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Diplomacy in Action

Google+ Hangout: Partnership Opportunity Delegations

Andrew O'Brien
Special Representative for Global Partnerships 
Natalie Pregibon, Director of P3 Intelligence at the Concordia Summit; Mary Kane, President and CEO of Sister Cities International; and Mickey Bergman, Executive Director of the Global Alliances Program, Aspen Institute
Washington, DC
January 30, 2014


This video is available with captions on YouTube.

MR. O’BRIEN: Thanks for being with us today at our new – we’re talking today about our new State Department initiative called Partnership Opportunity Delegations. They’re run out of the Office of Global Partnerships at the Department of State, the Secretary’s office. I’m Secretary Kerry’s Special Representative for Global Partnerships. My name is Drew O’Brien.

The Global Partnership Office, or as we call it here, SGPI, is the entry point for collaboration between the State Department, civil society, private companies, public – other parts of the public sector, private sector, and hospitals, universities, you name it. We’re the entry point. We’re the focal point.

We have some other remarkable participants, my colleagues from outside the State Department who have joined us today. Mickey Bergman is the Executive Director of Global Alliances at the Aspen Institute. And we also are joined by two members of our recent POD delegation to Northern Ireland: Mary Kane of Sister Cities and Natalie Pregibon, who works with the Concordia Summit.

Mickey, will you say a few things about yourself, please?

MR. BERGMAN: Yes, of course. Thank you. Thank you, Drew, and I’m excited to be here. As Drew mentioned, I’m a – I run a program at the Aspen Institute called the Global Alliances Programs, where we really focus on this in the space that goes just beyond what governments are able to do by themselves in international relations between communities.

We do this because we believe that non-state actors, private sector, businesses, entrepreneurs, investors, academia, artists all have as much to gain from a peaceful and stable and prosperous world as governments do, and together we can do a better job at it. So we’ve been engaging with this work with our partners at the State, and I’m very excited for the launching of PODs.

MR. O’BRIEN: Great. Thanks. Mary, could you say a few things about yourself, please?

MS. KANE: I am President of Sister Cities International, and Sister Cities International is a nonprofit that was started by Dwight Eisenhower 56 years ago to connect cities in the United States with cities around the world. Right now, we have about – we have over 500 U.S. cities that have almost 2,000 partnerships in 146 countries. And we promote citizen diplomacy and business, economic development, professional and student exchanges.

MR. O’BRIEN: Great. Thanks. And Natalie.

MS. PREGIBON: Hi. I’m Natalie, and I work for Concordia, which is a small nonprofit located in New York City, and we’re focused on promoting public and private collaboration to address some of the world’s more intractable problems. And we are honored to be invited on the first delegation to Northern Ireland as part of the POD, and to really get to know the private, public, and nonprofit stakeholders to see how working together, those different stakeholders could address some of the social and economic issues going on in Northern Ireland. So it’s an honor to be a part of that.

MR. O’BRIEN: Great. Well, thanks. And we hope with all your participation we’re going to have a good conversation about PODs and the mission.

Through partnerships, the U.S. Government can launch new mechanisms on problem solving and promote high impact cross-sectoral collaborations to create sustainable solutions for the challenges that impact businesses and government everywhere. Harnessing the wealth of capabilities offered by civil society and the private sector can become an opportunity – they’ve become an opportunity and a necessity to succeed in the full range of activities conducted by the Department of State.

When we got into PODs last year – and Mickey and I led a delegation to Colombia with U.S. investors and entrepreneurs. And it’s not that I had low expectations, but I think the way the trip unfolded, the deliverables that came out of it, I was actually pretty overwhelmed when we got back, Mickey. And you did a lot of the legwork, so my hat’s off to you. We had – I think we got three deals that came out of that. We had more formal partnerships beyond the ones that we connected that came together. And we have a reconvening of the delegation at the end of the month, in a couple of weeks, to talk about further follow-up on additional ideas.

