First Annual Citizen Diplomacy Award Ceremony

Bruce Wharton
Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Harry S. Truman Bldg., Marshall Center, Burns Auditorium
Washington, DC
January 9, 2017

MR KIRBY: Well, good evening, everybody. How are you all doing?


MR KIRBY: Thank you so much for being here tonight. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to what we want to be the first annual Citizen Diplomacy Award ceremony. And this is something that we here at the State Department, and particularly in the Bureau of Public Affairs, have been thinking about and planning for a long, long time. Diplomacy, I think as all of you know, is much more than officials sitting in closed meetings, or just visits and trips with counterparts. It’s also the daily work of maintaining and strengthening relationships, relationships between people. And that work is done by a myriad of individual citizens and organizations that are just as passionate as we are about living in a world which requires more understanding, and context, and stronger cross-cultural connections.

Secretary Kerry likes to say that foreign policy isn’t and shouldn’t be foreign. We should do everything we can to try to bring it home to the American people. And tonight, we’re going to get an opportunity to honor a terrific organization that’s doing just that.

So I’m pleased that we can be here tonight to recognize this work, and in particular, the work of one organization that has truly made a difference through their tireless work building bridges between peoples. And I can think of nobody better than my boss to launch this award, Ambassador and Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Bruce Wharton. He has spent a career in public diplomacy, decades of experience helping build connections and forging a more interconnected world. He has served as Ambassador to Zimbabwe as well as at our missions in Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and South Africa. He’s also held numerous senior leadership positions in Washington, culminating in his current role now directing the strategy for the U.S. Government’s outreach and public diplomacy efforts around the world.

This is his life’s work. This is exactly what he’s the most passionate about. And I can tell you, just having watched him at work in the little bit of a time that he’s been our acting Under Secretary, he believes it. And so I’m absolutely delighted and pleased that he’s going to be with us here for tonight’s ceremony, the first – as what I said, what I hope will be a long tradition of recognizing excellence in citizen diplomacy.

So now I would like to invite Ambassador Wharton up to the podium to introduce the winner of our inaugural Citizen Diplomacy Award. Sir. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR WHARTON: John, thank you very much for that introduction. In my time in Africa, I became aware of a tradition known as the praise singer. Chiefs would often come into courts and official events with a praise singer and I think you’ve got a future in that, if you’d like. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: One of many skills.

AMBASSADOR WHARTON: But thank you for your service as the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and as the Spokesperson for the Department. I think as some of you may know, John came to the State Department after 30 years of military service. And that may, in fact, be some of the best possible preparation for dealing with the media here. (Laughter.) The spokesperson has to be the master of the language of diplomacy, which means to speak frankly and truthfully, but without wrecking the stock market, shattering alliances, or starting a war. So John has been superb on all three of those accounts and deserves our thanks as well for helping get this program going. (Applause.)

I also want to thank our nominating partners – Sister Cities International, Global Ties USA, and the Alliance for International Exchange – for helping to connect communities across the globe, and to thank all of you for being here as we present our very first annual Citizen Diplomacy Award.

Now, I know that the Secretary truly wished that he could be here with us all this evening, and he sends his warmest congratulations to our inaugural winner. But in his stead, I am honored to be here this evening to help launch this initiative that recognizes the efforts of American citizens and organizations to promote national security and to strengthen our relationships around the globe.

The work of diplomacy is not limited to embassies and government meeting rooms in foreign capitals. As President Obama has said, the highest office in this country is not president; it’s citizen. So in that respect, I suppose you could say that President Obama is about to be promoted. (Laughter.) But he’s absolutely right. Diplomacy takes place in communities large and small around the world, as well as throughout our own country. Diplomacy is the daily work of maintaining positive relationships and it’s not easy. We don’t always succeed. But we make our voices heard on the world stage and we answer the call when the world looks for American leadership.

At the State Department, we believe that citizen diplomacy begins at home. John referenced the Secretary’s dictum that there’s nothing foreign about foreign policy. And it’s critical that the American people understand the value of diplomacy, be informed about that work, and become involved in it, as you have. Every citizen can be a citizen diplomat. And more than ever before, I believe that the decisions that we make from the safety of our own shores don’t just ripple outward; they also create currents right here in the United States.

And how we conduct our foreign policy matters more than ever to American society, and how we conduct ourselves at home, how our actions reflect our values, matter more than ever to our foreign policy. Through exchange programs, international business, foreign students at our universities, and through social media, the lives of our citizens are more intertwined than ever before with the lives of people in other parts of the world.

Our awardee today exemplifies the important role that American citizens play in advancing and complementing the mission of the State Department to promote peace, prosperity, and the security of our country. Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities International stood out among a host of worthy nominees. This group’s mission mirrors the work of career diplomats. They seek to encourage their local communities to engage the global community. For more than 55 years, this citizen group has developed educational, economic, and humanitarian programs that have helped countless lives.

