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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > From the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Remarks by the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (2003)

Remarks to the Advisory Committee for Voluntary Foreign Aid (ACVFA)

Charlotte Beers, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
National Press Club
Washington, DC
February 11, 2003

I am delighted to be here, and I would like to start by asking you a question - if you don't mind raising your hand like school time.  The first question is an easy question: do you think the American people are a generous people?  I see that most are "yeses" on that.

Now, do you think the countries in which you work know that? Whoops -- only one or two hands. The truth is -- and this is from a country into which we put $2 billion of aid annually, and these are ordinary people [in other countries] -- they don't really know what we're doing.

Percent of Americans who know about: education aid=27; Medical/health aid=16; financial aid=10; technology aid=7; security/defense aid=4; food aid=4; and 40 dont know of any aid programs


So we have a problem, and although we have learned how much anti-Americanism is growing, we are still often left wordless and defensive in our dialogue.  Let me show you the mission of public diplomacy, because it will affect the conversation we're going to have:

  • Inform (policies in context)
  • Engage (programs, interaction, partners)
  • Influence (understanding, constructive disagreement, active support)
Our job is to inform, engage, and when we're very good at our work, influence - in a positive way - the interests of the United States.  It is very clear to us that our first priority is to inform. We have get the word out. We have to get all these messages out swiftly, clearly, accurately, and in 30 languages.

When Secretary Powell spoke to the UN, we had that message - and the visuals - on every embassy and mission web site around the world. In addition, the Public Diplomacy Bureau at the State Department puts all the foreign-policy communications from all the officials of the government on this same kind of communications platform.  So our daily work will always be grounded in the need to discuss, defend, and disseminate the foreign policy of the United States. That's Job One.

And all over the world, every day, in countries and embassies and posts we are making a communication effort. Some of these conversations are very formal and ritualized and intimate, and others are involved in just getting the word out.

But engagement, the second element of the public diplomacy charter, is a lot harder. It's a lot like the work we do together. It's both our jobs, really. I think yours is more up-front and personal and that's a great advantage -- because you and your people are the ones who have on-the-ground "consumer research." And I think the State Department and many departments in the government do not have the kind of research that any good marketer anywhere in the world would have access to.

So a thousand projects and moments of interaction add up to engagement. But when engagement moves up the ladder to influence, we have to learn a new set of skills.

And I'll tell you why we must be about this job. We have to reach broader and younger audiences. We have to get the conversation beyond the government and the leaders in the country. And I must say that our embassy teams do a spectacular job of making those conversations as frequent and as genuine as they can.

But the conversations that are taking place in far greater numbers are among everyday people, and especially among the young.

One of the disciplines in reaching people is always to look at the communication from their perspective. Now, this is very odd for the State Department, because we have to talk from our perspective. We have to clear those words, make sure they work, make sure they're not open to casual or careless misinterpretation. So there is a very, ritualistic formal way of communicating in that case.

But in order to talk to a broader group of people, you have to switch gears in terms of communication skills -- "It's not what you say, it's what they hear." Everybody who has done business anywhere in the world knows this is the ultimate discipline. The question for us is to come around the other end and say, "So what will they hear? What is the message?"

Now that's the catch. I'm asked all the time by reporters in newspaper and television interviews: "Why are you wasting your time on the "soft stuff" when you should be talking about the policy?"   Well, in fact, the "soft stuff" - called religious tolerance, or religious intolerance - is central to all those values and belief systems that inform and inspire the policies of the United States. It's not soft. It's a vital part of public diplomacy, and everyone who represents the U.S. government has to part of that effort.

We use this chart all the time in the State Department, which happens to be part of a very large study in the Middle East. Yet I can't imagine that the numbers would be very different anywhere else in the world. You can't imagine what a surprise this is to reporters deeply interested in foreign policy. They can't imagine these other factors weighing in so importantly.

It's an important change in mindset when talking to a broader audience. Of course, people care most about family, faith, and, above all, the chance for their children to thrive. We should be able to start right there and have a conversation with people around the world with whom we share such universal values.

But now, let me show you how we approached the question of preparing special messages for the Middle East and the Muslim world. And I know that you here represent many regions around the world, and that we always need to be concerned with many other issues and countries outside the Middle East. But the initiatives that we have developed had to start, necessarily, with the war on terrorism and the discussions in the Middle East and South Asia.

One of the things we start with is this: What is it that we have in common? And fortunately, we had these kind of data available, including these "ratings of value attributes." These happen to be Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and the U.S.

Not too surprisingly, we view a lot of things very differently. And words like "freedom," as you know, as very emotionally laden. We often have very different perspectives when it comes to these words. On the other hand look at the value attributes when it comes to the "big three": faith, family, and learning.

