Thank you so much. It is a great pleasure to be in Cali this morning to speak with you and to be part to of what may be the largest and best ABLA conference ever.
JoEllen Simpson and her staff deserve congratulations from all of us for the fabulous job they have done in organizing this event and putting together such superb agenda. I also want to thank the excellent team at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, including Public Affair Officer Mark Wentworth, Cultural Affairs Officer Rex Moser, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer Hilary Renner, and Information Resources Center director Gloria Morales. I know there are many others who contributed to ABLA 2010 and we are grateful to all of you for your outstanding efforts.
One of my first speaking engagements, as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, was at the meeting of Binational Center directors last summer in Washington. That was most appropriate, for you are leaders in the important effort to promote mutual understanding between citizens in your countries and the United States. I did not know what a “BNC” was before I became Under Secretary, but now I am one of your biggest fans. We are very lucky to have you as partners, and we are proud of the long history of State Department and USIA support for BNCs.
We know that BNCs operate as independent, autonomous institutions, and we understand that your independence is a great asset for the work you do. And we know that together we form a team that is stronger than either of us could be alone – a team that exemplifies the value of public-private partnerships.
Today, in this age of social networking and a borderless economy, of transnational threats and technological promise, we believe that when we form partnerships with individuals and with institutions like BNC’s, around the world, we have a better chance to find solutions to the problems which confront us and to seize the opportunities which surround us. This is the insight behind President Obama’s vision for how America should interact with the world.
We are building American leadership for the twenty first century by asking people what they want to talk about with us, listening to their responses and engaging them on subjects in which they are interested. Our efforts are guided by the simple premise that reciprocity --- social political and even commercial --- creates goodwill.
It is this power of leveraging human commonality that drives our work at the State Department as we endeavor to carry out President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s vision to renew and expand America’s engagement with the world.
We believe that there are no limits to what we can achieve together if we can find ways to lower the walls which divide us – to eliminate the barriers of national boundaries, of racial and religious stereotypes, of language, and, of economic and social disparity.
You are all part of this endeavor. The BNCs make valuable contributions to the building of these relationships through your work, every day and across this continent. And the alumni of your programs – the men, women, and youth who participate – become part of this network of relationships through their own achievements in every field. Your alumni include well-known political leaders, athletes, cultural figures and business leaders as well as talented students and young professionals who are destined to be the future leaders of their societies.
For this reason, we have strengthened our grants program in support of BNCs. This year we doubled grants to BNCs, providing over $1.3 million to more than 30 different BNCs in 15 countries. These grants cover infrastructure and equipment, library collections, and -- for the first time -- cultural programs. In addition, we committed another $1 million to help BNCs in Chile and Haiti following the terrible earthquakes in those countries. This unprecedented level of support reflects just how important we think BNCs are to achieving our common goals.
And we are continuing our efforts to find new and innovative ways to expand our relationship and support your work. Earlier this spring, we established a number of working groups, as part of our efforts to create a new strategy for American public diplomacy. The working groups evaluated our public diplomacy programs and initiatives, suggested areas for improvement, developed new concepts and approaches, and provided us with over 250 ideas and recommendations.
The Working Group on American Spaces supported my view, as I said at the BNC Conference last year, that “we need to move beyond the walls of our embassies to speak with people from all backgrounds and walks of life.” We particularly need to find ways to engage with young people, a job you do so well every day. The Working Group looked at a range of options for public diplomacy “American Spaces” outside embassies and BNCs were a crucial component of its work.
One result of this Working Group’s deliberations was the decision to establish an American Spaces office in the Bureau of International Information Programs to support the growth of American Spaces, including BNCs, as centers of learning and showcases of America. We plan to have that office up and running in the next few months and we will be in touch with our Embassies and the BNCs to explain how that office will help serve your needs.
The Department of State’s public diplomacy bureaus are also developing innovative projects under our Strategic Framework for Public Diplomacy that will support three areas of importance to you:
I want to conclude by expressing my deep appreciation for your creative collaboration with our embassies and for the results you have achieved. Let me cite just a few examples:
I wish I had time to recognize the work of every BNC, because I know you all have great stories to tell. But here at ABLA you will have many opportunities to share best practices. Our very strong contingent from the Department of State, probably the largest ever at ABLA, wants to contribute to that process. I am very pleased to see here our Regional English Language Officers, Information Resource Officers, and Regional Educational Advisors based in Latin America, as well as representatives from the Bureaus of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Educational and Cultural Affairs, and International Information Programs.
I know you will all return home with many new ideas and a renewed motivation to carry on the work of promoting mutual understanding between your countries and the United States. You can count on my support and that of all the talented public diplomacy professionals who work with me back at the Department of State. Thank you again for giving me this opportunity to meet with all of you. Thank you very much.