07/22/2014 11:55 am ET Updated Sep 21, 2014

Reigniting a Passion for International Service

The Peace Corps has always been about igniting a passion for service. When it was created by President John F. Kennedy, Peace Corps presented a model for international service that was so unique, so unprecedented, that many said, "it will never work," or "it can't be done." Yet the idea that a small group of volunteers could serve their country by living and working in developing nations struck a chord. It launched a movement, and inspired a nation.

Our modern world is very different from the one in which Peace Corps was conceived. More than once, I've heard people ask, "Is the Peace Corps still relevant?" I believe the answer is a resounding "Yes."

The past two decades have seen the most rapid development progress in human history, whether quantified by rising incomes or growing life expectancy. Yet billions still live in heart-wrenching poverty, in conditions that breed instability and foster hopelessness. The work of Peace Corps - helping to reduce poverty, foster economic growth, and build allies for the United States in communities across the globe - is more important than ever.

In an era of rapid globalization, what America needs to maintain our position in the world, and thrive as our own population becomes increasingly diverse, are people who can speak other languages, understand different perspectives, and bridge cultural divides: people like Peace Corps volunteers, who return to the U.S. with intercultural competence and a global outlook.

Peace Corps volunteers bring back skills and experiences that are invaluable to employers who seek highly trained workers who can excel in complex environments. And volunteers return with an unparalleled commitment to service that enriches communities here at home. A survey conducted by Civic Enterprises found that Returned Peace Corps volunteers volunteer at twice the national average.

From helping the people of developing nations tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time, to building bridges between our nation and the world, to bringing home the dividends of international service, Peace Corps remains one of America's best ideas - with impact that is more relevant than ever before.

Yet as President Kennedy said, "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." More than fifty years after our founding, I want to reignite the passion that characterized Peace Corps' early days. I want to encourage Americans from all backgrounds to consider international volunteer opportunities, and offer them greater opportunity than ever before to define their impact on the world.

So starting this summer, we're shaking things up at Peace Corps. We're revitalizing outreach and recruitment to cast a wider net of applicants than ever. We're cutting red tape and implementing sweeping changes to our application and selection process that will make applying simpler, faster and more personalized. Applicants will now be able to choose their country of service and apply to specific programs that meet their personal and professional goals - whether they want to serve in a Spanish-speaking community, or help small businesses connect with global markets, or gain hands-on experience in public health.

They'll do so using a new, shortened application that can be completed in less than one hour - streamlined from what used to be more than 60 printed pages that took more than eight hours. And they can take advantage of the clear "Apply By" and "Know By" deadlines that now accompany each open Peace Corps position. If they apply on time, they'll know if they were selected on time - just like applying to college or a job. These deadlines give applicants more certainty than ever and help them plan for the future.

The goal: an effective, efficient gateway to service that inspires a new generation of global leaders, one that opens doors and changes lives - just as it did for me, and the 215,000-plus Americans who have served around the world.

As we speak, Peace Corps volunteers are implementing grassroots solutions that are changing the face of malaria prevention in Senegal. They're installing wind turbines to help rural communities in Peru tap into renewable energy. They're designing text messaging platforms to help high school students in Nicaragua make informed health decisions. And all the while, they're investing in their own futures - and ours as a country.

Today, Peace Corps is not just a chance to make a difference in a faraway country. It's a life-changing, life-defining launching pad for a 21st-century career - and now, it's easier than ever to discover what serving in the Peace Corps can do for you.