The Power of Citizen Diplomacy


Citizen Diplomacy is the concept that individual citizens have the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations, “one handshake at a time.” Last month, CCWA took the national spotlight in celebrating the power of citizen diplomacy at the 2020 Global Ties U.S. National Meeting.

The CCWA team represented Northeast Ohio at our network’s annual conference, which took place January 22-25, 2020 in Washington D.C., and showcased the work we do in Cleveland with exchange programs. Each year, CCWA brings close to 500 visitors from around the world to Cleveland through U.S. Department of State’s cultural and professional exchange programs. Visitors learn from their professional counterparts in Cleveland, our local Citizen Diplomats have the opportunity to connect with people from around the world, and they break bread together in the spirit of Citizen Diplomacy.

Cleveland is a national leader in Citizen Diplomacy and exchange programming. In recognition of our great reputation, our very own Katie Ferman, Senior Program Officer for International Visitor Programs, was selected by our national partners to chair the network’s 2020 National Meeting Planning Committee. In leading the conference, Katie showed how Cleveland rocks in the world of Citizen Diplomacy.

CCWA has been nationally recognized for the stellar work that we do to facilitate U.S. Department of State’s exchange programs. Beyond Katie’s role in chairing the 2020 conference planning committee, our very own Andrew Kovach, Program Officer for International Visitor Programs, was recognized as the 2019 Programmer of the Year at last year’s conference. At the national level, our team helps shape the conversation about the impact of exchanges in our local communities, shares best practices with our counterparts from other cities across the country, and advocates for the importance of this work with the Department of State.

The Global Ties U.S. National Meeting brings together organizations like ours in all 50, as well as Department of State officials in charge of our nation’s public diplomacy efforts. We were able to hear from the acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, as well as the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, who said “Public Diplomacy is about empowering individual voices”.

The conference also gathers international alumni of our exchange programs. The International Visitor Leadership Program alumni include more than 500 current and former heads of state and leaders in boardrooms, classrooms, community organizations, and the arts in nearly every country around the world. This year, we heard from Maeza Ashenafi, the first female Chief Justice of Ethiopia, about how her exchange in the U.S. helped her make a huge impact in Ethiopia’s democracy and her country’s efforts to empower women. We also heard from U.S. citizens who have been impacted by international exchange and serve as committed citizen diplomats.

Overall, the conference showcased the value of international exchange and demonstrated why it is such a powerful diplomatic tool. It is clear that our exchange work makes a big impact, both locally and globally.
To highlight the power of citizen diplomacy and the importance of cultural exchange, we listed our top three reasons why we love Citizen Diplomacy:

1: International Experiences Are More Accessible.

Thanks to Citizen Diplomacy, your next international experience awaits right here at home. Through bringing international exchange participants to Cleveland, we bring the world to you. You can enjoy a dinner with emerging leaders from Africa, discuss with a police officer from Pakistan or an artist from Argentina, or compare experiences across borders and learn from people around the world. You can do all this around your dining room table, no expensive plane tickets required!

2: We Learn to See the World from New Perspectives.

Sometimes current events seem distant or complicated when we hear about them in the news. But through Citizen Diplomacy, you hear from people who have lived and experienced the events for real. Wondering what life is like in Afghanistan? Interested in learning what Europeans think about Brexit? Curious about the role of the arts in creating social change in the Middle East? While breaking bread with someone from a different country, we hear what life is like behind the news headlines. We may even end up realizing how similar we are despite cultural differences!

3: Families and Professionals Make Connections Around the World.

Many of our Citizen Diplomats end up making connections that last a lifetime. Sometimes the international visitors become lifelong friends, and have hosted our Citizen Diplomats in their home countries in return. Sometimes the connections lead to professional collaboration. Many of our Citizen Diplomats have mentored their international visitors, and some collaborate across borders on joint initiatives. As a result, international visitors are often inspired to make a difference and take action in their communities because of their experience here in Cleveland.

Are you inspired to have an international experience right here in Northeast Ohio? To become a Citizen Diplomat, contact Andrew Kovach, Program Officer for International Visitor Programs at or (216) 255-9008.


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For a century, the CCWA has brought diverse perspectives on issues of international import to Cleveland. Much of our programming is made possible by the the support of our members and the generosity of our donors. Will you help us continue to create global connections?