Three years ago, I spent a summer working on the Angola Desk at the Department of State. The experience was invigorating, but the aftermath has been even more interesting. Ever since I was part of a team inside State, I have been able to reach ambassadors across the globe. I used to joke that I never visit an African country without meeting with the U.S. Ambassador or the Deput, but I am realizing it's not really a joke at all.
Every now and then, after meeting with an Ambassador, I have to ask myself: Why am I doing this? I enjoy the conversations every time, but the meetings themselves should yield more concrete benefits to the work I am doing in communities than just having an Ambassador know that we are there. Sure, it's nice for the Ambassador to know we exist, but it doesn't improve lives, create new social businesses or empower the local community members to alleviate the daily scourge of poverty and marginalization. Those are the points I use to gauge success.
The connectedness that our communities in Kenya and South Africa have with the U.S. Ambassadors is not necessarily marginal, and they are always supportive of our work. Indeed, over the last 3 years, every Ambassador and Charges d’Affair in Kenya and South Africa has visited our sites. Just last week, Ambassador Donald Gips, the newly appointed Ambassador to South Africa, visited a rural village at our invitation to learn more about the work we do there. He was interested, engaged, and impressed by what we have done and what we are working to do.
That it is all well and good for the organization and our egos, but what should we be doing with the Ambassadors beyond this? Or better yet, what is the ideal role of the U.S. Government in connecting with rural, poor African communities? Does the U.S. Foreign Service have a responsibility to American citizens to know what is going on “in the field”?
This year, Think Impact launched a program dubbed the “Global Development Ambassadors,” featuring a trip that takes investors, supporters and young adults to visit the rural communities where we work. When we visit, we are supposedly representing America's way of life for the villagers. Are we better Ambassadors than the actual Ambassador in that affair? Or just the opposite?