In Ghana, for example, the organization raised $10,000 to assist a farmers’ cooperative. The award – that award-winning project – has since expanded to Panama and Brazil and serves as a model for public-private partnerships. In Haiti, they built programs to combat the environmental crisis and help the village of Derac feed itself by providing support to 150 local citizens to create a self-sustaining food collective.

And beginning in 2007, the organization raised funds to create a student exchange program between Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and Fort Lauderdale, resulting in nearly a decade of bridge building, creativity, and mutual learning which otherwise would not have existed.

The list goes on and on, but the theme is clear. Today’s awardee is an ambassador for American values on the world stage. We are lucky to have them join us here today. And I am thrilled that Marianne Winfield is here to accept the award on behalf of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities International. Marianne is the organization’s Executive Director and began her volunteer work in Fort Lauderdale in the late 1970s. She has been part of nearly every project her organization has undertaken and it is, in part, due to her vision, her empathy, and her tireless efforts that so many communities have been helped. She is truly a citizen diplomat.

Marianne, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you very much. Please allow me to present this award in recognition of your work and the tremendous work of the Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities. Thank you. (Applause.)

I’ll put that back now, because it’s your turn to speak. (Laughter.)

MS WINFIELD: Well, I’d like to start off by saying thank you, especially to the wonderful people that we’ve met here today. We’ve spent three hours in the State Department and we see now how much work we have ahead of us, so we only just began today. I want to thank Ambassador Wharton for presenting the award, for – John Kirby for allowing us to join him in the press room to take a photo with him, so we actually saw what he has to do every day to keep us calm and make us go forth. And Karen, I understand, began this award, and we’ll want to say thank you to her, because she had the vision to decide that something like this was necessary for American people to be acknowledged for the work that they do as volunteers.

So I would also like to thank Mary Kane, Sister Cities International, and Adam Kaplan, who called and asked if we would be interested in participating in this award. And I thought, “Well, what will we say? What will I tell them?” And we dug a little deep and we looked into some of the work that we’ve done and we’ve come up with some – we came up with some good ideas of what we actually did accomplish in our Sister Cities organization.

I also want to thank our volunteer board of directors, who many of them are here with us today. Without the whole team of people, our work could not be done. So our board is here, our Vice President, President, Marcus and Russ, who have traveled with me today as we’ve gone through the State Department. And other representatives, Gabriel Zahora representing fire department, Juan Romero, and we have our City Manager, Lee Feldman, from the city of Fort Lauderdale with us also. So we’re very grateful – and other guests that are here.

Since the inception in 1961, Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities International is a network of volunteers specializing in communities working on such issues as the environment, business and trade, and humanitarian assistance. Sustaining these relationships with our 18 sister cities around the world through successive governments is a testimony to the commitment and love that volunteers have for their Sister City network. Initiatives evolve depending on the interests of volunteers, sponsors, and partners.

When Cape Haitian, Haiti was hit with earthquakes, the Fort Lauderdale Sister City volunteers brought financial and other resources to them. We had the contacts on the ground to make sure the programs would be implemented.

And in Medellin, Colombia, we are working on education exchange programs that are bringing faculties’ and students’ research projects together to move ideas forward. It’s the breadth of the sister cities’ contacts that have been so moving for me to be involved with personally over 12 years. It’s a dynamic network of local citizens, active and business community and organizations, NGOs beyond, who – and almost exclusively on volunteer basis – seek to further Fort Lauderdale’s economic, cultural, education, civic connections with cities around the world.

As such, it serves as an effective ambassador for American values. As to bridge American innovation, innovation, investment support, and resources for our sister cities, we believe that projects in places such as Ghana and Haiti, and long-lasting relationships with Medellin, Kaohsiung, demonstrate the best of American diplomacy.

I truly believe that the more you give, the more you receive. It’s in giving that you are the happiest and this is its own reward.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MS RICHARDSON: Good evening, everyone. It is so good to see so many friends and colleagues here at this award ceremony. I’m Karen Richardson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Outreach in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the State Department, and I know that I speak for all of us here today when I say that it has been our distinct honor today to recognize Marianne as a shining example of the excellent work being done to make our world a safer, prosperous, and more harmonious place. And thanks to you and all of your partners at Sister Cities International. And Mary Kane, we’ve been working together for a while now, so thank you for your leadership and all that you do. And also to recognize the organization for being the first recipient of the Citizen Diplomacy Award ever, so let’s give a round of applause to the organization. (Applause.)

And as of many of things, there are – they truly represent a collaborative effort and one that could not have been done without equally enthusiastic support from the international exchange community and our colleagues across the State Department.

So with that, I just wanted to thank our nominating partners again, as well as our colleagues across the State Department, for helping to launch this award and make the launch of it actually possible. And as a final bit of gratitude, we are offering light refreshments in the area outside here, so please join us for a reception.

Thank you again for your time and thanks for coming. Thanks.

PARTICIPANT: Could we get the Fort Lauderdale folks on stage?

MS RICHARDSON: Indeed. That’s – that – thank you very much. Yes, and I was going to announce that we are going to stay behind for a couple of minutes just to take a couple of pictures with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities International.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)