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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

DECEMBER 2015

23

Robert Zimmerman is an FSO who has served overseas

in seven countries over the past 22 years. Currently

assigned to Washington, he is doing an exursion tour

with Global Ties U.S. (formerly the National Council

of International Visitors), a nonprofit that works with

more than 100 partner organizations in 44 U.S. states and 15 foreign

countries to help implement the International Visitor Leadership

Program.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not

necessarily those of the U.S. government.

FOCUS

O

ne of U.S. foreign policy’s ground-

breaking soft power initiatives is cel-

ebrating its 75th anniversary this year:

the U.S. Department of State’s Interna- tional Visitor Leadership Program.

Though it is not widely known

and operates quietly, with a current

budget of $90 million, the impact of the IVLP is significant. The

program has helped launch the careers of many world leaders,

as well as civic leaders, while strengthening ties with our allies

and advancing U.S. interests. As America’s leadership debates

the balance between hard and soft power, this time-honored

and proven initiative demonstrates how the United States

can show its best face to the world while achieving its goals

peacefully.

SOFT POWER,

HIGH IMPACT

America’s premier exchange program is 75 this year. In this compilation of

personal experiences, participants offer insight into its unique effectiveness.

BY ROBERT Z I MMERMAN

About 5,000 foreign nationals visit the United States annually

through the IVLP. Some 345 former and current heads of govern-

ment have visited under the aegis of the program. Their ranks

include Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Indira Gandhi, Nicholas

Sarkozy and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias, all of whom participated

early in their careers. Two current Latin American presidents,

Brazil’s Dilma Roussef and Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez, are also

among the 200,000 foreign alumni from 190 countries who have

taken part in the program over the past 75 years.

International exchange alumni are prominent in a host

of fields. Many business and economics professionals who

participated in the IVLP have become economic or finance

ministers in their home countries. IVLP also generates business

for the United States.

The impact of international exchanges has not escaped the

attention of our senior policymakers. In

testimony to Congress

in

2003, then-State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplo-

macy and Public Affairs Charlotte Beers noted that “50 percent

of the leaders of the global coalition against terrorism had been

International Visitors.”

“Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for

when people come together and speak to one another and

share a common experience, then their common humanity is

revealed,” notes President Barack Obama. One of U/S Beers’

successors, Judith McHale, called exchanges “the single most

important and valuable thing we do.”

THE INTERNATIONAL VISITOR LEADERSHIP PROGRAM