Remarks to American India Foundation Dinner

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
December 13, 2011

Thank you, Geoffrey Stewart of Jones Day, for hosting this event, and your co-chair Sudhakar Shenoy, and thank you to my good friend Ron Somers for that kind introduction.

And congratulations on your very well deserved award, Mr. Ranvir Trehan, it is a privilege to share the podium with you. Your long-standing and significant support for philanthropy and for stronger U.S.-India ties is a model and inspiration for all of us.

I am delighted to be here this evening to help the American India Foundation celebrate a decade of philanthropy and service. And I am honored and humbled that AIF has chosen to recognize me here tonight.

The real people that deserve recognition are the men and women of my bureau who do so much every day to advance our interests and our partnership with India.

I first encountered AIF when I was the DCM in India and was asked in 2003 by AIF to brief a group of 20 fellows who had arrived in India for some brief training before beginning a year of service in India. They were then known as Service Corps Fellows but are now the Clinton Fellows we are celebrating tonight.

Before talking to them about all of what the US Government was doing in India, I asked each of them to introduce his or herself.

I remember being struck first by the breadth of work these fellows would be doing with non-profits in everything from working on HIV/AIDS to Dalit rights or promoting the rights of street children.

I also remember also remember thinking how this program brought out the best of America: our commitment to community service, including service overseas; and our idealism and optimism. These are what animated me and most of my colleagues to join the State Department and make a difference, and why, 25 years later I am still working at State.

I also recall how impressed I was that this entire program had been undertaken and funded without one cent of U.S. Government money.

Programs such as the Clinton Fellows underline the hugely important role that diaspora communities in the United States can play in building our relations with countries around the world.

No diaspora community is more energetic and successful than our Indian-American community.

· All of you know the facts: there are some three million Indian Americans in this country.

· Indian Americans have among the highest if not the highest per capita incomes of all groups in the United States.

· And Indian Americans are increasingly seeing their influence grow, whether by election of political stars such as Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, or through the creation of organizations such as AIF.

My experiences in India and elsewhere in South Asia taught me that there are tremendous opportunities for the U.S. Government to work with the diaspora to accomplish our goals.

So one of the first things I did as Assistant Secretary was to create a new senior advisor position in the South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau to focus on engaging with the Diaspora and other external groups.

Mitul has two mandates: first to develop relationships and dialogues that previously didn’t exist; and second to leverage those to build public-private partnerships that promote our interests in the region for mutual benefit.

One such partnership is particularly relevant to all of you. India is home to about 1.5 million NGOs, but much of their work is not fully known here in the United States. In addition, it is not easy to identify the NGOs credible enough to receive a donor’s money.

We want to help change this and are partnering with an Indian non-profit – GuideStar India – to create an online searchable database of all those Indian NGOs that have been vetted by an independent third party to ensure they are accountable, transparent and keep only a small percentage of a donation to cover their expenses so the maximum can go to the intended beneficiaries.

This site will also list all the intermediary institutions, including, with your permission, AIF, who can facilitate tax-deductible donations. By matching a list of certified Indian NGOs with potential American donors, we hope to create an efficient philanthropy marketplace that will grow the overall sector, making it a win-win proposition for all, including AIF.

In today’s budget-constrained environment, such public-private strategies strengthen not only our international economic development efforts, but also the crucial people-to-people ties that bind our two great countries.

AIF is a wonderful example of an organization that we are proud to partner with. One example is a project to build intercultural understanding and engage citizens across the Punjab through digital storytelling and the creative arts.

The program aims to create a self-sustaining Indo-Pakistani Young Education Professionals Network, a global network of Punjabi youth from India, Pakistan and the United States, and a “Punjabi Cultural Connections” publication for educators available to institutions and communities across the Punjab and the U.S.

We’re excited about this project because not only will it give further impetus to the encouraging progress India and Pakistan are making in their relations, but it will also educate Americans about the richness of Punjabi culture and history.

All of you here today, through your various pursuits, are contributing in meaningful ways. Whether you are a young professional headed off on a fellowship to India or a professor researching our economic interconnectedness;

whether you are a company executive overseeing a U.S.-India R&D collaboration or a private equity investor who just made an investment to help scale a promising Indian company – all of you are helping shape one of the defining bilateral relationships of the 21st century.

Our people-to-people ties form a network of partnership that undergirds everything we do. Indeed, our people are our greatest resource. You are a vital source of the two-way flow of ideas, energy and capital that drives the U.S.-India relationship.

The William J. Clinton Fellowship is a perfect example – creating opportunities for young Americans, and Indians, too, to work in India, to serve in India, to improve lives and improve understanding first-hand. One Clinton Fellow, for example, left her teaching job in Chicago to develop a training program for special education teachers in Mumbai.

The impact of a people-to-people program like this is twofold: the Fellows and the Indians with whom they work gain a cultural understanding that will last a lifetime, while the professional skills imparted to partners will have an impact long after the Fellows return to the U.S.

We in the SCA bureau are undertaking our own initiative to provide more opportunities for young Americans to go to India. All of us are proud that more than 100,000 Indians study here in the U.S. but less than 3,000 Americans study in India. Given how important India is going to be to the course of the 21st century, that is not enough.

So our Passport to India Initiative aims to help change that by promoting internships, both in the private sector or public sector for young Americans interested in India.

Passport will be wholly private sector-funded and may be based at either U.S. or Indian owned companies and organizations.

But governments can only provide part of the solution. Our two countries – indeed, the world – need all of you. Many of the global challenges we face today, from energy security to food security, require public-private partnership approaches. Diaspora communities in particular can leverage their unique on-the-ground insights and expertise to help facilitate such partnerships.

Indeed, by promoting linkages among entrepreneurs, scientists, professors, business leaders, and educational institutions, the U.S. and India can work together to help find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. And this work will reap benefits not only for our two countries, but for the international community as well.

All of you have already done so much to support the collaborations between Americans and Indians from which ideas come to life. Those of you who are Indian Americans know the United States and you know India and you know the limitless potential that exists when we get together.

Your ideas and yes resources can provide the incubators for the great ideas of the brightest minds in both countries, and your expertise as scientists, artists, and business people can guide them and sharpen their focus to apply them to real world challenges.

I applaud everyone here tonight for your efforts in helping to bring our two great nations – two great democracies – ever closer together. Because of you, the bond between the U.S. and India is stronger every day. And I offer my profound thanks and appreciation for AIF’s work in strengthening the U.S. partnership and friendship with India and for the honor of this recognition.