Bottom Line Diplomacy: Why Public Diplomacy Matters

Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
June 18, 2013

Date: 06/18/2013 Description: Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine while visiting the Center for Strategic International Studies in Washington, DC. (photo courtesy of Ashley Garrigus, State Department) - State Dept Image Thank you, Andrew, and congratulations to CSIS, on 50 years of strategic insights and bipartisan policy solutions.

As spring is about to turn, formally, to summer, in just a few days, we all should turn now to books, beaches, and blue skies. Now you might be wondering what those wonderful images have to do with public diplomacy and the start of a speech. Well--if you happen to go down to Ocean City, Maryland, or Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, or many resort towns, you’ll run into young people working summer jobs and speaking English with accents from Belfast to Belgrade.

They are here through one of the State Department’s cultural exchange programs known as Summer Work Travel. But they are actually part of a larger community – tens of thousands of students, teachers, researchers and business professionals – that comes to the United States at all times of the year to experience American culture. And they are one example of what I want to focus on today—the major dividend that we, as a nation, get, from engaging with people around the world and the often overlooked impact on our society of having international citizens spend time in our country and our citizens going abroad.

Take, for example, the dividend that comes from the hundreds of thousands of international students who study each year on U.S. college campuses – undergraduate and graduate. Those nearly 765,000 foreign students contribute $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy, making higher education among our top service sector exports. Now that is not the only reason we bring students to America. There is a value much greater and much deeper than just financial. But at a time of measurement and evaluation, metrics, and quantitative proof of concept, this economic contribution is worth noting.

I mention this because – as I take leave as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs – I want to make Americans more aware of what the State Department does, --specifically public diplomacy- how much real value it brings to jobs overseas, jobs here, education, entrepreneurship, travel, tourism, and a healthy and robust trade and investment climate in both directions.

I have come to think of the work I do as “bottom line diplomacy” because the allocation of resources is an important part of any equation – not only because of our continuing economic recovery but because we need to justify public expenditure to our only governing board – the American people. And we have clear results that demonstrate value.

But let me make something clear: Bottom line diplomacy isn’t about reducing everything to how much it costs. It’s the opposite. It’s about expanding our perspective so we see – and reap – the long term benefits for our own citizens. In other words, bottom line diplomacy is the fusion of economic statecraft and public diplomacy.

It understands that – for example – when our educational advisors in 170 countries provide millions of aspiring foreign students with accurate, comprehensive information about our colleges and universities, they’re not just helping people build their own prosperous futures. They’re bringing economic benefit to the U.S. economy.

Standing up for workers’ rights and high labor standards, more broadly shared economic opportunity, and human rights is both right and moral, but it is also smart and strategic. Studies show that when we build inclusive economies, safeguard freedoms, invest in education, and encourage opportunity, people become more healthy, productive, democratic, empowered, and prosperous. They are more likely to become viable economic, trade, social, political and strategic partners, enhancing security and prosperity for all.

That equation draws a direct line between our foreign policy, economic priorities and our public diplomacy as a way of building prosperity and protecting our national interests. When Sen. Lindsay Graham referred to public diplomacy as “national security insurance,” I know exactly what he meant.

Through economic statecraft, for example, we work with international institutions—including the G8, ILO, IFI, and OECD – to forge open, free, transparent, and fair markets. But as we do that, our public diplomacy is working to create the conditions for economic growth by reaching out to and supporting people as they build better futures.

Bottom line diplomacy, then, is about building and strengthening the hyphen between the flow of money and the productive index of people.

We know, for example, that when we make engaging women an integral part of our foreign policy, the economic benefits are enormous. Again, studies have long confirmed this. Unlocking the economic potential of 50 percent of the world’s population through engagement with women and girls is a hallmark of this Administration and this State Department and it pays dividends. Through programs such as Tech Women, economic partnerships such as The Middle East Respond Fund, through our U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, economic assistance programs, Partners for a New Beginning, WeAmerica, and other programs, our support extends to aspiring businesswomen and civil society leaders.

Global engagement opens doors that open minds – especially young minds. And some of our most effective outreach to young people comes from our own American young diplomats. Let me pause for a moment and reflect on Anne Smedinghoff, a young State Department colleague who became the first diplomat to die in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in April. On her final day, Anne was opening very big doors. She was working to support an educational program to promote literacy in Afghanistan. She was delivering books to young Afghans when she was killed. In her memory, today, I would like to announce the Anne Smedinghoff Award for Public Diplomacy Excellence for first and second tour Department of State officers. This award keeps Anne’s spirit alive by recognizing outstanding officers who open the doors of engagement, understanding, and opportunity.

To open doors in today’s globalized economy, you have to use social media, which is why we spend so much time building up our social media capabilities at State from virtual exchanges to an active online presence to online English language teaching.

Through social media and traditional public diplomacy we build skills for entrepreneurism. As we learned from the Arab Spring, the lack of economic opportunity for young people can lead to frustrated and disenfranchised youth who lack optimism in the prospects of their future. And so we engage online, both to create positive alternative scenarios and to use online media to counter negative scenarios like violent extremism which costs lives and treasure.

Public diplomacy today is about the movement of ideas. Through our Global Entrepreneurship Program, we identify promising entrepreneurs, train them, and link them with mentors and potential investors. And because support of their host governments is crucial to their future success, we advocate robustly for supportive economic policies and regulations.

We also engage citizens through our cornerstone American Spaces program. American Spaces offer each Embassy gathering places to connect with young people, foster new ideas, help foreign students pursue studies in the U.S. and promote English language learning—giving our contacts overseas the medium to engage in trade internationally—with the U.S. and other countries.

In October 2012, we joined the Youth Livelihoods Alliance, a multi-sector global initiative that aims to address the challenges of youth unemployment and increase opportunities for young people’s economic participation. The United States is also investing up to $2 billion in the creation of open online educational and job training resources.

Through our own Economic Public Diplomacy Innovation Fund, we are encouraging embassies to intersect with entrepreneurs and economic stakeholders, so we can advance investment, training, and economic engagement.

One last area of work I want to tell you about. The State Department team has pulled out all stops to support President Obama’s Travel and Tourism strategy, to encourage more travel to the United States, with brings with it clear benefit to the U.S and the American people -- more American jobs, expanded engagement with foreign publics, and strengthened economic statecraft. The Department of Commerce just released some very encouraging figures: Due at least in part to our efforts, travel and tourism to the United States rose by seven percent over the last year. Part of that effort came from public diplomacy.

I will miss my work at the State Department where, on any given day, the breadth and depth of our capabilities are palpable.

  • Secretary Kerry emerging from a bilateral meeting with a world leader.
  • Students from Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt, or religious scholars from Chad visiting my office
  • Community leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean meeting with Department officials to look for ways to improve the safety of all citizens in our hemisphere.
  • Translators delivering our messages to Arab, Chinese, Urdu, Russian and other audiences.
  • Regional bureaus communicating with embassies around the world. Experts communicating with critical audiences around the world via video feeds and CO.NX links.

The message is clear: We are proactive and responsive in the fast-breaking, constantly evolving global conversation of the 21st century – and we are not stopping.

Thank you.