Six members of the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they attended a meeting sponsored by the U.S. Department of State focusing on citizen diplomacy. Executive Director Jena Melancon co-chaired the event which had over 800 attendees and featured Oscar Arias as its plenary speaker. This professional development meeting also served as the kick-off celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Department of State’s premier professional exchange, the International Visitor Leadership Program.
“One distinct takeaway from this four day event,” recalls Ms. Melancon, “was that exchanges not only build bridges between cultures and have an impact on U.S. foreign policy but that they also have an impact on local economies.”
That’s certainly been true in northwest Florida where in 2014 the economic impact of professional exchanges coordinated by the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council was $429,208. The organization has two full time employees.
“We put heads in beds, take visitors to local restaurants, stores, and cultural events. We book transportation, and make sure that their experience is a positive one. People leave with good memories, professional connections, and a better understanding of the United States. We know our members & volunteers are making a intangible impact on the visitors and that the visitors, in turn, are making an impression on the locals they meet. These numbers show us that we’re making a tangible impact in the local economy as well.”