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Diversity Intersects With National Security

Diversity Intersects With National Security
The UNCF’s Institute for International Public Policy plans to engage ‘unusual suspects’ in a discussion on the global importance of a diverse work force
By Cassie ChewAfter nine years of sending African American, Hispanic, Asian American and American Indian undergraduate students around the globe to study the socio-economic and political structure of foreign nations, and propelling them into international careers, the Institute for International Public Policy (IIPP) is taking its mission one step further.

This special program of the United Negro College Fund is gearing up this fall to host a series of open-ended discussions with top government and business officials on the importance of a diverse work force as a national security imperative and to better compete in the global economy.

The foreign policy issues arising in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as the growing interests of American businesses in the global marketplace, have prompted a new discussion on the importance of a diverse work force, the institute says.

“We are a nation that is expanding globally, economically and through our corporate businesses; we are a nation that is engaged in different arenas around the world in different conflicts,” says Dave Summers, outreach coordinator for IIPP. “In those two contexts, we need to — and we must — talk about diversity as a core component of success in both of those arenas.”

Adds Mark H. Chichester, director of the IIPP, “You cannot have a coherent conversation on national affairs (and) national security without talking about the government, and the public and private sector.”

While the logistics for the discussions are still under development, IIPP’s goal is to identify the “unusual suspects” — individuals who would not typically come to mind as being engaged in a conversation on diversity, Chichester says.

“Diversity is typically relegated in the corporate context to community affairs and diversity initiatives. Often times that doesn’t permeate the entire organization in terms of hard-core areas like finance and general counsel and marketing,” Chichester says. “But there are corporations that do understand, and we want to talk to those that we believe get it.”

But, Chichester says, these individuals “still are unusual suspects in the sense that they are chieftains at some of the corporate entities that also happen to have some of the leading global American brands.”

On the foreign policy and national security side, IIPP plans to similarly engage in discussions with agencies and institutions and talk with individuals that play key roles in the organizations.

Chichester says that the equal opportunity argument is important in the discourse on creating a diverse work force, but in its new outreach effort, the institute wants to shift the discussion away from this traditional way of talking and thinking about diversity.

“It’s not that we don’t want to talk about it in the old way, but there is a new texture in which we all exist,” Summers says.

The institute plans to bring decision-makers and opinion leaders into small group roundtable discussions that may result in the development of a white paper to determine steps for what should happen next.

IIPP also is considering co-sponsoring an event with the U.S. Army’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Security Series, which hosts forums and meetings across the country several times a year on specific topics. Collaborating with the Army “would help the institute get access to some of the top-level military folks that we want to have at the table,” Summers says.

An Issue of Credibility

IIPP is not alone in its desire to see a discussion take place about the value of a diverse work force in international careers.

“The way we thought about preparing African Americans for international careers in the past was a do-good opportunity,” says Ernest J. Wilson III, former director of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management and associate professor in the departments of government and politics, and African American Studies at the University of Maryland-College Park. “To do so would be so that America could live up to its professed values, and so that America could be seen as fair and genuinely be fair.”

But now many people see the rationale for a diverse work force as key to accomplishing three goals: international economics and the ability to be competitive; national security and the ability to design military operations; and the development of human rights and humanitarian efforts, Wilson says.

The aftermath of Sept. 11 and arguments made to the U.S. Supreme Court during its recent hearings to determine the fate of the University of Michigan’s admissions policies have made it easier to argue the need for a diverse work force in international arenas, Wilson says.

For American foreign service workers, a diverse work force is important because it has become an issue of credibility, says Charles Baquet, director of international programs at Xavier University in New Orleans.

“When teams arrive from the United States (to Africa), there are people who are saying ‘where are our African American brothers and sisters,’ ” says Baquet, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia, in the U.S. Foreign Service and as acting director of the Peace Corps. In 1991, Baquet was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti.

“There has to be a diligent effort to find people who want these kinds of jobs,” Baquet says.

Part of the challenge for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions has been the schools’ initial mission to produce educators and doctors. But, Baquet says, these schools must now encourage students to get international experience.

“I think study abroad completes the education process,” Baquet says. “It will help a person fine tune their goals.”

Fellows Make the Case

In spearheading these discussions on diversity and its impact on U.S. foreign policy and global competitiveness, the institute is taking on a new role. Since 1994, IIPP has recruited and prepared more than 160 undergraduates, mostly from underrepresented minority groups, for international careers by exposing the students to foreign policies and culture, as well as helping them to develop foreign language and writing skills.

