Well, this is so exciting for me to be up here looking out at all of you, to walk into this room where I often address groups, and to see it packed with standing room only is a wonderful result of all the work that has gone into this diaspora forum. And here we have leaders from so many communities across our country – members of the private sector, the public sector, philanthropic organizations – and that’s just who’s here. And you all represent so many others.
I’d like to extend my greetings beyond the auditorium to everyone who is following us on the internet through live streaming or by visiting links in the days and years ahead. And I want to especially thank Special Representative Kris Balderston. As he said, he and I have worked together longer than either of us care to admit, and we believe in partnerships and we believe so strongly that one of the great strengths of America is our diversity. And we want to celebrate it, but more than that, we want to put it to work.
And we all come from someplace, and I am delighted that we have represented here people from everywhere, because that’s what America is. And increasingly, I think one of our greatest assets as Americans – not only in our governmental activities but throughout our society – is to reach out and, frankly, model for others what it means to live with diversity but to be respectful and even proud of one’s own traditions.
So currently, more than 60 million Americans are first or second generation members of the diaspora community, and that’s a lot of potential. And we need to expand and deepen what’s already going on. I know that there is so much that is an ongoing part of the daily lives of the communities that you come from. What would countries do without remittances from America? When we look at the total global remittances coming from America, it dwarfs any foreign aid that our government can give. How do we better use that to support the kind of investments that will not only assist families but spread beyond families into communities?
The truth is that it’s not possible for any government, no matter how well meaning, to meet the challenges we face, from natural disasters, to economic stagnation, to poverty or civil unrest. Therefore, we need what I call smart power, and that means employing every tool at our disposal. And yes, we have a very strong force in our organized diplomatic efforts, our development professionals, and certainly our defense establishment. But I think building these coalitions, spurring initiative and innovation around the world, using people-to-people exchanges is actually the core of smart power. And that’s where all of you come in.
You have the potential to be the most powerful people-to-people asset we can bring to the world’s table. Because of your familiarity with cultural norms, your own motivations, your own special skills and leadership, you are, frankly, our Peace Corps, our USAID, our OPIC, our State Department all rolled into one. And it’s not only a matter of what you do personally. Very often, what we see is that in a crisis, the first people to respond, in fact, to come knocking on our doors, are those who have family, friends, connections where a crisis occurred. So when an earthquake happens in Haiti or civil unrest begins in Tripoli or a multitude of disasters hit Japan, we hear from Americans who have roots, who have business connections, who want to know what they can do.
The generosity in our country is legendary, and we often tap it to assist us to leverage our efforts even more than what our government can do. We also know that many of you have stepped in where others are unwilling or unable to do. You step in and help create a business or build a school or provide healthcare. And I saw the effectiveness of diaspora communities in the work that I’ve done for many years. Certainly, one of the great examples, and actually, a group that has spurred a lot of our thinking are Irish Americans because Irish Americans were instrumental to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
We, of course, with my husband’s leadership, with his appointment of George Mitchell, threw ourselves into it when some said, “Well, what’s the United States getting involved and trying to resolve a very old conflict for?” Well, part of it is we believe that we have an obligation to try to promote peace around the world, but also because the Irish American community was so strongly behind these efforts. It was they who reached out to political leaders and civil society groups. It was they who convinced Irish Americans to invest in Northern Ireland.
The first time Bill and I went to Belfast, we stayed in a hotel that had recently been bombed and whose windows were still boarded up. The next time I went back after the Good Friday Accords, there was 98 percent occupancy. This can happen in other places. Now, some might say, “Well, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, well, that’s easy compared to fill-in-the-blank conflict elsewhere.” (Laughter.) Believe me – (laughter) – it was not easy.
And I was particularly focused on getting women involved as peacemakers, and so I convened the first ever meeting of women from both communities. And we sat around a table like this, and the body language was not particularly hopeful. (Laughter.) And then we began to talk, and all of a sudden, a Catholic mother would say, “I worry every time my son goes out at night because I’m not sure he’ll come back.” And then a Protestant woman said, “I worry the same thing about my husband when he leaves for work.” And they began to talk as women, as wives, mothers, as opposed to representatives of communities that couldn’t imagine how to bridge the divide.
