I am delighted to be here with you today, and to have the opportunity to welcome you to Washington and to this important summit.
I want to thank Ann [Schodde] and the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy for organizing this event, and thank all of you for participating and for your commitment to citizen diplomacy. I have to say I have been incredibly impressed by the tenacity and dedication of the dynamic team of leaders at the Center. They have done an amazing job of pulling together this historic summit.
Given the work you will be doing at the summit, it is particularly appropriate that last night I was in New York attending a dinner honoring the New York Philharmonic, one of America’s premier cultural institutions. The Asia Society presented them with an award for their outstanding work in cultural diplomacy, from their historic concerts in Russia in the late 1950s to their groundbreaking concert in North Korea and their impending visit to Cuba next year.
Last week I was in Prague, meeting with young leaders from across Central Europe and other young leaders from the United States. Before that, I was in Dubai attending a conference of young entrepreneurs from across the Middle East and their American counterparts. This is indeed citizen diplomacy at work.
I know that you have a jam-packed agenda and are anxious to get started, but as you begin your work, I thought I would share some thoughts with you about how we are looking at public diplomacy in the 21st century.
I think we all agree that we live in a very complicated world – that is, perhaps, the understatement of the morning. The technology revolution that has rocketed around the world has provided people everywhere with access to information to an unprecedented degree, information which has empowered people to improve their lives and allowed them to become more active in the political and economic lives of their countries. But these very same tools have also provided others with the ability to spread misinformation and disinformation designed to undermine our credibility and to incite hatred and dissent around the world.
With the increase in the number of electoral democracies, billions of people have become engaged citizens in their countries and, in this interconnected world in which we live, whenever they vote or raise their voices in protest, their actions affect not only their own countries but our country and indeed the whole world.
Over sixty percent of the world’s population is under the age of thirty. Not only are these young people the future leaders of their countries, but they have the power today, right now, to influence their families and their communities and to impact the way large segments of the world’s population thinks about the United States. We must find more ways to connect them to young Americans and to provide them with the tools to work together to find solutions to some of our most pressing problems, problems which will impact the world they will inherit from us.
Simply put, we recognize that for us to succeed in advancing our national interests in today’s world, we must move beyond traditional government-to-government relations and find new ways to influence and inform people everywhere. We must engage with people at all levels, in all sectors of society. And, as President Obama has stated, we must engage with them on the basis of mutual respect and mutual understanding; an engagement which fosters a spirit of collective action to address our common problems.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have provided us with excellent examples of what we must do. As they have traveled around the world, they have met with people everywhere and had open and frank discussions and debates with students, civil society leaders and a broad range of nongovernmental organizations, enterprises, and individuals.
However, the task ahead is enormous, and it is not one that government can or should do alone. If we are to do this job and do it right, we need the help and support of all our citizens. That is why the work you will be doing at this summit is so critical to our efforts.
Over the past 18 months, we have worked hard to develop a new framework for public diplomacy in the 21st century. This involved reviewing all our programs, processes, and procedures and making structural changes to ensure that we have an organization that is well positioned to meet the challenges which confront us, and to make it easier for us to work with you. We have done a lot, but our work has just begun.
During the course of this summit, you will hear from many distinguished speakers and participate in many discussions. I encourage you to listen actively and think broadly. The topics which you will be covering, from the environment to human rights to expanding cultural diplomacy, are all areas which are central to our public diplomacy efforts.
We hope you will help us find new ways to reach out and engage with people around the world on these and other issues, and help us find ways to encourage more of our citizens to join us in this important endeavor.
Thank you again for being here. I look forward to seeing you again at the end of the summit and to continuing to work with you in the months and years ahead.
Thank you very much.