Friday, November 16, 2018

The Power of USG Alumni

One of the most important components of public diplomacy work, in my view, is maintaining and managing relationships with USG (i.e., U.S. government) program alumni. When we talk about USG alumni, we are often referring to exchanges, or (usually all-expenses-paid) programs where we send people to the United States (or, less commonly, a regional hub of some sort) for specialized training, knowledge sharing, and cultural exposure. Fun fact: technically, I'm a USG exchange alumna myself (Critical Language Scholarship - Salalah, Oman 2012)!

I always look forward to the opportunity to meet up with USG alumni for work, hear feedback about their exchange experiences, and find out what they've been up to since. Recently, my colleagues and I caught up with some of these alumni in Eldoret and Kapenguria, way out in western Kenya, as well as on the eastern coast in Mombasa. (I've scattered a few Tweets on our outreach around this post.) A few examples of alumni we met on just my past week of travels:

  • A youth leader founded an incubation hub that has already facilitated the launch of about six innovative startups
  • Someone who leads a disability rights and training center was just appointed to local government to advocate for the equities of persons with disabilities
  • A group of women work in their community to fight terrorist radicalization and recruitment among their youth with strategic dialogues
  • Someone used her exchange connections to donate technology to a health organization that serves 1,000 youth in need of medical and psychosocial care every month*

The U.S. Department of State has so many types of exchanges - literally hundreds. You can see a list of exchanges, including ones you might be eligible for, here. We have exchanges for professionals, athletes, musicians, youth leaders, women in STEM, students, government representatives, and so many more. Some of the most prominent ones we offer to Kenyans are the many variations of Fulbright and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), with options to go to the United States via the Mandela-Washington Fellowship or to go to the Regional Leadership Center in Nairobi.

USG alumni often go on to serve as heads of state, CEOs, humanitarian leaders, top researchers, and other key global leaders. (You can see a few of their stories here.) We put a lot of time and energy into the selections process, considering a variety of factors including who would benefit most from the program and excel in an American context, who would have the biggest impact in their home countries when they get back, who is likely to honor the terms of their visa, and more in addition to the specific requirements of the particular exchange.

I'm consistently blown away by the quality of these individuals and the amazing work they're doing in Kenya. Thanks for letting me share why!

*The first photo of this post is spray paint art done by one of the talented beneficiaries of this youth health center, who has now made it to college.

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