“I don’t think we had the credibility or the legitimacy early in the life of the institute to talk about these issues because it was perceived as a set-aside program of sorts to kind of appease and provide opportunity to minorities,” Chichester says.

But today IIPP fellows speak for the institute and in many ways, make its case.

“It is imperative for minorities to go abroad to display the diversity of America and broaden what it means to be American,” says Rodrick Miller, who was a fellow in IIPP’s third cohort or class. Miller graduated from St. Augustine’s College in North Carolina in 1999 with a bachelor’s in international business. He participated in a study abroad program in Seville, Spain; completed graduate studies in international management in Monterrey, Mexico; and earned a master’s in public policy from Harvard University.

Through his study abroad experience, Miller experienced firsthand the often skewed perception of African Americans abroad.

“One time I went to a club in Spain and I was told, ‘You can’t bring your gun in here,’ ” Miller recalls.

A native of rural South Carolina, Miller says minorities need to be represented in policy-making, adding that study abroad “provides alternate points of view as to what American foreign policy should be, as well as the way America is perceived abroad.”

In his current position as a consultant negotiating domestic and international privatization of utilities and public services, Miller has become an asset to his firm, especially in deals with clients from Latin America and the Caribbean.

“There are contracts that have been closed because I was involved in them,” Miller says. “I was the only diversity at the table and they saw some value to that.”

Nicole Silva, a member of the seventh IIPP class, is entering graduate studies in international security at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Silva, a native of New Orleans, wants to focus on Russia and Eurasia strategic assessment and crisis management.

One of Silva’s goals is to take on the “extremely difficult” task of developing public policy.

“In order to cooperate and come to a policy agreement, you have to see where people are coming from,” Silva says. “Everyone has their own agenda but we must figure out the most pressing need.”

Silva recently interned with the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in the Republic of Georgia. During her internship, Silva began to understand the United States’ relationship with Georgia in helping to boost its economy.

“I have had the opportunity to study Cold War politics, but it never felt as if this dangerously tense situation ended only 11 years ago. The opportunity to experience the Republic of Georgia made the Cold War real to me,” Silva wrote in an essay describing her monthlong internship.

Both Miller and Silva agree that interaction with the other fellows in the program has better prepared them for the challenge of communicating with people with diverse interests and from different parts of the world.

IIPP’s coursework and training has not only inspired its fellows to develop skills to work in the international arena, but it inspired one of its own employees as well.

IIPP staff assistant Rangina Hamidi’s experiences working at the institute and a trip home to Quetta, Pakistan, in December 2001, convinced Hamidi to use her language skills, background and knowledge of Afghan culture to help Afghanistan rebuild.

“I consider myself a bridge between America and Afghanistan,” says Hamidi, who graduated in 2000 from the University of Virginia after studying religion and women’s studies. Hamidi was born in Afghanistan, and her family later relocated to Pakistan. At age 10, her family moved to Arlington, Va. In December 2002, Hamidi left her home in Arlington to work as the director of women’s programs for Afghans for Civil Society.

In this capacity, Hamidi developed an income-generating project for more than 200 women in Kandahar who are not allowed by their husbands to leave the home to work.

The women are offered work doing a special type of embroidery unique to Afghanistan and taught by their mothers at an early age, Hamidi says. She is now working on setting up a forum to market their work on a global scale.

One Key Question

The institute does not plan to use the discussions as a lobbying effort to bring more resources to IIPP or other new programs that are being developed to help prepare individuals from underrepresented communities for careers in international affairs, Chichester says.

“We are not going to be manipulating them (political and business leaders) to make our case,” says Chichester.

The institute is asking for opinions on the question of diversity as a national security imperative and competitive advantage for America — whether the nation’s ability to project American messages about religion, ethnic,
racial and economic cooperation depends on its ability to harness the diverse range of experiences and perspectives held by the people who make up this country, Chichester says.

“We don’t know what the answer to this question is,” Chichester says. “But we think we know what the answer should be.”

As the institute approaches its 10th year, a post-Sept. 11 environment, as well as efforts to rebuild a war-torn Iraq, has compelled business and government to divert the country’s pool of resources.

Chichester says this makes it important for IIPP to rethink how it is defining its own work.

“The time necessitates taking a critical look at how we talk about what we do.”

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