Kris Balderston’s Remarks at the Second Annual Global Diaspora Forum

My name is Kris Balderston, and I’m the Special Representative for Global Partnerships here at the State Department. And this is our Second Annual Global Diaspora Forum, and we’re very excited about it. We’re glad you all came to join us today. And I wanted to introduce my co-host Maura O’Neill, who’s my colleague at USAID. Today we’re going to be doing the conference here at the State Department, but in true collaborative form we’re also going to make them pay for lunch tomorrow at the USAID Ronald Reagan Building. So we’re happy to have Maura and her gang here today.

I’m told that we have over 500 diaspora leaders from around the globe with roots from over 50 countries here today. I think we still have some people trying to get in the doors here. That’s always the challenge of having an event here in Foggy Bottom. And we have many more diasporans joining us virtually at and A number of groups are hosting viewing parties across the United States and the world. Thank you for joining us today for those of you who are not in the room.

And in particular, I’d like to thank Samhar Araia from the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) – and I think we have representatives here from DAWN today, too – and Dean Eric Schwartz, our former assistant secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs for hosting an all-day parallel dialogue on diaspora engagement. Samhar, who was able to join us last year and spoke on a number of panels, is an incredible force to be reckoned with and has set up this live two-way live-stream, so we’re very happy that she – although she’s in Minnesota today, she’s still joining us from afar. So they’ll follow us from the Twin Cities, and you can follow them via the live-stream feed in the delegates’ lounge, which is just across the hall.

Now we aim to make this event as interactive as possible. We want your feedback and questions throughout the day. Don’t be afraid to speak up or submit your questions for our speakers and moderators via Twitter to #2012GDF or Facebook at GPIatState.

Last year, we broke new ground by convening the first-ever Global Diaspora Forum. Over the course of three days, we worked together to create a new strategy for engagement with diaspora communities around the United States. More than 400 diasporan leaders attended and countless partnerships were forged, leveraging the vast resources, creativity, and knowledge of America’s diaspora communities and applying them towards sustainable development and growth around the world. It was an incredible experience not only for those delegates who participated, but it was also for all of us from the United States Government and other partners who learned from the incredible experience that were shared.

This year, we’re aiming for even bigger and better – more people, more sessions. We wanted to do more, and we need to do more. Last year, you heard Secretary Clinton, who will be joining us in a little bit; launch a new effort to promote engagement between the diaspora communities and government, the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA). Well, today, I’m pleased to announce that this groundbreaking initiative has grown stronger. Since IdEA’s launch, we’ve engaged over 1,500 diaspora community groups and organizations representing 67 countries around the globe – or as I always say, half the flags out there in the front hall. We want to continue this work and look for new opportunities to work together to mobilize partnerships, to maximize investments in programs in communities of heritage around the globe.

If you haven’t yet visited the IdEA online portal, I’d encourage you to check out the new website, which will be opened up this week at to learn more about how you can connect and interact with your fellow diaspora community members and mobilize around the five pillars of engagement: innovation, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, volunteerism, and diplomacy. There, you’ll find an extensive library of resources and information available about opportunities for engagement to enhance diplomacy and development in communities of heritage.

And while we’ve been focusing on building the online presence and network of community activities, we’ve also launched three diaspora-related competitions to stimulate entrepreneurship and growth in developing regions. Research shows us that diaspora entrepreneurship fosters business development, job creation, competition, innovation, and the creation of transnational business networks. It can also tap into existing social capital in home countries and generate new opportunities for economic, social, and political capital sharing, through global networks entrepreneurial activities create. Quite simply, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship is a key to the long-term sustainable growth of emerging and developing countries.

Through the IdEA partnership, we’ve launched diaspora-focused business plan competitions in three regions in the last year: the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America. These competitions – the Caribbean Idea Marketplace, the African Diaspora Marketplace, and La Idea – are stimulating exciting new investment opportunities that are mutual beneficial. The Caribbean Idea Marketplace (CIM) is of particular interest this week, because the CIM application window will officially close on July 31st, and we’d like to acknowledge our partners at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Compete Caribbean Program, Digicel, Scotiabank, the UK Department of International Development, and the Canadian International Development Agency. CIM would not have come to reality without the support of these institutions.

Finally, in November, the Secretary’s Global Partnership Initiative was very relevant. We hosted the Tunisia Partnership Forum here at the State Department. You’re going to hear more about this event in a few minutes, but it was a tremendous success. Over 100 business leaders from the United States and Tunisia came together with a goal of building partnerships that support growth in the newly democratized country. There are not many Tunisian Americans, there are 25,000, and they are coming together to try to help Tunisia in their transition.

It’s been a busy year, and we’ve achieved a lot, but this is just the beginning. The Secretary, from whom you’ll hear shortly, is committed to a new way of doing business here at the State Department. This includes elevating the role of partnerships with diaspora communities as a critical element of 21st century diplomacy and statecraft. There is not a day that  goes by at the State Department that I do not see the potential of diaspora at the State Department.

