Luncheon Address to Representatives of International Philanthropies on Religion and Diplomacy

Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources 
Washington, DC
September 26, 2016

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Shaun. It’s a pleasure to join you all today. And I want to start off by thanking all of you. At the State Department, and previously during my tenure in the White House, I have seen the good work that you do here in the United States and around the world. You have helped us strengthen U.S. government ties to religious actors and increase our understanding of the role of religion in foreign policy and development.

As you all know, diplomacy is no longer limited to high-level, state-to-state meetings behind closed doors. Technology has given people outside the corridors of power a greater voice, and so civil society and religious organizations are more important to the State Department’s work than ever before. And as complex global challenges arise — like violent extremism, global pandemics, and climate change — you are helping us better understand the societies in which we work and engage in people-to-people diplomacy.

Secretary Kerry recognized the important role religious and civil society groups play in our foreign policy. So, when he came to the State Department, he asked our diplomats to go out and engage faith-based organizations in their day-to-day work. He encouraged us to build strong relationships with religious leaders, listen to their insights, and find ways to advance our common goals together. He launched a new office – Religion and Global Affairs – to help us assess religious dynamics and engage religious actors. And as a result of his vision, we are bringing in new resources, tools, and partnerships. You have been instrumental in creating new public-private partnerships and expanding our expertise, such as the six religion scholars that the State Department will host for a year thanks to a generous grant from the Luce Foundation.

Over the course of this conference, you will hear from many people about the connection between religion and foreign policy. I want to highlight two particular challenges that I work on – global health and migration – and these will require every ounce of cooperation, collaboration, and innovation that we can muster.

As you know, global health has long been a bipartisan priority for the U.S. government. Not only are global pandemics a threat to our national security, but there are also proven links between the improved health of societies and their economic growth and development. Data shows that our investments in global health - from HIV/AIDS to malaria to Ebola - are making a tangible impact. Many of you have played a big part in those successes.

But, we have more work to do. Last year, the United States and 192 other nations pledged to end the AIDS, malaria, and TB epidemics by 2030. We have made great progress in combatting these diseases since the Millennium Development Goals were initiated.

But now is the time to redouble our efforts. Religious organizations are helping us do this in a whole host of ways. For example, on Zika, we are engaging faith-based organizations in Latin and Central America who can reach at-risk and affected populations quickly, and who are trusted leaders in their communities. And we are working with the Vatican to address antimicrobial resistance. There are just so many opportunities to collaborate and innovate to better respond to emerging threats and prevent new epidemics.

Another major challenge is global migration. You all know the world is facing the greatest displacement challenge – including both refugees and internally displaced migrants – since the Second World War.

The global migration crisis requires a global response. Just las week President Obama brought together leaders of 52 nations and international organizations in New York to increase support for refugees, humanitarian support was increased by more than $4.5 billion; countries doubled the number of refugees resettled or afforded other legal channels of admission in 2016; and we secured access to education for one million refugee children globally and expanded access to legal work for adult refugees. But event that is not enough.

Of course, first, we must continue to work together to end the wars, counter the violent extremism, and stop the persecution that force many to flee. We must also continue our collective effort to improve economic growth and governance around the world so that people are not faced with a choice between seeking out opportunity abroad and supporting their communities at home.

When diplomats work with religious organizations on these issues, we can achieve real success. As the panels today and tomorrow highlight, we are integrating religion into peacebuilding to mitigate conflicts, we are working with religious leaders to counter corruption in Nigeria, and we are building new coalitions to combat anti-Semitism in Europe.

Religious organizations have also played a crucial role in welcoming refugees to this country. Our welcome of refugees is part of who we are. It reinforces our national security. It makes America stronger. As President Obama has said, “the world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

We couldn’t successfully implement the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program without the faith community. Six of our nine refugee resettlement implementing partners are faith-based organizations. Underpinning them is a domestic network of over 300 resettlement agencies. These grassroots organizations – representing local leaders and a cross section of faith groups – are largely fueled by volunteers who open their arms and their communities to the world’s most vulnerable, meeting refugees at the airport in the middle of the night, donating everything from coats to cribs, and helping refugees navigate the labyrinth of school registrations, public transportation, and job agencies. Their work mirrors who we are as Americans and deserves our support and respect. And I’m so pleased that later this week, this amazing network will welcome the 85,000th refugee to arrive in the U.S. this year.

Global heath and international migration are just two of the many long-term challenges we are facing together. But the work we do today will have an impact for generations to come. So let me end where I began, by thanking you for your partnership and being a part of this conference. We look forward to continuing to deepen our collaboration on religion and foreign policy because it is vital to advancing prosperity and security around the world.