FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, November 3, 2023
REMARKS OF CAROL SPAHN, THE DIRECTOR OF THE PEACE CORPS, AT THE MINNESOTA INTERNATIONAL NGO NETWORK (MINN) SUMMIT
“Doing Global Good Better”
REMARKS AS PREPARED:
Delivered on November 3, 2023
Hubert Humphrey School of Global Affairs
Peace Corps Director Spahn: Good afternoon. What an honor to join you all for this year’s MINN Summit. As you can tell from that wonderful video, we at Peace Corps see the moment in time that we’re in as a critical one for the future of the world that calls on all of us to be bold with how we rise to meet it.
But that’s nothing new for all of you here at this summit. For 18 years now, the Minnesota International NGO Network have done such phenomenal work bringing together bold changemakers across the North Star State who care deeply about building a better world. So, let me begin with immense gratitude for the invitation to be here today.
And I have to say, I love your slogan: “Doing global good better.”
In this challenging and historic moment, when a lot the great successes in development have been eroded, and so many of the normal ways that we engage around the world and the tools in our toolboxes were disrupted by the Covid Pandemic, each of us needs to ask ourselves how we can be doing global good better.
And so much of the answer to that question is about how we choose to show up in the world – whether it’s with humility and compassion, partnership and greater local leadership leading the way rather than a top-down approach.
But even more than that, it’s about choosing to show up at all. It’s far too easy in today’s world to hide behind the anonymity of screens and social media, jadedly criticizing others instead of stepping up and getting engaged.
A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a great quote which goes: “Hope isn’t an adjective, but a verb. Hope is what you do.”
Hope is action; it’s stepping outside your comfort zone to try to make a difference in the world.
Hope is a Peace Corps Volunteer leaving everything they know behind to go live and work and immerse themselves in a community in another country for two years to show that not only does America care, but that individual Americans care.
Hope is International NGOs working every day with communities and governments and partners to lift up voices that need to be heard, and meet challenges that need to be met – whether it’s:
- Training 3,000 local health care providers to deliver pediatric cardiac care the way Children’s HeartLink has; or
- Working with communities in rural Sierra Leone to identify, develop, and carry out their own sustainable solutions to the challenges they face like One Village Partners does; or
- Recognizing just how vital not only literacy is to a child’s future, but access to books is <pause> and then sharing more than 57 million books with children in every single African country over the past 34 years the way Books for Africa has.
And those are just a few ways that the International NGOs here in this room, and throughout Minnesota, are giving hope through their service. Thank you so much for everything that you do to make a difference.
And hope – both the sense of optimism that we can build a brighter future together, and the willingness to step up and act to make it happen – is something that we really need a lot more of today.
And what better place to talk about hope, than here at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs! This school, which stands as a testament to the legacy of a phenomenal public servant; the “Happy Warrior” who exuded hope and never shied away from the responsibility to step up and lead when it was needed.
And what a legacy he left behind:
- the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
- a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty at the height of the Cold War;
- United States Senator and Vice President;
- and, of course, father of the Peace Corps!
President Kennedy may get the credit for creating the Peace Corps, but without Hubert H. Humphrey – author of the first-ever Peace Corps bill, the man who led the passage of the Peace Corps Act through Congress in 1961 – there might never have been a Peace Corps at all.
Hubert Humphrey left behind quite a legacy. As we make our way through these incredible, full of daunting global challenges that President Biden has called an inflection point in history we need to be asking ourselves what we want the legacy of this moment, and the choices that we make, to be when we look back, 10… 20… 30 years from now. How about a legacy of hope?
How about a legacy of meeting this moment with creativity, and ingenuity, and adaptability; of embracing and lifting up great local leadership? Because, really, that’s what this moment, and this new post-Covid world we are living in, demands from all of us.
If the last few years have shown us anything, they have shown just how interconnected and intertwined we all are with one another. And they have shown why caring about what happens beyond ourselves and our immediate community matters so much. Because viruses know no borders; devastating natural disasters and a changing climate care nothing about political divisions; and while unrest may start in one area, its impacts ripple out and touch over corner of our planet.
