The U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission’s Working Group on People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges met December 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C., to advance cooperation in the areas of education, public outreach, health, and sports and cultural exchanges. Both sides affirmed the strong and enduring people-to-people ties between the United States and Georgia, and agreed to continue working together to strengthen strategic communications within the Georgian government in order to clearly and effectively articulate the benefits of Georgia’s European choice.
The United States reaffirmed its strong commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence within its internationally recognized borders. The Working Group further renewed its full support for the Geneva International Discussions as the forum to achieve concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues in the occupied territories. The United States also expressed strong support for the Georgian government’s efforts to increase engagement and expand services to the residents of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. The delegations affirmed support for confidence-building measures that aim to reduce tensions and make progress toward peace and eventual reconciliation. Both sides agreed on the value of people-to-people engagement to build relationships and advance reconciliation.
The Working Group further endorsed the importance of strategic communications in countering challenges such as disinformation and propaganda. The Georgian side expressed its gratitude to the United States for the ongoing projects in Georgia, including initiatives to enhance strategic communications capacities across the Government and to increase media literacy. The parties also discussed the strategic communications activities implemented by the Government of Georgia, in particular efforts to reach out to ethnic minorities and other susceptible groups. The delegations reaffirmed their readiness to continue cooperation on improving strategic communications and discussed specific project ideas.
The delegations further affirmed the importance of implementing comprehensive reforms at all levels of the education sector. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will continue to support its partnership with the Government of Georgia to enable a transformation of Georgia’s education system into a more student-centered, quality-oriented learning model focused on strengthening critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. The parties also discussed the need to maintain support for civic education programs at the secondary level and to develop entrepreneurial skills among youth. The delegations emphasized the importance of prioritizing and allocating funding for public school operations and maintenance, in addition to developing distance learning models to increase access to quality education.
The parties also concurred on the need for further support for vocational education through new public-private partnership grants, exchange programs, and other innovative approaches. They underscored the success of programs that increase vocational education in Georgia, such as the $12 million in public-private partnerships funded by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
On higher education and science, the delegations expressed readiness to support partnerships between U.S. and Georgian universities by expanding scholarships and exchange programs, increasing graduate and research opportunities, and strengthening quality assurance mechanisms through engagement with international accreditation boards and experts in evaluation processes. MCC recognized the Government of Georgia for its commitment of sufficient funding in scholarship support for Georgian students enrolled in San Diego State University-Georgia’s degree programs. Both sides emphasized the significance of the Government of Georgia’s contribution, which is critical to sustaining the gains made under MCC’s $31 million investment in science, technology, engineering, and math higher education. This contribution will greatly increase the number of Georgian students graduating with U.S. and internationally accredited degrees.
The delegations emphasized the significance of continuing people-to-people contacts, in particular through Peace Corps and other bilateral exchange programs such as the Future Leaders Exchange Program, Fulbright, sports and arts camps, and professional exchange programs. The sides agreed that such initiatives strengthen the bilateral relationship and have a tremendous impact. The United States affirmed its continuing support for bilateral exchange programs. In 2018, Peace Corps will renew its agreement with the Ministry of Education and Science to provide English language training and to engage on other priorities to advance education and youth development.
The parties also discussed new cooperation opportunities in education and science, and agreed to continue the promotion of scientific cooperation between foundations, institutions, and with the private sector to facilitate joint research and activities.
The United States applauded Georgia for its achievements in health service delivery and health sector reform. The United States also lauded Georgia’s active engagement in the Global Health Security Agenda and expressed appreciation for its longstanding partnership with the United States on health security issues. The sides reviewed Georgia’s progress toward elimination of Hepatitis C, and discussed continuing cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to increase treatment levels and reduce levels of infection.
The parties agreed to support development programs targeting youth at the local level, and discussed implementing joint youth programs through partnerships with Georgian and U.S. youth organizations. The sides further concurred on the importance of identifying more and better opportunities for engagement in support of youth programming and ensuring that the United States and Georgia are promoting an educated, healthy, creative, employed, and civically engaged youth ready to drive economic growth, democratic values, and prosperity.
First Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia David Zalkaliani, First Deputy State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Lasha Darsalia, U.S. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Sharon Hudson-Dean and USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Margot Ellis co-chaired the Working Group, which also included the participation of a broad group of interagency partners of both countries.
The U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission is the primary mechanism for organizing and prioritizing the broad and deepening cooperation between the United States and Georgia. The Commission includes four bilateral working groups on priority areas identified in the Charter on Strategic Partnership: democracy and governance; defense and security; economy, trade, and energy; and people-to-people and cultural exchanges.