Administrator Samantha Power at An Event Honoring the Anniversaries of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program, Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship, and Foreign Affairs IT Fellow

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning, everyone. Quite the buzz here this morning. It’s great to be here, today, alongside this group of such distinguished leaders. We have them to thank, you to thank, for the progress we are making in strengthening and diversifying our foreign service, and in so doing – changing the world. 

I want to thank Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Bernicat for the invitation to join you all from down the street, and for their partnership in this effort, which is so fundamental to our country’s role in the world. 

No vision or strategy to support or broaden the foreign service talent pool would ever get off the ground without Congressional support, so I also want to thank Congressman Payne for his continued leadership in this regard, and all the members of Congress who champion this and hold us accountable to doing better. 

It is an honor to be asked to say just a few words at this event celebrating the legacies of Representative Charlie Rangel, Ambassador Tom Pickering, and of course Congressman Payne’s father, the late Congressman Donald Payne, Sr. 

While I have the opportunity to do so publicly, and I hope you didn’t think he would get off the hook – I’d like to thank Ambassador Pickering for his years of counsel. As a former Ambassador to the United Nations, he was one of the first people I called when I was asked to serve by President Obama at the UN. And of course, I reached out to him again when I got nominated to run USAID. As I’m sure the Secretary can attest, to gain insights from someone who has not only inspired legions of diplomats and foreign servants to pursue diplomacy, but has also inspired them to listen, like few diplomats in the annals of American foreign policy have ever listened. And that listening has been put to such good use, because Ambassador Pickering always turns what he hears into the most creative pathways for forging compromise and a negotiated way ahead. And he’s just a model diplomat. So seeing Ambassador Pickering do that again and again, to see him never quit, because he’s got a thousand ideas for what the Secretary and we should be doing completely differently right now, is also a great inspiration, but it’s always humbling to be with you and thank you so much for your leadership that brings us to today.  

I want to thank Krina Patel for representing USAID in today’s program. Krina is a Foreign Service Officer and 2014 Payne Fellowship Alumna who now serves in my office under our newly appointed Chief DEIA Officer, Neneh Diallo. 

All of you are here, whether in person or tuning in virtually, because you decided in some fashion, you decided to choose public service.  

And, undeniably, making this choice is harder for some than for others. Legacies of racism and sexism still plague our country’s institutions, and contribute to a persistent history of gatekeeping, or gate blocking, that prevents underrepresented groups – at home and abroad – from having a meaningful say in our work.

No one understood that better than the Payne Fellowship’s namesake, Donald Payne, Sr..

It was Representative Payne’s experience as a young civil rights campaigner in New Jersey that fueled his efforts to secure rights for others globally. 

He traveled the world, engaging and standing in solidarity with oppressed people, and he would return to Congress to share with his colleagues – and the public – new perspectives on human suffering in conflict zones. He argued the importance of delivering not just relief to those affected, but also justice to people who had suffered persecution and atrocities.

While seeking his first term as the first African American elected to Congress from the State of New Jersey, the future Congressman put it this way, he said, “I want to be a Congressman to serve as a role model for the young people I talk to on the Newark street corners. I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement. I want to give them a reason to try.” 

A reason to try.

And that is what makes these fellowships so important. Because how can someone enter the foreign policy arena if they don’t have, as Donald Payne, Sr. put it, a reason to try?

You know it from your own experiences, and you’ll hear it from the graduates who will share their stories today: The traditional pathways into government and into the foreign service simply don’t serve everyone equally. 

And our work suffers for it. It means we’re not drawing on the full range of talents and perspectives that our country has to offer.

At USAID, as at the State Department, we are intent on changing that. Because when access and treatment are equal, our programs and the people we serve, of course, benefit. We have richer discussions, we make smarter decisions, we challenge one another, we try new approaches, and in the end, we see for sure, better outcomes in the real world.

Earlier this year, we established the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility at USAID and elevated it to the front office with the goal of changing what our Agency looks like, beginning with our leadership. And among our staff, our partners, and our beneficiaries, we are working hard to elevate new and underrepresented voices, including with an ambitious goal of providing at least a quarter of all program funds directly to local partners by the end of Fiscal Year 2025. 

And as part of that effort, last year, we increased the number of Payne Fellows by 50 percent, and we have plans underway to double the number of fellows this year from 15 to 30. 

The road to public service is often one that you have to carve out for yourself. That’s a difficult undertaking as all of us know, even when the odds are in your favor. So we need to continue to build up these programs and generate more exposure for a more diverse generation of future leaders in foreign policy, development, and diplomacy.

I encourage you all to make this cause your cause as well. And I will leave you now with four parting ideas on how to do so:

First, look for opportunities to bring underrepresented voices forward; and this can include our local staff – our Foreign Service Nationals that are so central to our Missions abroad. And in that spirit, remember you are never too young to mentor somebody. Even as you seek out mentors, you have that capacity yourself. There are people looking to you, looking up to you, every day. 

Second, seek new avenues and opportunities to share your own story; and remember, and I think this is really important – once you work at State or USAID, and you have one of those badges, and you look very official and very fancy, you look like you always knew where you were going. You look like you have always had it together. And people may have no idea how absurd it would have sounded to you in high school to end up where you are, doing the work that you love and serving the country that you believe in. So oversharing is my approach and I recommend digging in, in conversation, not only to the present but to all that you have had to go through to get to where you are today. It’s really, really important.

Third, when you get out in the field, partner with and empower people from the countries and communities in which you work, making sure that they have a seat at the table and help shape our approach. 

And fourth, as your career progresses, and we all know that it will, do all that you can to build this community of talent for the next generation, including by supporting the wonderful partners who administer these fellowships, Howard University and the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars among several others. 

Thanks again for the opportunity to join you here today. Congratulations and happy anniversary to these fellowship programs. I look forward to the work ahead to grow their reach and their impact on the world, and their impact on US interests and our values everyday. Thank you so, so much.

U.S. Department of State

Last updated: August 17, 2022

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