Reflecting on #EngageAmerica Outreach on United Nations Day

Each year on October 24, the international community celebrates United Nations (UN) Day: “the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter.” As we join the world in celebrating the UN’s 71st birthday, we also pause to reflect on the U.S goals for the multilateral action moving forward and our efforts to bring more Americans into the discussion on foreign affairs.

This year’s the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is a great example of this effort. As a dizzying array of world leaders descended upon New York last month to meet on some of the world’s most pressing challenges for UNGA, the U.S. Department of State’s hosted a series of public events for students, stakeholders, think tanks, diaspora groups, and more -– on the margins of UNGA high-level week. As Deputy Assistant Secretary for Outreach, I had the honor of coordinating these activities and events to help raise awareness around the work of the United Nations, our engagement with the organization, and to start a conversation about how we can all be more active partners in foreign policy.

These important conversations offered a unique opportunity for U.S. representatives to engage directly with the American public on a range of global issues being addressed among world leaders. These engagements focused on topics the United States identified as priorities going into this year’s general assembly, which include critically pressing issues surrounding the global refugee crisis, action on climate change, countering violent extremism, and promoting peace and security. 

Here are a few highlights from these events:

Secretary Kerry Joined World Leaders Rallying for Social Good

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered remarks at the Social Good Summit, hosted by the United Nations Foundation and Mashable. Held annually leading up to UNGA week, the Social Good Summit is a two-day conference that explores the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world. This year, the theme -- #2030NOW, asks the question, "What type of world do I want to live in by the year 2030?"

During his remarks, Secretary Kerry contrasted the era of international engagement after 1945 -- which was defined by “bipolar choices” of the Cold War -- to the current international realities that are heavily impacted by non-state actors and transnational issues like expanding economic opportunity, radicalization, and violent extremism. The Secretary reaffirmed the role of American leadership in the international community, emphasizing “the United States of America is more engaged, more actively, more positively and constructively, in more places at the same time than at any time in American history.”

The Secretary’s engagement at this Summit and other sideline events demonstrated the importance of the United States government broadening its messages beyond events typically viewed as traditional mediums of engagement, such as bilateral or multilateral meetings. In addition to events in which Secretary Kerry engaged, numerous leaders from across the State Department participated in efforts to expand the conversation about some of today’s biggest global challenges beyond the boardrooms and the halls of the United Nations.

Engaging the Nigerian Diaspora in New York

As the UN General Assembly prepared for a week of high-level meetings, I took the opportunity to travel to New York early to engage with some of the city’s large and dynamic diaspora community.  Prior to the international meetings that dominated headlines, I opened-a community-based event entitled,  “Engaging America: A Town Hall Discussion with the Nigerian Diaspora” at the Brooklyn Central Public Library.

The goal of this town hall meeting was to create a space to collectively engage local leaders, officials from the U.S Department of State, the Office of the President of Nigeria, the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO); and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – This event facilitated a conversation between each of these key stakeholders on the key role the Nigerian-American community can play in advancing the relationship between our nations. It also explored ways the diaspora community can be a partner in promoting trade and investment, good governance and rule law, as well as development in areas like women’s empowerment, education, technology, and entrepreneurship.

It was an honor to facilitate such a critical conversation focused on enhancing the power of the global diaspora. When you examine the list of challenges the global community faces –- whether responding to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises or promoting economic growth-- one thing is absolutely clear: diaspora communities are on the frontlines of our response to each and every one of those challenges. This conversation was an important way to shed light on and elevate the key role of the Nigerian-American community as strong partners in addressing issues that are important to both of our nations. 

Bringing New York College Students into the Global Conversation

Over the last seven years, the United States has expanded its leadership at the United Nations and in other international organizations in response to proliferating global problems. On September 22, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker each participated in Foreign Policy Classrooms -- one of our signature public engagement events aimed at reaching college students -- to discuss how the United States has deepened its leadership in foreign affairs.

Under Secretary Stengel provided an introduction to world politics to a group of 110 freshman and sophomore students of the Colin Powell School at City College of New York. The Under Secretary’s session focused on leadership, public diplomacy in the era of social media, and the importance of public service and ended with a call to action as he urged the students to consider public service as their next steps.

Across town, U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, Sheba Crocker, led a discussion with students at New York University on how the United States’ work with the United Nations exemplifies an “Era of Engagement.” This event, hosted by the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and the NYU International Relations program, allowed Assistant Secretary Crocker to share the Administration’s legacy of accomplishments through multilateral institutions.  During her talk, Assistant Secretary Crocker highlighted examples of U.S. leadership such as bringing together over 50 world leaders to commit new and significant contributions to help aid refugees and ensuring that international peacekeeping forces are strong, effective, and accountable. She also explained why continued U.S. engagement is more important than ever before given nations shared responsibility to tackle the tough challenges which face us all.

In marking UN Day, we are reminded that today’s global challenges and those of future generations require cross-cutting, dynamic, and nimble responses from a diverse workforce reflective of our country.  As we did in New York during UNGA, I am grateful that my colleagues and I are able to routinely talk with Americans to ensure the American people are partners in diplomacy and to encourage them to join us in international service. We commit to this work knowing our country is at its best when all our citizens engage in the critical work of diplomacy.

About the Author: Karen Richardson serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Outreach in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor’s Note: The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs facilitates the Foreign Policy Classroom program for students and educators interested in global affairs. The program represents an ongoing series of briefings featuring State Department officials speaking on a variety of foreign policy topics.  Please email us at to learn more about the program and how you can participate.

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Posted by Karen Richardson
October 24, 2016


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