Assistant Secretary Ryan's Appearance at the Alliance for International Exchange Membership Event

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon.

I approach these remarks—and this entire event—with very mixed emotions.  I am enormously pleased that these annual gatherings have continued to grow as positive and useful venues for open discussion and cooperation.  I regret, however, that this will be my last appearance here as ECA Assistant Secretary.

Given the occasion, I will look back at what we have accomplished and I will also seek to look forward and see if I can peer far enough into the distance—into the mists--to see something of what the future holds.

I want to sincerely thank all of the Board Members past and present for their hard work and commitment to international exchanges.  I want to especially thank Mike McCarry for his many years of service and wise guidance.

I’m delighted that you have established the McCarry Awards to recognize emerging leaders in the U.S. exchange community and I look forward to the first awards in just a few minutes.  I congratulate you on the appointment of Ilir Zherka to carry on the important work of the Alliance and we’ve welcomed the opportunity to collaborate closely with him this year.  

There is new leadership throughout ECA as well.  When the DAS panel takes place tomorrow you will see a number of new faces. 

As I look back at the evolution of international exchanges, I think it is useful to note that this year is the 60th anniversary of a seminal event in the history of exchanges--President Eisenhower’s 1956 People-to-People gathering. 

It brought together a remarkable variety of talent, ranging from William Faulkner--described in the official attendance list simply as “Author, Oxford, Mississippi”--to labor leader George Meany and from conductor Eugene Ormandy to CBS President Frank Stanton.  This event was pivotal in the history of many organizations, including People-to-People International, Sister Cities International, and the Business Council for International Understanding.

I think it is worth noting, and it will not surprise anyone here, that this group—while distinguished—was also almost predominately white and male.  This is an area where important strides have been made and where there remains work to do.

President Eisenhower defined the purpose of the 1956 gathering as “the most worthwhile purpose there is in the world today: to help build the road to an enduring peace.”  I don’t believe anyone here would disagree with that.

“How do we dispel ignorance?” Eisenhower asked, “How do we strengthen friendships?  How do we learn of others? 

Sound familiar?

I like to think we here can say that we have done our part to advance the cause of peace and understanding in the world. 

I am proud to stand here today and tell you that ECA’s programs are not only responsive to foreign policy priorities, they are integral to the success of American leadership.

The programs Bill Gertz was kind enough to mention are emblematic of the spirit of ECA.  But they also represent the recognition within the foreign affairs community that exchanges must be part of almost any global initiative and foreign policy objective. 

So many of the challenges we face, especially those that seem the most intractable, are deeply rooted in cultural and societal values, in beliefs and traditions.  Think about such complex global issues as climate change, about the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage, or the threat of violent extremism--to make progress in these complex areas, it is not enough to persuade governments, we must move societies.  We must build networks of like-minded men and women around shared values and common causes.  And we must work with young people from all corners of the world.

It has been said many times, and nonetheless bears repeating, that the U.S. Government cannot do this work alone and the private sector cannot do this work alone.  We have to work together.  The role of the citizen diplomat is vital.  Secretary Kerry summed it up recently in three points:

•           That community influencers play a monumental role in shaping the perceptions of our country, whether through trade, art, music, food or sports, or any of the other common interests that people share; 

•           That our diplomacy efforts must be a reflection of our diversity, one of our nation’s greatest strengths; and

•           That every citizen can play an important role in modern diplomacy.

These are not just theories, these are facts. 

Let me now turn to the future.  Given the current role of exchanges in foreign affairs, I would predict that a number of factors will continue and grow in importance:

  • First, an emphasis on young people, beginning with secondary school, and moving up to emerging leaders in many fields.  We are proud--justifiably proud--of our high school programs, it should not be overlooked that the large majority of all ECA participants are under 30.  And our programs for faculty and teachers reach those who prepare young people for the future. We are very much a youth-oriented bureau.

•           Encouraging and strengthening civil society.  Countering violent extremism is our country’s most urgent priority now.  ECA has a substantial contribution to make and I would argue that exchanges do as much, if not more, than any other US government program to create a world that rejects violence and extremism.  ECA has long been a leader in programming to exemplify tolerance and strengthen civil society, empower people in their societies, and generate both hope and opportunity. 