Here’s the idea: We think that the best solutions, best ideas, are created when different combinations of people representing different organizations, different institutions, are put into a different atmosphere and given an opportunity to collaborate, to meet, to share ideas; likeminded people in some circumstances, and then there’s also unlikely combinations. And I think we’ve seen some of that in the last couple of trips that we’ve done.

There is this idea in the world called thought leadership, and I think it’s a very important part of what all of us do, that we need thought leadership to seed ideas, to promote good ideas, to talk very bluntly about the solutions to society’s issues and the world’s problems. David Brooks, in the New York Times, wrote a very – wrote sort of a critical column about thought leadership. I recognize thought leadership is something very important to what we do, but what I think we’re trying to do, and something we’re going to promote through PODs and something we hope to promote through GPI, is get into this what I like to call results leadership. And we’ve seen some of this come out of Colombia. We’ve seen some of it come out of Ireland already. So start with thought leadership, but let’s not leave results leadership behind. So making sure good ideas, wherever they come from, are part of this equation – that’s what we’re trying to do.

So in the coming year, we’re going to do more of these – more PODs and we’ve got sort of a working geography that we put together on it. We’ll continue to talk to our colleagues in the building. Mickey is an integral part of that conversation, so he’s also been very – in fact, where are you right now?

MR. BERGMAN: I am actually in Prague.

MR. O’BRIEN: This is a global guy we’ve got here on the screen. So look at that. Glad to have you.

So we’ll do different delegation trips throughout the year. And on the trip that we had in Ireland, we had – well, Mary was there, Natalie was there, talking about sort of what they do. And they’ve already – I’m not going to repeat that. We had some representatives from higher ed. We had some people from the venture capital world, from the high-tech entrepreneurial world. So we’re going to continue to build these and – like the ones we’ve already done.

The POD delegations will have an opportunity to explore investment opportunities and fast-growing markets and meet high-quality, prescreened, early stage companies, boosting emerging entrepreneurship hubs, which is critical in places that don’t have sort of a large existing industry, a large industry there.

We also are going to give people the opportunity to mentor young entrepreneurs, who – when we bring entrepreneurs here from the U.S., they share ideas about how to get started, share those ideas about how to pick yourself back up after you fail, which isn’t a widely held concept in other parts of the world. So that idea that failure is just the start comes out of Boston or Cambridge or Silicon Valley – that’s something that we’re trying to bring to the rest of the world as well.

We’ll sit down with local business leaders, heads of industry, local government, and talk about ways to support not just the ideas that we already talked about, small and entrepreneurial business, but larger business; how universities can exchange, develop formal partnerships, and just generally, put people together and build the foundations of good partnering. These are not sort of – there aren’t – these are self-funded trips. Everybody that went on the last couple paid their own way. It’s an opportunity to gain some access to local government, sort of like I said, local industry. But it’s public and private; it’s putting people together.

So Natalie, Mary, and I, we were in – two weeks ago we were in the inaugural POD to Ireland and Northern Ireland. And we were looking at science, technology, engineering, mathematics, education, STEM education. We were looking to promote entrepreneurship and find ways to promote economic growth broadly.

I’ve done a lot of talking. I want them to offer their experiences, so I’m going to – I’m going to turn it over to – Natalie, I’ll go to you first. But we had – we’ve had a remarkable partner in this effort with the Government of Northern Ireland, with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, as well as the Government of the United Kingdom. So to the extent that the ongoing peace agreement in Belfast and the rest of the Northern Ireland – to the extent that we can contribute to that and help young people, help people who are coming out of university with experiences that we might have here in the U.S. or can bring over there or vice versa, that’s one of the things that we have sort of a long-term plan to do.

But Natalie, did you want to talk a little bit about your Northern Ireland and Ireland experience?

MS. PREGIBON: Sure. Well, it was my first time to both Ireland and Northern Ireland, so it was a personal journey as well as one to actually build relationships. And what I found to be so fascinating is we were going there to build relationships with the United States and internationally in Northern Ireland, but they were already using partnership and collaboration for their own initiatives. That’s what I thought was so unique is that looking at the majority of these initiatives that they’re doing with entrepreneurship and STEM education, those were created through partnerships.

