse the recent trend towards isolation by educating Americans about opportunities for cultural exchange and people-to-people engagement—much of which can occur within your own community. Citizen diplomacy embraces the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to help shape global engagement ‘one handshake at a time.’ By encouraging citizen diplomacy, USCCD seeks to encourage American citizens to become more globally minded, a cultural shift that will enhance how Americans—and by extensions America—are viewed from afar, ultimately improving the world for the better.

To get more Americans culturally and globally engaged, USCCD launched an online campaign: “You had me at {Hello}”. The campaign highlights how lifelong connections with people from around the world often start with a single gesture—a smile or a friendly {Hello}. The campaign seeks to celebrate citizen diplomats, and inspire others to become more globally engaged. Three features of the campaign so far are worth noting.

Last month, right before the campaign’s kickoff, USCCD’s director Diane Rasmussen wrote a terrific piece for this publication, You are a Citizen Diplomat, summarizing the important impact of citizen diplomacy. According to Diane, finding opportunities to say {Hello} to the world is beneficial on a personal and global scale. Citizen diplomats change their lives, the lives of others, and indeed the world through their global experiences, whether it is by demonstrating their “global savvy” at an interview with a multinational corporation, or by hosting international visitors from China’s government who will return determined to establish a stronger partnership with the U.S.

To launch the campaign, USCCD released a terrifically adorable video that’s definitely worth a look. In addition, “You had me {Hello}” is offering everyone a fun and simple way to be part of the movement to grow global engagement through a photo contest. Have you been on a mission trip? Hosted a foreign visitor in your home? Helped someone master the English language –or had them help you learn another? Did you visit another country and make a new friend? If you have participated in a cultural exchange activity or program—formal or informal, abroad or in your own backyard—and have captured these powerful interactions that highlight and celebrate diversity through your camera lens, enter the contest!

Individuals and organizations are welcome to enter. Two winners from each category will be chosen. The two winners from the individual category will receive $100 and a highlight on the USCCD blog. The winning organizations will receive a mention on the USCCD blog as well as a one-year, all-benefits-included USCCD membership.

You can learn more on the contest, here, and enter, here, and you can follow the campaign on Twitter at #helloworld.

As citizen diplomats, we have the power to bridge nations and cultures, to work together as one people dedicated to a better, more collaborative tomorrow. Join us.

Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is the Vice President of Global Pro Bono and Engagement at PYXERA Global where she leads the organization’s Global Pro Bono and MBAs Without Borders programs, as well as the Center for Citizen Diplomacy. In this capacity, Amanda designs and implements corporate social responsibility programs for the public and private sector focused on skills-based volunteerism in emerging markets, leadership development, and sustainable economic impact. Most recently, Amanda played a key role in designing IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, while overseeing Global Pro Bono programs for PepsiCo, Pfizer, FedEx, and several others.

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