Is your city government doing its part to support citizen diplomacy? The Mayor of Albuquerque is.
Contributed by Randy Trask, Director of the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Trade Alliance
When someone makes the decision to run for Mayor, they’re not taking on a job role as much as becoming the central problem-solver of a community. Due to the fact that more than 80% of America’s population is found in urban areas, mayors and their city governments have never been more important when it comes to economic development, fighting poverty, improving education, and the list goes on. When a city resident has a problem, they don’t call their Congressman or the President of the United States — they pick up the phone and call the Mayor’s Office.
For that reason, it is not uncommon for former mayors who have moved on to positions at the state or federal levels to reminisce about how much stronger their connection was to their communities at the city level. So, if city governments truly are the “citizen’s government” and mayors are our leaders, we would do better to encourage their participation in foreign relations and citizen diplomacy for our cities.
Some mayors already recognize the importance of an international outlook at the city level. Recently, Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry was honored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for his “extraordinary commitment to encourage citizen diplomacy and to foster commercial, educational, and cultural exchange between Albuquerque and nations from all over the world.” This recognition came shortly after Sister Cities International awarded the local Albuquerque organization with the 2017 Innovation Award for Economic Development for a 2016 trade mission the Mayor led to its Japanese Sister City Sasebo on their 50th anniversary of sisterhood.
Mayor Berry will soon end his tenure having proven what can be accomplished when city governments invest in foreign relations and international trade. Here’s a look back at how Mayor Berry’s attention to international relations and citizen diplomacy during his time in office has changed Albuquerque (and its international partners) for the better.
Stimulating International Trade
When Mayor Berry took office, there was no international trade and foreign relations office at the City. Realizing resources were scarce, he partnered with the local county government to create the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Trade Alliance. The Trade Alliance was tasked with managing foreign meeting requests and protocol, helping local companies export, and serving as the government liaison with Sister Cities International and Global Ties to ensure that their requests were expedited and that economic development be incorporated into their initiatives whenever possible. In 2016, the program served more than 25 Albuquerque companies who reported back over $8 Million in new exports.
In 2015, standing alongside the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mayor Berry announced the opening of the New Mexico Trade and Higher Education Center of Mexico City. This was the first ever American representative office in Mexico that was a partnership between a state government, its largest city, and a flagship university. To date, the office has assisted over 50 New Mexico companies and organizations with their efforts in Mexico and later this month they will announce that Central New Community College is set to become the newest partner in the initiative.
Making international goodwill a priority
In 2014, Mayor Berry signed a new Sister City agreement with Lusaka, Zambia, Albuquerque’s first sister city from the African Continent. As the City’s first gesture of goodwill towards its 10th Sister City, the Mayor arranged for the donation of a firetruck and firefighting equipment.
Over the course of the Mayor’s eight-year tenure, he made time to receive delegations from all ten of Albuquerque’s Sister Cities and numerous foreign Consul Generals and Ambassadors. Early in his administration, Mayor Berry mandated that City leadership make themselves available, whenever possible, to receive U.S. State Department delegations. By making these visits a priority, his administration has received over 80 different delegations covering a variety of topics including Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Women’s Entrepreneurship, Human and Minority Rights, Tourism, and Civic Activism to name a few. He also personally led delegations to five of Albuquerque’s 10 Sister Cities.
Albuquerque’s role as a catalyst for international change
Inspiring others to do good deeds is a good deed in itself. The story of Ms. Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania reflects this and serves as an example in the ways that small efforts to encourage citizen diplomacy can achieve significant good in the world.
Rebeca came to visit Albuquerque in 2013 on a State Department International Visitors Leadership Program organized by Global Ties ABQ. Mayor Berry arranged for her to meet with his Youth Advisory Council, which was created for Albuquerque youth to have a voice when it came to tackling problems in the community. Rebeca was moved by Albuquerque’s youth and their desire to be a part of change in the community, which inspired her to want to give a greater voice to women and young girls back home in Tanzania.
That is exactly what Rebeca did. She founded the Msichana Initiative, which works to empower girls through education. Rebeca then went on to file a petition to the High Court of Tanzania and won a landmark case raising the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 18 years. She hopes this will allow more girls in Tanzania to attend school rather than enter marriage at a young age. She was recently honored with the first-ever International Visitor Leadership Program Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change for her achievements on youth empowerment and ending legal child marriages in Tanzania.
Rebeca’s story is proof that what may seem like a simple gesture of goodwill and hospitality can have a snowball effect that makes a difference all over the world.
A call to action for your mayors and city governments
In a recent interview by the Albuquerque Journal, Mayor Berry reflected on his role encouraging citizen diplomacy.
“I’m humbled that these great groups, which have been here long before I was the mayor, would recognize the fact that we believe in them, and we have worked hard on their behalf and our community’s behalf for the last eight years,” Berry said.
In emphasizing the importance of citizen diplomacy, Berry noted that people often read or see news accounts about elected national officials and ambassadors doing this kind of work, “but as mayor I’ve seen firsthand that citizen diplomacy can build bridges and find solutions that others can’t. I would encourage our next mayor to continue this work because it’s vital.”
So, is your city government doing its part to support citizen diplomacy? If not, maybe it’s time to start holding them to a higher standard.
If you’re looking for ways to get your city involved internationally, visit our website for membership and resources.