The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia - the most populous Muslim nation - all share a recognition of the importance of these values. So the question is: Does this mean that we can automatically start talking about our mutual interests in faith? And if there was ever a time when religious tolerance should be brought into the conversation, it might be now.

But here is a fascinating fact. There is no recognition on the part of everyday people in these Muslim-majority countries that we actually share this kind of perspective. Let me show you what this looks like.

The chart [above] can be a little misleading. These percentages are the people who believe that Americans respect Arab and Islamic values, and they are so small, they are frightening.

This other chart [below] is interesting - it's another side of the same coin. In these key countries, people believe, very strongly, that there is so much decadence and faithlessness in the United States that there is no way that the practice of Islam could thrive here.


Now, when you sit down and talk to, let's say, the ambassador from one of these countries, he will tell you that everyone in his country understands that the United States is a tolerant society. And so will his country's leaders, because they travel here, they've read the history, they're very educated.

The rest of the people, however, are really reflecting the points of view shown in these charts. Every single time we have been on the road in these countries, the question we are always asked is: "How badly are the Muslims being treated in your country?" And they're not kidding.

So the question is, if this is the perception, how can we answer, since we have this value of faith in common?

Informing and Influencing: Communication is not three stages of: speaker, message, response

We think, in terms of policy and we're right that the speaker has a message, and there is a listener. But to have a conversation that is intended to engage another person, we have to recognize the second step.

shows speaker sends message to listener who has a response that further stimulates communication

The minute you speak, or show a picture, which is your stimulus, the person receiving it is modifying it instantly: "He's a liar. I don't believe that. These people make me nervous. There must be a bias working here."

So there is no way you are going to safely make a communication unless you think about this: "Not what you say, but the response you hope to evoke."

Our desired response for these countries carrying these negative perceptions of the U.S., is: I'm going to give them some new information. So one desired response is: "I didn't know that." A second one might be, "Maybe we heard wrongly about Muslims in the United States." And a third, "Tell me more."

So we prepared a series of mini-documentaries about real Muslims living in America and how they felt about it. Now the way this works in the United States is, you're not allowed to tell people what to say, and it wouldn't work anyway - only the truth works. We found them and filmed them for an hour-and-a-half and cut the tape down to usable form, and we offered them in communication in the Muslims nations that I have referred to.

We also had been visited often by a very interesting and talented group of people who organized themselves around the Council on American Muslim Understanding. So they shared with us the selection of the people, the way the communication worked, and in all these countries, they set up a Web site so that they could continue the dialogue that we hoped to start.

What I'm going to show you is a collage, a little piece of four of the five documentaries we put together.

[View the Shared Values "collage" clip formated for DSL/cable or dial-up modems, listen to the audio-only file, or read the transcript.]

The young Indonesian student, who is becoming a TV star, was added later, so you didn't see a reference to her there.

The mini-documentaries turned out to be a bit of test of perception between the post and the people who watched them. To a person, the people in the embassy preferred the dignified Dr. Elias Zerhouni [director of the National Institutes of Health], [but other] people preferred the baker who gets up and talks about building his business and his family and working and the freedom he has in prayer.

The reason I'm going on about this in some detail is that this a model for the work we will do in the future.

We certainly were heard in Indonesia, and we very carefully measured the results. We talked to 183 Muslims 2-3 times a week during Ramadan. There is no program that we've had recently that would have had that kind of "reach," to use a marketing term. In only five weeks, we reached a percentage of "recall" that a soft-drink company could not reach in six months. Here is what that looks like.

percent of viewers who could recall, 5 weeks later, the video message of: the journalist - 67; the teacher - 56; the baker - 48; soft drink ads after 4-6 months of intense exposure - 36.
This [chart above] is broken down by several of the mini-documentaries, but it is important hard data for us in the State Department as we move forward to talk about these kinds of programs and present the results to Congress.  Sixty seven percent recall on a program that just ran for five weeks is just an amazing number -- and it means that there was an inherent interest in the subject matter.

Now, the other question is: What did they hear? And now we talk about "message recall."

3 weeks after end of 5-week campaign, percentage who could recall intended message was comparable to percent recall after 4-6 month heavy ad campaign

In addition to the hard data, we need to let our people understand, what does it look like when people take in this kind of information, and what are their thoughts when they hear it. So we did interviews on the street, and here are the results.

[Video clip: Indonesian interviews  - text transcript ]

What you're hearing here is a small transformation. And when you have exchange visitors to this country, one of things we've been able to document is what a transforming event these exchanges are.

But since we can't do more than 25,000 to 35,000 of those transfer students or International Visitors into this country, we're going to have to take aspects and dimensions of this country to them. And this is one way to do it.

We bought the time ourselves, which was very controversial with the governments. The outcry was so loud that you might think we were recommending something far more controversial than telling the story of Muslim life in America.