Every single issue that we deal with from political instability to healthcare challenges to climate change touches the lives of diasporans. But too often, we overlook the impact that diasporans can have on development and diplomacy. Our problems are too big and too global for any one sector or country or foundation or business to solve on its own. We need to collaborate, and this conference is yet again validation that we need to include diaspora communities in that effort.

Diasporans bring diversity to the American tableaux and diversity breeds innovation. In the Silicon Valley – and we have a number of guests here from [Silicon Valley] today, John and others who have been doing a lot there – the innovation headquarters of the world in Silicon Valley, with over a quarter of the CEOs or lead technologists are foreign-born Americans. Among tech firms, up to 35 percent of all startups are found by diasporans. As a nation, we embrace and encourage the creativity and innovation these diasporans bring to our economy because it benefits us all, but we need to do a better job of embracing more of what diasporans have to offer.

One of the most underrated assets the diasporans, I think, bring is a word that we don’t talk about much in diplomatic circles and that’s empathy. Empathy comes from having a personal link, a vested interest in a country. Whether it’s family that still live back home or if it is driven by economic interest, empathy is born through a physical, spiritual, and emotional attachment to your heritage. Empathy drives investment; it creates new opportunities for innovation; it increases the tolerance for risk. Diasporans that care about their communities of origin are more likely to take a chance and are at the heart of much of the entrepreneurship and change that we see around the world today.

On the Seal of the United States, you will find – you won’t have any trouble finding it around this building – you’ll find the motto E Pluribus Unum or “One for many”. The motto, which was suggested by our founding fathers, one of which became our first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, on the day of our great nation’s birth linked the 13 states and colonies to the Federal Union. Today, the meaning goes deeper than that. We are one nation united by the ideals and precepts of what it means to be an American. By working together, we can do more, achieve more. This is what 21st century statecraft is all about – applying smart solutions to issues too big to solve individually.

And that’s why we’re here today – to figure out what more we can do to promote partnership with diaspora communities. The theme – you are, as a former Secretary of State said, present at the creation – last year was the real creation, but we are still working on this, and we want your thoughts and ideas. The theme of this year’s Forum is “Moving Forward by Giving Back”. Over the next two days, we’ll discuss how innovation, technology, and of course partnerships can greatly enhance how we give back. We’ll discuss how projects and social entrepreneurship, risk-taking, diaspora philanthropy, and volunteerism can enhance diplomacy and foster sustainable development in countries of origin.

We’ll hear from visionaries such as Mohamed Malouche, originally from Tunisia, who in his spare time is working to enhance U.S.-Tunisia economic ties, cooperate exchanges through the nonprofit Tunisian American Young Professionals. And Aelaf Worku, a medical school lecturer working with the American International Health Alliance in Ethiopia to advance global health instruction and human resource capacity. And Ravi Gundlapalli, who has pioneered a technological e-mentoring platform to connect global diasporans with youth and young entrepreneurs in heritage communities.

The point of this Forum is not just to applaud our efforts like these; it’s about providing a roadmap to the future, continue to make partnerships stronger and more efficient, and reaching out to new communities and new diaspora members. There is no shortage of opportunities for collaboration on the horizon. E Pluribus Unum, where many working together to achieve a common goal, to create a more prosperous, safe, and secure world. I’m confident in the next couple of days, we will spark a new wave of resolve, entrepreneurship, and creativity among all of us. And I hope you’ll help us and I hope we’ll write all this down because I’m sure the Secretary of State will say to me at the end of this, “So what did we accomplish at this event,” as she does at all of these convenings.

So by coming together and giving back to this community, by sharing both our success stories as well as what we’ve learned of our failures, we put ourselves in a better position to move forward, to continue promoting trade and investment, to continue to volunteer and to donate, to start businesses, and to take risks.

Finally, I’d like to thank Thomas Debass, the director of the Global Partnership Initiative – we call him Ambass Debass in this building – for his passion, vision, and energy. Without him, I can honestly say that IdEA would still be just an idea. In addition to his leadership, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank a few others on our team, including Deena Shakir, Glen Dalakian, Lorin Kavanaugh-Ulku, Sarah Nolan, and Stefany Thangavelu, and Romi and Kathleen Newland and others who have really been putting this together along with Maura.

And I’d like to wish everyone a productive day at the forum and thank you very much.

About the Author: Kris M. Balderston serves as the Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the Global Partnership Initiative within the Office of the Secretary of State. Prior to his role at the U.S. Department of State, Kris was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first Legislative Director in January 2001 before serving as her Deputy Chief of Staff from 2002-2009. Kris began his career with the National Governors’ Association and later ran the Massachusetts State Office for Governor Michael Dukakis from 1987-1991. He then became Senior Policy Advisor to Majority Leader George Mitchell  and he served as the Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Labor under Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Kris served in the White House from 1995-2001, as Special Assistant for Cabinet Affairs to President William Jefferson Clinton and then later as the Deputy Assistant to the President and the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet. He holds his BA in Political Science from LeMoyne College and his MA in Government from Georgetown University.