So you look at the apprenticeship programs that are run by Citi or Deloitte that are located in Belfast. Those are working with the government and working with the local college to develop those skills that are needed by Citi and Deloitte and the other big industries, so that the human capital grows, which then helps the government, helps incomes, but it also fills that need for those companies for looking for the human capital and high-tech entrepreneurship.

That was one of the things that I found was particularly enlightening. We were going there to develop partnerships, and they already knew the power of partnerships and were able to use them very successfully to accomplish things that – you know, in Northern Ireland, it’s difficult. They’ve undergone a big recession, the economy’s kind of stagnating, and they’re dealing with a lot of cultural issues as well. And we need partnerships to address both economic issues as well as the social issues. That’s really something that’s interesting and something that I think other countries can really learn from. And Northern Ireland being such a small country, it is a natural kind of laboratory for seeing what works and what doesn’t. And so I think that there’s a lot that you learn from us’ there’s a ton that we also can learn from them.

MR. O’BRIEN: That’s great. Thanks, Natalie. I think one of the things – and I want to jump off on one point that Natalie made, which was that there are – we have great, as I mentioned, great cooperation from the government over there, and strong interest in building on the partnerships that they already have.

Mary, what struck me about – say you talk about Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland is that they have some of the issues that we see in other parts of the world, and that’s – it’s – where is the eco – where is the system that helps develop young entrepreneurs? Where is the ecosystem that helps those entrepreneurs grow the businesses or grow the ideas that they have? How do they access capital? How do they access venture capital, angel investment, long-term investment? What about the question of going to a university? In some parts of the world there is a direct pathway. That exists there to some extent. It exists – we’ve seen – in other parts of the world. So some of the issues we’re dealing with there I think in a lot of ways can help us as we partner with the government over there, can help us sort of figure out what else we need to do in the world.

Mary, did you – now, I want to give Mary one – I met Mary early on in my tenure at the State Department. I was very impressed and struck with her goal to make Sister City partnerships very substantive. And so she brought that to this trip, and she doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to get enlisted for a lot more. So Mary, why don’t you talk a little bit about what you saw over there?

MS. KANE: Well, it was the first time, like Natalie, that I had been to Northern Ireland. I have been to Ireland since my parents are both from there numerous times, but not into Northern Ireland. And it is quite a different scenario. They still do have a few issues because of the troubles that they’ve had before. But I have to tell you, it was really affirmative to see how Sister Cities worked, because the Belfast-Nashville Sister City partnership is alive and going. And they have been exchanging musicians. In fact, we just missed a group of 11 musicians coming in from Nashville with this trip. But it has been quite an exchange program benefitting both cities.

They also have a very strong relationship with Vanderbilt University, one of the top universities in the country, and Queenstown there in Belfast. And they do exchanges, both professors and students. And it just showed me how Sister Cities can work. And now we just need to get a few more cities or communities in the United States to partner up.

I also liked how Belfast, they think outside the box. One of the things that really struck me was the Titanic Museum. They took something that was obvious – I mean, that’s where the Titanic was built – and have made a money-making cultural resource that are bringing people in in a good way into Northern Ireland. And also the Titanic Studios that they built, something you never think that would happen in Northern Ireland that they are filming – I had no idea – the Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland. Now, how cool is that? I mean, that just – those are just things of – I really appreciated them thinking outside the box, not looking at traditional industries, but actually working and looking at things that they can do and that the whole community can do together.

Andrew, I appreciated it. It was great. It was a great trip. And we’re actually – I’m having dialogue back and forth between an international women’s group and the Sister Cities.

MR. O’BRIEN: The international women’s group is – I met with them last summer. They’re a great group, they have great plans. I know they have a big conference this spring. So I’m glad that they enlisted you, too.

And thanks for bringing that up, Mary, because I think as much as there are issues of sectarianism and the other things that sort of go on and some of the economic challenges that a lot of parts in the world, including the U.S., face in Belfast, you’re absolutely right. I came away; I was impressed by their versatility as far as partnering. The universities there are remarkable. I think their local government – we had several encounters with the Lord Mayor of Belfast. He is a remarkable guy, and he’s doing very innovative and creative things for the city.