The Muslim Life in America booklet went out with these documentaries and has become "the best-selling booklet" we've ever put out. There is a great interest, people are concerned, and they're very pleased that someone would bother to address them personally.

Now the measure of this will also come in extended dialogue. So right now in Indonesia, they are filming a panel of 50 Americans and 50 Indonesians in an open dialogue for one hour on the biggest television channel, the state channel, will be broadcast this February. And so, it is important that we continue the dialogue. We can't just do one or two communications and then quit.

So for us, it's a time of partnership and collaboration. And I am very proud of a new partner that we have in the public diplomacy arena, and that's USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios. He and I sat down one day and decided that we had to make the sum larger than the parts. And housed in his agency are some of the most talented people who know more than we ever could about the nature of aid work.

I am amused because one time I asked his assistant if I could have a list of all the aid projects and she said, "What?" I said I just wanted an inventory of all the projects, and she said it would take you weeks just to read it. So I decided that maybe I would start with just a smaller summary.

But the point is - I'm not too unlike the rest of the world in lack of understanding of aid and how it functions.

When Andrew made his speech at the Heritage Foundation, he talked about health and society. But he didn't just cite numbers. He tells the story of seeing a bountiful harvest being eaten entirely by birds. Why? Because the entire village was sick and incapacitated by malaria. That's story telling, and that's what we really have to do.

So our first project is trying to address what we're doing into Egypt. How many Egyptians have any understanding of the scope and duration of our assistance work in a whole range of fields in their country?

So first, our Public Affairs Officer there got in touch with the local television channel and asked if they would help us tell this story, which included the saving of a mosque and a water project.

These aired because the local station and the local governments were also part of the success story. And then USAID went down and took even more initiative and worked closely with different kinds of television people, and I'm going to show you just one clip that's come out of this work. (We now have a series of three stories, but understand I'm only showing you a small part of it.)

[Video clip: Egypt TV  - text transcript ]

I want to comment on a couple of things. This is a model for the future, in the sense of telling stories about the people who benefited. Second, the reporter mentioned that there were American teachers who were brought in. It would have been much more interesting if those teachers had also been on camera - so that you have sense of being connected.

But what's encouraging about this is that it's going to get on the air, and the stories are being told and the recognition is being made.

I personally think that the generosity of the American people and their willingness to put money, time, and effort into such countries is a real unsung story. And coming from the outside, it startles me how little is known and how little is recognized.

In addition to that story from Egypt, another way we can tell our story is not to count on any outside service to do it. Our public affairs team has gotten much more sophisticated about film production and story telling.

We recently went into Afghanistan and made an 18-minute documentary on the work that is underway there, and all the people involved. It was not intended to talk about just the United States and our work, but to recognize the fact that there is a real world effort going on there. This is just a piece of the documentary.

[Video clip: Reconstruction of Afghanistan- transcript ]

Now just in case you think this is known or even, by your standards, dry, look at the kind of coverage this got as we offered it on something we call American Embassy Television.

All over the world there are television and radio stations that are thirsty for content. So, for the first time, we tracked where this particular feed went. It was produced in eight languages, it aired in 25 countries:

At a Glance: 25 Countries have aired "Rebuilding Afghanistan" thus far: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kosovo (Yugoslavia), Kyrgyz Republic, Macedonia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan Eight Languages: English, Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Russian.

Afghanistan. The Dari and Pashto language versions of Rebuilding Afghanistan aired in January. According to the post, reaction has been very positive. Most notably, the documentary created a rare example of nation-wide media cooperation with Afghanistan's semi-autonomous stations. The Director of Radio Television of Afghanistan, forwarded copies to all of Afghanistan's diplomatic missions and commented "the film is a major success by all standards."
Romania. In Bucharest, the new educational channel "Romania of Tomorrow" and "Reality TV" (one of five major networks) broadcast Rebuilding Afghanistan three times using dubbing or subtitles to reach a maximum audience. Both stations serve the entire country via satellite and cable.
Rwanda. Rwandan Television aired the English language version of the documentary immediately following a popular music program aimed at youth. A TV producer, echoing other Rwandan journalists, remarked that the documentary was enjoyable, well-produced and that they were pleased to see the U.S. efforts to help Afghans rebuild their country.
Uzbekistan. Uzbek National TV's Channel 4 broadcast Rebuilding Afghanistan in its entirety to a national audience that includes viewers in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
Japan. Public Affairs shared Rebuilding Afghanistan with Japanese TV broadcasters in Washington, D.C. for relay to Japan. All six major networks broadcast excerpts of the documentary to Japanese audiences.
Macedonia. Our Embassy in Skopje dubbed the film into Macedonian and Albanian and distributed it to nine stations across Macedonia. Six stations have aired the program in its entirety. Albanian Television is expected to use the Skopje-produced Albanian version shortly.
Mexico. TV Azteca broadcast an edited version of Rebuilding Afghanistan in its flagship newscast, reaching approximately 85% of the market (or approximately 10 million viewers).

