Cities and states in the United States are on the frontlines of confronting the most challenging global issues of our time. From tackling climate change and pandemics to creating opportunities for economic development, building equity and settling refugees, local governments are leading the way on global challenges and delivering innovative solutions to solving these concerns.
As the newly appointed Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, my role is to ensure that local leaders, mayors, governors, city council members, and county officials in the United States are connected to the benefits of our foreign policy, to their counterparts around the world, and to the U.S. Department of State.
At the U.S. Department of State, we are realizing President Biden’s vision of a foreign policy in which “every action we take in our conduct abroad we must take with American working families in mind,” as well as the Secretary’s promise to the American people to “hold ourselves accountable to a single, overarching measure of success,” and ask our fellow Americans, “are we delivering results for you?”
Every day, American diplomats around the world are working on issues that affect our local communities – including issues like public health and safety, pollution, climate, trade and investment, the future of technology, economic security, and more. What we work on abroad has an impact back here at home, and what we are doing at home matters to our success around the world.
So, what is my team doing to benefit the American people and our foreign policy?
First, we are working on building channels to mayors, governors, and local communities to serve as conduits back to the Department. Our main priority is to focus on what local leaders are most interested in: solving global challenges that impact their citizens, creating new jobs by engaging with the world, and finding international opportunities for their young people.
- To increase economic prosperity, we want to make the process of identifying trade and investment opportunities more transparent, particularly for underserved communities. We are here to help cities connect to one another and to their business communities in order to share best practices on how to be successful at attracting international business.
- In education and culture, we are working to raise awareness about exciting opportunities for young people through the Department’s international educational and cultural exchange programs, paid internships and fellowships, and the Virtual Student Federal Service program. We want to encourage local stakeholders to make these opportunities known to students throughout their communities – especially students who wouldn’t otherwise have them.
Second, we are supporting and encouraging U.S. local leaders to engage internationally and with the Department by providing them with capacity, guidance, and greater connectivity to cities and states.
Cities and states can be amplifiers of democratic values and American interests and can benefit immensely from global connections. In my meetings with mayors and governors around the country, I am struck by how much international engagement our U.S. elected leaders are already doing—leading trade delegations, welcoming refugees, tourists and heads of state, sending their young people overseas, and more.
Compared to cities and regions overseas, however, America’s municipalities have much less capacity for significant international engagement. One way we are working to expand that capacity is by encouraging American cities to participate in international city networks – giving them a platform to voice American values and interests. We are also informing them of how they can participate in public-private partnerships led by the Department to tackle shared problems.
And as we engage with local leaders, we will bring their priorities – as well as any noteworthy local solutions to global challenges, such as the growing challenge of plastic pollution – back to the Department to inform our priorities.
Finally, as the world urbanizes, we are encouraging our embassies around the world to think about how they can partner with cities, states, provinces, and regions in advancing U.S. foreign policy goals. Though we work on many topics, we have two priorities: climate and democracy, in which local leaders play an outsized role.
- On climate, we know that cities and states are key partners for U.S. climate action as they often control public transportation, sanitation, water systems, waste management, power generation, and other areas. We want to connect state and local initiatives and networks focused on climate with international partners and multilateral organizations to increase their reach and share best practices on addressing the climate crisis.
- On democracy, cities and states are the level of government that most people feel in their daily lives. When local leaders deliver services well and without corruption, they prove that democracy can work. We are collaborating across the Department to find ways to support city leaders dedicated to holding up individual rights, the rule of law, and transparency in their countries and are planning an event at the Summit for Democracies at the end of March on the Mayors’ Declaration on Democracy.
The Biden-Harris Administration understands that America’s cities and states are vital partners in U.S. foreign policy. In fact, Secretary Blinken addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this year – the first Secretary of State ever to do so.
Secretary Blinken understands that we have a lot to learn from America’s mayors, who continue to lead the way on the defining priorities of our time. As he said in his remarks, “cities are the engines of opportunity and ingenuity in the United States. They’re where challenges tend to emerge first, and solutions are often forged quickest.”
That is why the Department is committed to working with local leaders to create and execute solutions that can make a real difference to local communities. By connecting local leaders with our international partners, local and national governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, and others, we are hoping to accelerate the innovative work they are already doing. As Secretary Blinken said, “our foreign policy needs cities as partners. Together as partners, my hope is that we can get to work, and get to work for the American people.”
What’s next? We are looking forward to the Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver this April. This summit will bring together mayors, governors, and community leaders from the United States and across the Western Hemisphere to ensure that our shared work on democracy, public health, climate change, migration, digital access, housing, and more continues to benefit all our citizens.
We know that the answers to so many of our shared global challenges can be found right here in American cities. I’m looking forward to engaging with local governments in the years ahead as we continue to work for the American people.
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About the Author: Ambassador Nina Hachigian (ret) is the first U.S. Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy. In this role she seeks to bring benefits to, and learn from, local leaders in the United States, and connect them to counterparts around the world. Before rejoining the Department, Ambassador Hachigian served as the first Deputy Mayor for International Affairs for the City of Los Angeles. From 2014 to 2017, Ambassador Hachigian served as the second U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).