So there’s all these pieces. And as we’ve seen in other parts of the world, all it needs is a little – I said this on the bus – sometimes a place just needs a little love, needs a little push. And I think that’s what we saw there.

So we will – if you would, I want to go over to Mickey because Colombia – the Colombia experience, I think, set the table for all this. It set the table for this kind of work that we’ll do throughout the rest of the year. So Mickey, can you talk a little bit about Colombia, how that trip came together, some of the things we saw there, some of the things that came out of it?

MR. BERGMAN: Yeah, I’m very happy to. And I’m very excited that it kind of was a pilot almost, or a precursor for the launch of the PODs. I want to mention three things that we’ve learned through this process and I think are applying it.

The first one, we realized, my colleague, my partner in crime at Aspen – her name is Rachel, and she was really the one running all the details with your team at State Department, the fantastic team that you have. We realized that the small and medium businesses, the smalltime investors, the impact investors, the entrepreneurs, for them the cost of engagement in a new market is very, very high, and sometimes not feasible for them to do it on their own.

And at the same time the last corporations, the multinationals very often don’t have much interest in the small markets, so you end up with communities around the world that are missing that commercial business innovation and entrepreneurship engagement. And so in many ways, what we have put together, as it developed we realized that we’re giving that access, we’re lowering the barriers of engagement in all those sectors.

So when we put the delegation together to Colombia, we had impact investors with us, we had some entrepreneurs with us. And an important element for us was that we brought diaspora with us as well, and actually, some of them are listening to this conversation. And one of them, who came to us in Colombia, had not been in Colombia for eight years before this delegation and is now closing in on a very major deal, a significant one that will help the environment in Bogota City with the mayor that we’re hoping to help him bring that to a conclusion. So the first one – the first lesson we had was really identifying that gap of giving access, lowering the cost of engagement.

The second one, as I just mentioned, is the engagement of the diaspora within that mix, how important it was to our delegates.

And most important for us has been that we can’t be just a group of Americans saying oh, we’ll go to Colombia and we’ll do what we think they need, but actually using their partners that we have on the ground, the resources from the embassy, to understand what the local priorities are and to hear from our Colombian partners what they want. In our case in the Colombia delegation, it was about angel investment and impact investment. They wanted – they have resources in Colombia, they have entrepreneurs in Colombia, and they wanted us to bring a delegation that can talk to them, can make the connections with them on best practices, how to evaluate risk and how to really engage in angel investing.

And I think when you put that together you get something that is very beneficial for everybody involved. And specifically true in Colombia – you and I saw it with the rest of our delegates – the combination of two elements made that trip so timely. The first was the relatively new agreement, a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia. And within it just last year, the U.S. Government and President Obama signed the Small Business Network of the Americas, which is run by State Department. That created the infrastructure that allows that engagement.

And the second thing in Colombia was the complete change in the security environment that finally allows Americans and others to step in and feel secure in their business and their investments. So I think the combination of all of that let to an extremely successful delegation with, as you mentioned, three or four investments that we have directly from it.

MR. O’BRIEN: That’s great. Thanks, Mickey. And thank you for your public service announcement about the Small Business Network of the Americas – (laughter) – which is something I should have mentioned, so I’m glad you did. But it was the larger umbrella under which that our office was able to attend and contribute to that trip, and hence that ongoing discussion. I mentioned we’ll go back to that discussion in a couple of weeks as a follow-up to the trip.

I had spent some time last year in Orlando where we kicked off the sharing on the small business development centers, and under the SBNA, and then in December we had a group of entrepreneurs and small businesses come to Miami to compete in an entrepreneurship challenge there, a weeklong challenge down there.

So different ways that this manifests itself, this work. Sometimes it happens in countries. Sometimes it happens here. The thing to remember is it’s all good no matter where it takes place.

