Civil Society, Development and International Engagement

Public Dialogue: A State Department Roundtable

On January 28, 2014, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy coorganized a roundtable with students, civil society leaders, and senior State Department officials on the global significance of civil society and its role in international engagement and development. Presenters from the State Department were Tomicah Tillemann, the Senior Adviser for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies and Zeenat Rahman, Special Advisor on Global Youth Issues. Participants included six civil society leaders from Mexico, Nigeria, Latvia, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories and a small group of graduate students from the Georgetown University Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) and Global Human Development (GHD) programs, and George Washington University. ISD Interim Director Jim Seevers facilitated a discussion between the civil society leaders – in the United States through the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership program (IVLP) – and the students on the role of technology and social media in their work.

International Visitor Leadership Program Participants

Chinyelu Okafor, Nigeria

Chinyelu “Chichi” Okafor participated in the “2009 Women and Entrepreneurship” IVLP and returned to Nigeria inspired to make a difference in her community. Impressed by the influence that IGNITE (Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution) had on teenage girls in the United States to pursue careers in science and technology, Okafor launched an IGNITE program in Lagos in 2010 which has impacted more than 200 girls in 20 schools. She has plans to expand the program throughout Nigeria and is particularly interested in outreach to Muslim youth. Okafor is a leading Nigerian businesswoman who is serious about her role as a mentor to other women in the business community. Her pursuits include working on training sessions to encourage female entrepreneurs, coordinating events which are designed to ensure that women have a voice in the business community, serving as the co-chair of the Nigerian Chapter of Women Corporate Directors, and playing an active role in the Nigerian Association for IVLP Alumni. Okafor embodies the spirit of female professional leadership to which many aspire. She is a dynamic public speaker and is able to effectively combine her passion for business and technology.

Ha Ngo, Vietnam

Ha Ngo returned from her 2009 IVLP with new ideas about the role that local authorities can play and developed a project to build local capacities to counter domestic violence. As Vice Director of the Center for Education and Empowerment of Women (CEPEW), Ngo plays a key role in advancing her organization’s primary agenda through projects which promote women’s rights and empowerment throughout Vietnam. Since returning from her IVLP, she has created infrastructure to support a 2007 law on domestic violence prevention that she helped draft. Her project provides training courses for hundreds of local government officials and helps to establish dozens of counseling groups in five of the provinces where domestic violence is most serious. She actively serves as a consultant for various research and training programs on building negotiation, advocacy, and leadership skills for professional women. Ngo also dedicates her time as Chairwoman of the Group for Governance and Public Administration Reform (GPAR), and is a member of the Community Development Group (CDG) and the Asia-Pacific Gender Community of Practice Network. She is currently a PhD candidate in Political Economics at Hanoi National University, and has published several groundbreaking works on sustainable community development practices and women’s rights under Vietnamese law. Ngo is an influential female leader and a harbinger of fresh, new ideas. 

Emmanuel Audelo, Mexico

Harnessing the power of creativity and art, Emmanuel Audelo has worked passionately to build a better present and future for Mexico’s youth. As cofounder and coordinator of COLECTIVO MURAL, which seeks to recover and renovate community and public spaces in Mexico, Emmanuel’s work is making a significant positive impact in a region often marred by cartel-related violence. Participation in the 2009 “Promoting Tolerance Through the Arts” IVLP inspired him to further his focus on youth issues, his engagement with civil society organizations, and the need for revitalization of urban spaces. Throughout his career, he has engaged in cultural promotion, identity and inclusion initiatives, as well as field research regarding the effectiveness of graffiti and youth outreach programs in improving social environments. In recent years, Audelo has sought out opportunities for international exchange in order to build partnerships across borders and promote cross cultural understanding among youth. His interest in the public space and popular youth culture is further reflected in the numerous publications he has authored since 2007. Audelo’s many contributions to Mexican society as a champion of the country’s youth is a true success story of the creative and community spirit coming together to make a real difference. 

Yasmin Roofi, Pakistan

Yasmin Roofi’s academic endeavors and participation in a 2005 Political Science IVLP have opened doors and allowed her to focus on issues of importance to Pakistan, such as inter-faith harmony, ethnic dilemmas in the region, women’s rights, and the lack of health care facilities in remote areas. Roofi was not only the first woman in her family to attend university – she went on to earn a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Political Science, and is now an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Islamia University in Bahawalpur. For Roofi, education has not only been a personal priority, but something she views as a key investment in Pakistan’s future. After returning from her visit to the U.S. in 2005, Roofi became coordinator of her university’s newly created Gender Studies department, through which she helped to establish a series of free health clinics in traditionally isolated and neglected regions of Pakistan. She has published several scholarly works, including “Ethnic Dilemma in Pakistan and the Division of Punjab” in the Journal of Politics and Law. Inspired and emboldened by her involvement in the IVLP, Yasmin continues to promote the advancement of education and human rights as an investment in Pakistan’s future.

Kaspars Zalitis, Latvia

Since returning from his 2010 IVLP on “Minority Integration across Borders,” Kaspars Zalitis has increased his presence to promote LGBT rights and civic engagement in Latvia and throughout the European Union and former Soviet Union. Zalitis has made a name for himself as one of Latvia’s most prominent LGBT activists and a relentless defender of human rights. His passion is working with human rights defenders around the world to help solve their problems and ensure their organizational security. With a mantra of “Progress is Possible,” he has traveled the globe spreading a message of tolerance and working to improve the position of the LGBT community in areas where much work remains to be done. This has included the development of the informal human rights activist movement “Human Rights Activists–Latvia,” which offers information services for all activists in the country, and coordinating BalticPride 2012, which led directly to winning a bid for EuroPride2015. Zalitis started his professional career as Assistant – and later as an Adviser to – the State Secretary of the Secretariat of the Special Assignment Minister for Social Integration. He has also continuously served as a board member of Mozaika, the only functioning gay rights organization in the country, representing the organization in international events around the world, including Amnesty International events, InterPride conferences, and the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), the largest annual human rights and democracy conference in Europe. His efforts on behalf of the LGBT community have enabled Latvia to make inroads in developing comprehensive hate crimes legislation to protect the rights of all its citizens. 

Aref Hossieni, The Palestinian Territories 

After returning from his IVLP on “Elementary and Secondary Education” in 2007, Aref Hossieni found himself equipped with relevant pedagogical tools and various strategies he needed to grow his organization. In 2003, Hossieni made the first steps in founding Al Nayzak (“Shooting Star”) for Supportive Education in Jerusalem, anchored in a belief in the importance of fostering critical thinking skills among young people in order to yield solutions to societal problems. His IVLP experience helped Al Nayzak to develop in its role of the area’s premier scientific and educational enrichment program. It is now an integral piece of the country’s education system, complementing and enriching base curricula. His organization works using a “staircase model,” offering basic experimental science programs to its youngest participants, a “Young Researchers” curriculum for adolescents, and a “Made in Palestine” program for passionate and promising young adults looking to combine science with the entrepreneurial spirit. Hossieni has an unwavering confidence in the boundless potential of young Palestinians to make their country’s future brighter.