The networks of motivated participants we build through of traditional exchanges and through new programs – such as the White House-inspired Young Leaders Initiatives– foster the spirit of civic activism and participatory dialogue that are the best ways to counter intolerance and radicalism.   

•           Maintaining close links with our alumni.  As the number and diversity of our alumni continues to grow, so does the importance of these individuals with unique insights in both our society and their own.  I cannot resist noting that three of the new Nobel Prize winners are Fulbrighters (that makes 82), the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was an International Visitor as was Estonia’s newly-elected, and first woman, President Kersti Kaljulaid.

  • Promoting English for All.  English for All is the name of a new effort we just launched to bring together U.S. government efforts in English teaching around the world.  English remains the language that lets you go anywhere and do anything.  From our Regional English Language Officers to English Language Fellows and Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, from English Access students to our MOOCs and other online resources for students and teachers, we will continue to make opportunities available around the world for young people to learn the language of the global marketplace and have access to opinions and viewpoints that may not be available in their native language.  
  • Highlighting the values of entrepreneurship and volunteerism.  Entrepreneurship and volunteerism are by no means uniquely American qualities—but I think it can be fairly said that we have a special affinity—even flair—for them.  Entrepreneurship is essential to individual economic freedom and opportunity—for all members of society, for women, for minorities, for persons with disabilities—and for job creation and prosperity.  Volunteerism builds stronger, healthier and more resilient communities.  And to demonstrate this, on November 6, we have over 1,000 J-1 exchange visitors volunteering at the New York City marathon – a 20 percent increase from 2015.  
  • Increasing and diversifying participation in study abroad.  Through our new study abroad office, our critical language programs and other offerings, we equip young Americans with the skills they need to compete in an international market and the languages vital to their futures, our prosperity and our national security.  We also seek to ensure that international educational and exchange experiences are inclusive of who we are as a nation. 

•           Recognizing the power of public private partnerships.  Preserving and protecting the environment is a key challenge of our generation that exemplifies the vital importance of partnerships with the private sector.  We will continue the work we have pioneered with our partners to extend the reach of our climate change initiatives, the health of our oceans, and the preservation of our environment.  A very different form of partnership-- but equally valuable--is our collaboration with the organizations that bring over 300,000 exchange visitors on private sector exchange programs annually.  We are grateful to the nearly 1,500 private sector partners that make this possible.   

  • Building international capacity among Americans.  Our higher education institutions are key players in America’s international leadership—central to innovation, economic development and opportunity, to the internationalizing of campuses and the development of global linkages to tackle global challenges. 
  • Agility.  We have been hard at work building more flexible, rapid response elements to support foreign policy priorities and to meet the demands of a fast-paced world.  The refugee crisis in Syria is an example of such a challenge.  There are nearly four million Syrian refugees in five neighboring countries.  We have fielded International Visitors’ programs focused on refugee issues, arranged Fulbright Specialist interventions in countries with high refugee populations, and sought opportunities to expand our Access English offerings in overseas schools that host young refugees. 

We live in a world, as Tom Friedman presciently noted some years back, where the big no longer eat the small, instead the fast eat the slow.  With programs like IVLP-On-Demand, enhanced virtual programming and expanded social media presence, we intend to be among the fast.

  • Championing cultural heritage.  ECA has long been not just a leader, but the leader, in the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect and preserve humanity’s shared heritage.  The Bureau’s expertise and international network of partners has only become more vital in recent years as the world confronts the systematic looting and wanton destruction of cultural heritage by violent extremists and criminal enterprises.

•           Evaluation and measurement.  Management guru Peter Drucker once said that “what gets measured gets done.”  We need to carefully evaluate all that we do, to learn from these assessments and continually modify and improve what we do based on objective, real-time data.

I would wager that these themes will all remain in the forefront of our endeavors.

It does not seem long ago at all that I was preparing an opening statement for my confirmation hearing.

There is so much still to do, and it is so meaningful and so exciting that I seldom look back.  I want to thank Bill again for reminding us of some of the good work we all have done. 

We have strong programs and strong bonds. 

I have no plans for slowing down.  The mission of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is too important and I fully intend to make every day count.

Thank you.


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Speech Details


Evan Ryan

Speech Location

Washington, DC

Date given

Wednesday, October 19, 2016