Remarks by Ambassador Michael Raynor At the Conference of Alumni of State Department Exchange Programs

Michael Raynor 
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the Conference of Alumni of State Department  Exchange Programs
UNECA, Addis Ababa
April 21, 2018

(As prepared for delivery)                     

Good morning, and thank you all so much for being here.

It’s great to see so many U.S. Government exchange program alumni gathered in one place.

Seeing you all here today reinforces what we already know:  that our programs attract, and benefit from, an incredibly accomplished and dynamic cross-section of Ethiopian leaders.

You’re contributing to Ethiopia’s strength, development, and inclusiveness in extraordinary ways.

And what an exciting time it is for you to be building Ethiopia’s future.

Many Ethiopians I’m speaking with, and perhaps you’re among them, are feeling a real sense of optimism and hope for the future of their country.

I confess I’m feeling rather optimistic myself.

It’s wonderful to see so much hope among so many people, but as you know better than most, turning optimism and hope into progress takes enormous effort and commitment.

It also takes experience and skills, and it takes networks of people who can offer support and opportunities for collaboration.

The U.S. Embassy is honored to have made small contributions, through our exchange programs, in helping you develop your experiences and skills, and in helping you connect with others who can help you along your way.

We hope that these contributions, combined with the exceptional qualities that made you such strong candidates for our exchange programs in the first place, will continue to position each of you to make real differences in your communities and country.

In fact, that’s the reason we have these programs in the first place:  so that you can bring back new ideas and solutions, and implement them on the ground.

And while we traditionally think of exchange program alumni as those who’ve traveled to the U.S., today we also include those who’ve participated in an exchange of ideas, such as the Girls Can Code program that teaches young women computer and leadership skills, and the ACCESS English Language Microscholarship program that teaches secondary school students English and leadership skills.

The U.S. Department of State has offered exchange programs for nearly 80 years.

Over 50,000 people from all over the world participate in our exchange programs each year.

And when they complete their programs, they become part of a community of over one million former participants – our alumni.

We’re honored to have each of you in our alumni network here in Ethiopia.

One million is a big number.

It represents an enormous investment by the United States in terms of time, money, and human capital.

But more importantly, it’s a personal investment in each one of you – an investment that’s already paying off as you go out and literally change the world for the better.

Across the globe, our alumni include 565 current and former heads of state, 63 Nobel Prize laureates, and thousands of leaders in the private, public, and non-governmental sectors.

In Ethiopia, our alumni community exceeds 2,000 people, including

  • his Excellency, former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn,
  • prominent opposition figure Dr. Merera Gudina,
  • the father of Ethiopian jazz, Dr. Mulatu Astatke,
  • and so many others, including each of you here today.

You don’t have to be Prime Minister, an opposition leader, or a pioneering musician to make a difference.

Each of you has that ability, as you’re proving every day.

In fact, you’ve had that ability all along.

Your participation in a U.S. exchange program simply honed your skills and built your connections to help you exercise your talents to their fullest extent.

It’s inspiring for me to see the dedication and commitment each of you has brought back with you to Ethiopia once your exchange programs have ended.

My colleagues and I at the U.S. Embassy recognize how important and difficult your work can be, and we want to stay engaged with you, to support you, and to encourage you to support each other, as you help Ethiopia achieve the kind of bright future we all want to see, and that we all know is not only possible, but essential to achieve.

In this room, we have alumni who are providing access to water for disadvantaged populations, who are inspiring girls to pursue careers in computer coding, who are improving the quality of education, who are starting businesses and creating jobs, who are increasing agricultural output, who are addressing community health concerns, and who are advancing gender equality, among so many other things.

The diversity of your efforts reflects the diversity of this gathering:  A diversity of gender, religion, geography, ideas, and goals.

Today, we hope to tap into the strength of your diversity by bringing you together to see what new ideas, connections, and collaborations will emerge when we gather some of the best and brightest minds in Ethiopia to explore opportunities to build a better future.

And we hope to put a few resources behind some of your best thinking.

We recently announced an opportunity for funding, and are accepting project proposals to advance progress in the areas you will be discussing today.

I encourage you to think how a grant could help you advance your goals.

And well beyond today, we will continue to promote new ways for you to interact with the United States, including bringing to Ethiopia experts in your subject areas and organizing programs that offer a chance for you to continue your professional development.

If you have any specific ideas or requests in this regard, reach out to us and we will see what we can arrange.

In Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Bahir Dar, and Jimma, we have our American Spaces, which are open to the public and free to use if you need space for events, programs, or projects.

We’re working to expand these offerings through partnerships with universities, and are always open to suggestions on how we can make these outposts of engagement more useful.

This is an exciting event, and these are exciting times.

We invest in our exchange programs because we understand that, in the end, it’s people who move us forward through history.

Now is the time for Ethiopia to move forward, and each of you will play a vital role in making that happen.

So today, I encourage you to do every cliché in the book:  think outside the box, network, push the limits, and challenge the status quo.

I hope you join me in feeling optimistic about Ethiopia’s future, and I know you share a strong commitment to doing the hard work needed to translate optimism into positive action.

I can’t wait to hear about the great plans and ideas that will come from this gathering, and how we can best support you in implementing them.

I hope today will be very fun and worthwhile for each of you, and wish each of you much success in the days ahead.

Thank you.