We continue to receive requests for the documentary and expect continued placement throughout countries worldwide.

In my mind, you [the members of the audience] represent a very important sector of this communication. The international humanitarian and assistance community can be an enormous asset in what I hope will be an era of storytelling. We would like to hear your thoughts about where the good stories are - stories that show people living better lives.

We want to focus on the people, not necessarily the official handing the ambassador a check. We want to acknowledge the role of the local government where there is one. For instance, in Afghanistan, it is very important that we share the limelight with other countries.

But our main purpose is to make others aware of the care and concern of the American people.

When President Bush or Secretary Powell or USAID Administrator Natsios talk about these programs, they always say that this is an agreement with the American people. It's not some disembodied, self-serving U.S. government or large company.

As we begin to shape the next stages of Shared Values, we're looking specifically at how we can achieve greater awareness and understanding of American good works.

Now your reaction might be that this is precisely the wrong time to publicize all of this, given the anti-Americanism, the hostilities in the world.

I would say to you that there is no better time. And the one thing that worries me more than anything is silence, lack of awareness, indifference - the ability to tack on bias and cynicism onto everything.

Just to give you some perspective on what the voices are saying if we don't speak out, this is last week's pick-up from a mosque sermon:

"Look at the Colombia shuttle that America was bragging about. It exploded in front of everybody. The Colombia shuttle that America was challenging the world with, its military capabilities, and everybody died, including the Jewish pilot. Oppressors make a mistake is they think they will escape from God this kind of revenge."

Now the people in that room are not bad people, but they have no counter to those kinds of messages.

This may be a time of unprecedented anti-Americanism. It presses upon us all. We've had a lot of meeting with businesses, and one of their reactions is to go local and not even refer to the United States.

But to me, this is all the more reason to hang onto the things we believe in, that we stand for. The United States, despite all the polarization, even with the threatening Iraq story, is still an indispensable force for good in the world.

Now, we are very sensitive to the fact that your membership has to have a certain kind of independence. It's not in your interests to be portrayed as an instrument of the U.S. government.

But we can, and should talk -- and remember that we are re-presenting this idea about the values we embody as a nation and people, values of freedom, human rights, rule of law, individual opportunity, educational and economic advancement. In other words, every single thing you're working on.

The good work we do, government or private, at USAID or PVO, are simply not known, and I think that's unacceptable.

Here are some opportunities that are new, which you probably know more about than I do. But I was quite struck by this list:

  • The United States will provide $5 billion more by 2006 through the New Millennium Challenge.
  • A new $200-million-plus Famine Fund for special humanitarian crises;
  • An additional $1.2 billion in the FY 2004 for emergency aid to alleviate world hunger;
  • Formation of a new $100 million "Emergency Fund for Complex Foreign Crises" to meet food and other humanitarian needs of the poorest of the poor nations;
  • Creation of a new "Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief" totaling $15 billion.

We would really like to work with you, as well as through USAID and U.S. businesses to develop print, video, television stories about how the organizations you represent work to improve the lives of people around the world.

We should do so in ways that would not compromise your independence, but nevertheless, all of us can be emissaries of such messages.

This is no time to let just the ambassador represent the United States. And what we say to our posts is that every person in that post has the capacity to talk about the American way of life.

We all have to get out there. We don't have enough messengers to be satisfied that just our officials can carry the weight. We need conversations, conferences, and dialogue of every form.

As you formulate your marketing and public affairs plan, please think about ways you can promote the universal values of freedom. Now you might say, what do you think we're doing? But, in fact, the word "promote" is the important one. Don't assume that the world out there knows what we're doing.

Believe me, if the world understands better, and we don't get dreary charts like the ones you've just seen, all of your leverage with your various constituencies will be improved.

Every time I have a hearing, the Senate or the House asks me, "Do people know?" And I have to say, "They really don't know much." We're working on it.

We need to establish global foundations of trust. Our president ask of us to make vivid and memorable this connection. President Bush said, "The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America do determine our conduct abroad."

President Bush goes on to say in one speech:

"More than 60 percent of international emergency food aid comes as a gift from the people of the United States. You know what? Americans believe we should come to the aid of the hungry, the sick, the impoverished.

"We will do so with compassion and generosity. These things have always defined the United States."

So here we have the one story that no other country in the world can tell. It's the truth, and it's exceptional. It seems to me that it's worth telling.

And it's been a real pleasure to be in the room with people who embody these truths in action.

Thank you very much.

Released on March 4, 2003

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