You also mentioned the diaspora, and I’m glad you did too, so thanks for doing my job today from as far off as you are. Diaspora work, the outreach for the State Department, takes place through our office through GPI. And this is, just to underscore what Mickey said, a very critical and key part of what we need to do in our diplomatic efforts. And this is – our office convenes every year a global diaspora forum. We’ve typically done it in the spring. This year we pushed it back, we’re likely to move it to the fall. We are going to actually spend some time this year talking to diaspora groups in different parts of the U.S. leading up to that. So that will be – it’s we’re trying to take our government to the people.

And they’re very, very critical as far as impact investing. We – and social investing, and just sort of their general ideas on the political situation, the economic situation, you name it back home. They are a great partner broadly – the diaspora – and depending on where you go they can be – they’re very tuned in to what happens at home. So we will do a lot more of that work this year, as well. So thanks for doing that.

Outside of the sort of topics I’ve thrown out, does anyone want to add anything about the trips, about anything that sort of you’d like to see on future trips?

MS. KANE: Well, I just want to reinforce the idea of the diaspora. I think that’s a key part of this, and it brings that relationship – it really solidifies the trust in a relationship when you’re able to bring people from the United States who actually used to live in those countries and have family in those countries to help pave the way, so to speak.

MS. PREGIBON: And I think one similarity between what you had in Colombia, and you also then had in Northern Ireland, is that both governments have sort of done a lot to try and promote entrepreneurship and have made an effort towards it and then tried to engage other sectors. And particularly with Northern Ireland, we saw you have entrepreneurs to build the entrepreneurial spirit and many others involved in those types of skills. But also we saw through efforts like in Northern Ireland that we have entrepreneurship also thought to sort of mend those bridges that have developed culturally over time. And so it’s kind of a positive feedback mechanism, and there are these cultural programs that also promote skills development, it’s helping to reinforce those bonds.

MR. BERGMAN And just if I can add one thing to this.

MR. O’BRIEN: Absolutely.

MR. BERGMAN: I think when we mentioned that how much we were able – those PODs are actually able to lower the cost of engagements, it’s not only the monetary cost of traveling together. It’s our ability to partner together because it’s a partnership with the Department of State and with the Global Partnership Initiative that you’re heading, and it gives the delegates and the participants access that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them at that level. It gives credibility, it gives visibility, and I think that those things are actually – can have monetary impact when it comes to their business, to their investments.

And it’s a very, very important element of this, and I think that the balance that we’re striking with the partnership with State Department, but if private sector-led elements still allows the investors, once they’ve made those connections, to go at it without feeling constrained by – necessarily by politics, if there are such constraints in that community.

And the – it leads me to the point – one of the things with these PODs – and that’s very important as we do them – in Colombia, for example, we did the first one – delegation. A lot of initial relationships are fantastic. Then what’s the follow-up? So from our perspective, we are now working on a follow-up delegation that will take place in late – or in mid-May. We’re still working on the dates. That is going to bring back a lot of the people that came with us to begin with and their colleagues and others are interested, but this time going deeper, and actually hoping to seal some few more deals with this.

So it’s just I think it’s an important element of the structure that your team is putting together at State. It’s not only a one-time visit, but the partner organizations, the investors themselves, will have the support and the infrastructure to continue going back and actually advance those projects that they initiate.

MR. O’BRIEN: Thanks, Mickey. One thing on sort of the same point you just made, when we do travel to another country we do have the benefit of access to people in the government that (a) can be good sort of government guides for us when we get there, and (b) have sort of the – they have the knowledge of certain disciplines. I’m not saying this correctly, but I’ll give you two examples.

In Colombia, we had Catalina Ortiz from iNNpulsa, who hosted us, she participated in a tremendous amount of our activities, is very tied into the tech community there, and was able to help us with linkages that we probably would not have gotten if she were not part of helping us out.

In Northern Ireland, Minister Stephen Ferry served a similar role. I was in Northern Ireland last summer on a diaspora trip, and then some of the activities that led to the POD came out of that trip. In the fall, I met with Minister Ferry when he was here in D.C. We realized in the course of a very short meeting and conversation that we were on the same page on some of the things that we were trying to do. He was an extraordinary partner for us when we went to Northern Ireland. He hosted us a great delegation dinner with people from industry and government over there, and then hosted us for an entire morning of STEM discussion with a lot – at Belfast Metropolitan College.