I’ve seen that in Central America. I remember being in El Salvador after the end of the conflict there, sitting again with a group of women. One woman had been a leader of the insurgents. In the jungles, she had her own nom de guerre. Another woman was of the highest society and had stood against everything the first woman was literally fighting for. And all of the sudden, they said, “We just got tired. We got tired of fighting. We got tired of seeing our children killed. We got tired of seeing no economic prosperity.”
Now, there are some communities that have come to our country fleeing oppression, seeking economic opportunity, looking for a new start, and are very blunt in saying, “We don’t want anything to do with the place we came from. They will never resolve their differences, and it’s a waste of our time. We can’t possibly make any contribution.” I respectfully disagree, and that’s what this conference really exemplifies.
When we began working on this, we wanted to create new ways for engagement and empowerment in the land of parents and grandparents. We began the American Pakistan Foundation, which opened a channel of support between Pakistani Americans and their former homeland. We worked with so many of you to create the Mexican American Leadership Initiative, which I was proud to help launch last night, which encourages Mexican Americans to engage more deeply with Mexico on a full range of issues, from the terrible security challenges that plague certain parts of the country to opening up more doors of opportunity for the poor, for those who are looking to start businesses to be entrepreneurs.
So this Global Diaspora Forum will institutionalize our strategy in three ways. As a convener, we will bring people together to look for ways to cooperate, pursue common interests. As a catalyst, we hope the forum will help launch new projects and provide training and technical assistance to people who are in need of it. As a collaborator, we will work closely with diaspora leaders and other partners to implement projects and maximize our impact. So we’re very excited to welcome you to this forum which has been a joint effort by not only the State Department, but USAID, the Migration Policy Institute, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and so many more.
When I look out at you, I see those of you who I know from politics. And I’m glad you’re here because we now have so many countries who are committed to democratic transitions but don’t know the first thing about politics. I have met with – (applause) – I have met with some of the young and not-so-young leaders of the revolutionary movement sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. I’ve met with young leaders who are anxious to make a difference. And when I say, “Well, and how are you organizing, and what political party are you going to create that will bring people together, and what are the issues you’re going to take a stand on,” I get a very blank stare and an admission that we’re having trouble getting to that next step.
That’s where many of you can come in. We need to just get into the basics of what it means to participate in the hard and sometimes frustrating work of politics. That’s the way you get to govern in a democracy. You are not picked from on high or inherit it from your parents; you have to work for it and you have to make your case to people. And we need your help to help us figure out the best ways to deliver what we think is one of the critical unmet needs of just basic political organizing.
The United States will not dictate what people organize around – there are different positions that can be taken – but we believe strongly that if there’s not vigorous political involvement, a lot of these movements will be hijacked because too many people who rhetorically pledge themselves to democracy believe in one election, one time. (Laughter.) Right? (Applause.) And too many leaders don’t have any willingness to transfer power. President Obama and I laugh a lot because we deal with these leaders who – they’re there for 10, 20, 30, 40 years, and he and I look at each other and say, “Oh my gosh. Can you imagine?” (Laughter.) (Applause.) The President said to me the other day, “I’m going to win reelection, and then I’m done.” (Laughter.) (Applause.)
And I’m just – handed a note saying I have to go to the White House, so – (laughter) – but I could – as you can tell, I could go on and on, because I am really excited about this. And so as we launch this International Diaspora Engagement Alliance, which very cleverly has the acronym of IDEA – (laughter) – we spend a lot of time in the State Department trying to think of how we can put words together so that the first letter spells something – we want you to be our full partners, which means we want you to tell us what we should be doing. We want you to give us feedback. We are working, for example, with the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome, which will help us support diaspora investments in agricultural and rural projects. And I know that Kris is going to bring our 10 IDEA partners forward.
But thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope that we will look back on this day in this auditorium and really see that we started something that has just spread across the world, improving the lives of so many people, giving them the same chance that all of us have had because of this country that we love and we call home. Thank you very much. (Applause.)