The Third Goal Is Our First Goal

07/28/2010 11:39 am ET | Updated Apr 26, 2012

President John F. Kennedy articulated the enduring vision for what is known as the Peace Corps' Third Goal -- "to help promote ... a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people" -- when he suggested that, "The logic of the Peace Corps is that someday we are going to bring it home to America."

So far, we have not really done that. The agency's Third Goal effort has never reflected this powerful initial vision or its importance to the Peace Corps' long-term viability. During its first five decades, the overwhelming focus of the Peace Corps has been volunteer recruitment, training, placement, and volunteer support. The Third Goal has never been fully embraced as central to the Peace Corps, and consequently the Third Goal has received scant attention and resources.

At his July 2009 confirmation hearing, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams spoke compellingly about creating a robust Third Goal program. His attention to this presents a unique opportunity for the Peace Corps community to bring the world home in ways that raise the Peace Corps' profile, assist with recruitment efforts, and finally fully realize one of the agency's three foundational goals.

Now, on the eve of the golden anniversary of the Peace Corps, we think that the time is especially ripe to create a comprehensive and innovative set of activities that finally bring the world home. Here are a few initial steps:

First, we should begin not calling it the Third Goal. To many, this suggests that these efforts are not of primary or secondary priority, but tertiary. In addition, the term "Third Goal" has been largely meaningless beyond the immediate Peace Corps community.

Second, the requirement to bring the world back home needs to be clearly and consistently expressed throughout every stage of the recruitment, training, volunteer, and after-service processes. This should also include a voluntary nine-month period when returning volunteers are expected to complete a set of these activities, report back on them, and receive a modest financial incentive for doing so.

Third, new activities including a small grants program should be created. New audiences should be reached. The current activities primarily connect serving and Returned Volunteers with classrooms and involve group projects in communities at home or abroad. These current programs are a necessary first step, but there are many more steps required to create a comprehensive and innovative program building on new technologies, engaging new audiences and advancing the Peace Corps' mission.

All of these efforts need to receive much greater public attention. Each Volunteer should be expected to regularly communicate about her/his experiences during and after service using traditional and new media.

Without a much more robust effort to Bring the World Back Home, I fear that the recent increases in funding that the Peace Corps has received and is projected to continue to receive will not be forthcoming -- especially in today's very challenging fiscal environment.

I welcome your comments and suggestions regarding how we can realize this yet unfulfilled vision to bring our Peace Corps experience back to America in the compelling way that President Kennedy expressed.