"The Way Forward"

Judith A. McHale
   Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Maria Otero
   Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Closing Plenary for the President's Forum With Young African Leaders
Washington, DC
August 5, 2010

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Well, let me just start by thanking Charles Jehmu, Under Secretary Mchale, the three delegate colleagues that have participated with us for this really terrific conversation that we’ve had this morning. And of course, let me thank all of you for your commitment, for your leadership, for everything that we have heard and taken in this morning. And there’s really almost nothing more that one can say. Certainly, I want to remind you of President Obama and Secretary Clinton and the belief that they have in the young people of this world. And you, as change makers, are the ones that are part of the way in which we’re going to be able to move that forward.

My own experiences in my travel to Africa have brought me in touch with many youth that are working in science and technology, that are working in human rights, that are working in a variety of different issues really taking the lead. But you’re also having an impact on us. And one of the things that I want to share with you is that Secretary Clinton just recently approved that the Department of State create a taskforce on youth. (Applause.) This experience is only reinforced by this event. And we’re going to move much faster on it. Now, who’s going to lead this taskforce? Under Secretary McHale and myself. (Applause.) Now, you might wonder why two mature women – (laughter) – might be leading this task for our youth, but we still have it. (Laughter.) We’re going to make it happen. (Laughter.)

And what we’re going to do in this taskforce is we’re going to bring together the agencies, the offices around the Government of the United States, to really bring a greater vision to the way in which we are addressing the issues of the world and the way we’re incorporating youth, young people, young leaders into addressing it. And those partnerships that we’re going to try to develop begin right here, as you’ve all said, and the partnership that we have with you.

This taskforce is, of course, going to be rooted in those values that we all share, many of the values that we’ve talked about today, on that sense of the equal opportunity that every person in every country deserves: opportunity for education, for employment, for the ability to express themselves fully, to assemble fully, to be able to advance, have engagement in their own societies. Those values are the ones that we’re going to move and use in this taskforce. We’re also going to focus on the shared responsibility that we have for service, for being servant leaders, for innovation, for tolerance, and for the need to protect our planet, as you yourselves will be leading it in a time where you will have additional concerns related to this. And we will share also the other value that our own President reminds of us, that yes, we can, and yes, you can. (Applause.) So we are going to move that taskforce forward and we’re going to be able to be inspired by the work that you have done.

I also want to tell you that we support the UN International Year of the Youth, which kicks off August 12th. So it’s very appropriate for us to be talking about it and to be remembering it and to be really motivated by it – it’s called “Our Year, Our Voice” – and to encourage all of you to really make this happen. And before I turn it over to Under Secretary McHale so she can finish us with some closing thoughts, I just have one word to finish certainly my feeling about being here today and that word is gratitude. It’s gratitude because you are given the – all of us are given the opportunity to bring change to our societies, to our communities, to ourselves. And that sense of gratitude is an expression of the humility also that comes with being leaders and with being given this opportunity, which you know many of the people in your country don’t have. So I leave here inspired by the synergy and the force that comes from being able to be with you, but also from that sense of gratitude at being able to play that role and to see that you all will play it, too. So let me ask Under Secretary McHale to come and share her words. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Thank you, Maria. I guess I could sum it up in one word, which is wow. (Laughter.) This has been truly extraordinary and you have all been extraordinary. There have been a lot of questions about what were our expectations when we organized this and what were we thinking of happening. Well, I can tell you, you’ve so far exceeded any expectations we might have had in terms of this. But we wanted it to be a dialogue and a discussion. We wanted to meet with you, to listen to you, to learn from you. And I think we have learned a lot from you.

We’ve all talked about the sort of inspiring words from Secretary Clinton and President Obama, but I was thinking as I sat here today and as I was coming in today, one of the things that President Obama said struck me and I’m sure many of you. He talked about the fact that when his father came to the United States – I think it was in 1961 – the GDP of Kenya was greater than the GDP of South Korea. And today, we know that they’re not even close. We could spend a lot of time wondering why that happened or how that happened, but I would suggest a better way for us to think is to be – and to act is to be sure something like that never happens again. (Applause.) And I think all of you clearly represent the promise of this great continent. And I would ask you and us all to work together to ensure that we move from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, to an era where we can all work together to achieve the full promise of all of your countries. And we look forward to working with you on that effort as we go forward.

You are, indeed, the hope of your countries, the hope of Africa, and the hope of the whole world. We will work with you to realize those hopes and we look forward to continuing this dialogue. So a lot of people have said, “What’s next?” And I get the great privilege of sort of summing up and telling you, yes, we have thought about some next steps. And I want to sort of tell you some of the things that we’re thinking of doing.

First off, we will be reaching out to all our embassies and consulates to ask them to partner with you to organize follow-up – follow-on events, speaking – help you and our folks working with you, speaking to youth groups. Our alumni of our exchange programs, we’re going to ask to work with you. We have many of them. Media outreach, ambassador-sponsored youth dialogues on the future of Africa, those are things that we think we, as the United States Government working with you, can do.

We want to support your efforts to use social media to continue your conversation and cooperation. We will offer small-scale transformation grants to support future-oriented and creative proposals that focus on the themes of this forum. This will be administered through our embassies and we’ll get information out to you, but we know that with all the best will and effort in the world, sometimes it takes a little bit of cash to get things going and we’re going to try to work with you to do that.

We’re going to be organizing African alumni enrichment workshops involving African alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs to continue and expand the dialogue with a greater cross section of African youth. We are very lucky to have you today, but I know there are many, many, many thousands of young people in Africa like you who you know and we want to be able to find ways of working with them.

We’re going to launch a strategic speaker initiative focused on youth in Africa and the themes of the forum, to enable and arrange American private sector and NGO figures to continue the dialogue with their counterparts throughout Africa.

Based on what we’ve heard from you in this forum, we’ve decided to organize a follow-on forum in Africa in the first quarter of 2011. (Applause.) Because this has been so successful, and because we want to reach out to a much broader network of your colleagues in Africa, we are looking – and we want your feedback on this – but our thoughts are that the forum will take place on a single day in multiple regional locations across Africa. That way we can engage a lot more people. And we will use technology to link you all up together so that you will be able to continue this dialogue. (Applause.) So stay tuned. It’s coming. And clearly, as part of that, we will invite many Americans to travel to Africa just as you have traveled to our country to be with you on that day at that summit.

Finally, the Department of State is launching an Apps4Africa effort all over. State Department will look to expand opportunities for technical innovators and program developers to come together in each country of Africa with civil society leaders to develop technical responses to social challenges. Apps4Africa’s goal is to convene technologists and developers to explore the potential for collaboration on addressing some of Africa’s challenges and creating new opportunities for development and growth. The approach will vary by region and country as we look to African partners to help us explore and pursue the way ahead.

We launched a pilot project of this a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Nairobi, and we brought together technologists with local NGOs to develop applications which would really work to address the needs of NGOs working in your countries. And I’m convinced that there’s not a country in Africa that does not have innovative thinkers, technologists, who when working with the elements of civil – the organizations in civil society, can do much to advance your efforts, your initiatives, as you move forward not only to address the challenges that your countries face, but to seize the opportunities which surround you. 

So in the words of President Obama, we want this to be the beginning of a new partnership and create networks that promote opportunities for years to come, and we look forward to you being our partners in this important effort. Thank you very much.