So when we’ve – we’re able through the State Department to make these linkages, they just they make our visits, our conversations, much more robust. So Catalina and Minister Ferry were great partners and sort of the kind of people we’re trying to connect with when we go somewhere.

So we are going to – I don’t know if we’re completely final on what our schedule is. Mickey mentioned a follow-up trip to Colombia. There is also going to be, probably, a trip to Burma, which we’re working on right now, and I think Mickey’s going to be part of that. And we’re looking at some other parts of the world.

We clearly have some more work to do, I think, on the Small Business Network of the Americas, so that will be a focus. And so we’ll look not only in South America, but beyond.

There are a lot of exciting things that take place on the margins of this activity. There was – when several of us arrived in Limerick, Ireland a couple weeks ago, there was a very large event in Shannon Airport called CoderDojo. I can’t describe this. You have to go look it up. But it’s a remarkable thing engaging young people in science and technology education and hopefully careers. So we’ll be doing more with CoderDojo as well and hopefully fold them into some of this stuff.

If you want to learn more about this from the State Department’s standpoint, you can go to Just making sure I have that right: We need everybody’s help. If you’re watching today, if you want to get involved in the next trip, please do, reach out to us. If you’ve got an idea for a place that we might want to go, we’d be interested in hearing it. If you’re a member of the diaspora here in the U.S. or beyond, reach out to us. We’re delighted to hear from you.

One thing I will tell you about the trips to not – there’s a lot of work that’s done, but you can travel with somebody, you find out a lot of different things about them. So Natalie has got a big event happening in her life this year. I don't want to disclose it, but she’s got big things happening. I heard a lot about Mary’s kids, who are doing remarkable things. And Mickey, I can say, without devolving confidence, is a new dad and he still works like – he works like Hercules and he’s a new dad. So you get to know people pretty well, and I enjoyed that.

Anyone else?

MS. KANE: And Drew, I can’t wait to hear more about Burma, because we are in the process of putting together a Sister City relationship between Burma and Fort Wayne, Indiana because of the diaspora population there.

MR. O’BRIEN: Great.

MR. BERGMAN: And Mary Kane and I were actually just chatting before we went live on this and connected over the Myanmar trip. That is scheduled for April 28th. It’s a very exciting one coming up. It’s focused with impact investors and philanthropists and business leaders, as well as Drew, of course, who will be with us.

But we also have between five and six very exciting social entrepreneurs. I just had a series of conversations with them a couple of days ago. It was a call from Nairobi, a call from Mali, a call from Kampala. It’s – a lot of them are Americans, not all of them, but coming together with us on this delegation with social businesses that are relevant to where Myanmar is now and what it can actually get to.

So we’re going to engage with the private-sector leadership in Myanmar, the public – the government in Myanmar and the opposition leaders, leadership in Myanmar in talking about how we can actually make some of this happen. And it’s going to be a little bit of a different flavor from what we’ve done before, but it’s going to be really, really exciting. And anybody, as Drew said, who’s listening to us to today and want to be a part of it, please please, please contact us and we can – I’m sure we can share the information on that on this page of this event.

MS. PREGIBON: And just from Concordia’s perspective, we just see PODs as this great opportunity. Even just the other week at an event we had in London, I was approached by stakeholders who were actually interested in investing in Myanmar and so – but wondering how to best get in touch with the government, what were the best avenues to follow up for partnership. And so to have something like a POD where they can perhaps join in on and make these partnerships a reality is really – it’s a really fantastic tool. So kudos to you both for thinking of such a wonderful mechanism.

MR. O’BRIEN: Thanks. Thanks, Natalie. The Secretary’s done a few of things Google Hangouts, so I think I got to catch up and I got to do a few more. So thanks, everybody, for joining us. I look forward to doing it again, and we’ll be in touch.

MS. PREGIBON: Thank you.

MS. KANE: Okay. Thank you.

MR. BERGMAN: Thank you very much.

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