They have also shown us the power of local leadership. Now, in terms of development and the move towards localization, Peace Corps is as local as it gets. Our entire model is based on people-to-people connections, with Volunteers supporting locally prioritized projects. But when we were forced to evacuate nearly 7,000 Volunteers from the field in March of 2020, and keep them out of the field for two years our local staff and our local partners stepped up and carried on in all kinds of ways.
That was phenomenal to see. It really made such a difference in so many lives. And it really solidified, in so many ways, an even stronger commitment at Peace Corps to lift up local voices and partnerships in everything that we do.
We took those two years without Volunteers in the field, and we not only worked hard to plan for how we would eventually return to service whenever we were able to do so safely, but we took the time to reexamine our systems and our processes; and we began to reimagine what service could, and should, look like once we returned.
And today, with over 2,400 Volunteers back serving in 57 countries, that reimagined service looks like side-by-side service with local organizations and service programs.
We recently signed an agreement with Corps Africa, for example, to strengthen our partnership and cooperation, and find opportunities for our Volunteers to work alongside theirs on specific projects. I recently met with a group of Corps Africa Volunteers during a trip to Ghana. They are such impressive individuals, working on the kinds of projects that fit so perfectly with what we do at Peace Corps that it just wouldn’t make sense for us NOT to work together! And that connection with local leaders and local service volunteers will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the projects that we work on together, even after a Volunteer ends their service and comes home.
Reimagined service looks like supporting the local leaders we work alongside in their own professional development. Opening doors of opportunity for people to thrive, economically as well as socially, is a top priority for us. That includes the people we work alongside, as well as those in the communities where we serve. So, we have been exploring professional certifications that can be awarded to local counterparts that they can use to further their own education, to apply for grants or funding for their own work, or use in any number of other capacities.
For us, reimagined service also looks like creating new opportunities to engage with the largest generation of youth in history to take on some of the biggest challenges they are facing today, like climate change. We recently launched a Blue Pacific Youth Initiative that will tap into and build upon existing networks and programs across the Asia Pacific region to engage youth living there as stewards of the beautiful vast oceans that we share. Volunteers will engage with them in promoting climate literacy, work on climate assessments, support community adaption projects, and help, overall, to expand youth empowerment. Everyone is impacted when our oceans suffer; and everyone can play a role in protecting them.
And reimagining service means embracing technology, and utilizing it to connect with, and engage with, and support as many people as we possibly can. Technology was a lifeline for so many throughout the pandemic – helping to ward off the loneliness and isolation; helping to keep people connected and working; and helping to keep many students learning.
And it’s still playing a very important role as we continue to reemerge from the pandemic. So, we are continuing to find new ways to utilize it in our work. In Indonesia, for instance, the Religion of Ministry invested in digital infrastructure in all their classrooms. And our Volunteers there are using that technology to host monthly English-language workshops in over 400 classrooms simultaneously. That’s an incredible reach that past generations of Volunteers could never have dreamed of. But the kind of effort that is becoming ever-more common in today’s world.
And we are embracing technology here at home, as well, to enable more Americans to serve and connect with the broader world. we want everyone who has a passion for service to be able to serve. Just a few days ago, we celebrated the 3rd anniversary of our Virtual Service Pilot Program in which more than 700 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have donated their time connecting and collaborating with partners in 48 countries. And it allows us to be involved in countries where we can’t, or don’t yet, have a physical presence. This program has been a wonderful success, and we are looking at ways that we might possibly be able to expand the opportunity for others beyond Returned Volunteers to participate in the coming days. So, stay tuned on that.
The bottom line is that this is a moment for all of us, even those of us who work in this area, to step outside our own comfort zones. To reflect on the world as it is today and how we show up in it; to slow down, take the time to reexamine our own systems and our own programs to ensure that we can build in the kind of community engagement and accountability feedback loops into our work to ensure their long-term sustainability; and to potentially reimagine how we do what we do in this new world.
And that is what brings us all together here today. The drive and the need, in this moment, to explore new opportunities. To boldly brave new developmental frontiers. To experiment, without fear of failure – and learn from that failure when it does, inevitably, happen. And to always, always, show up and embrace hope in everything that we do.
That, in the end, is how we can rise to meet this historic moment. That is how we will ensure the voices of local leaders are heard. And that is how – together – we can, and will, do global good better.
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