The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs

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The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs

Editor's note: RFG Advisor Paula Dobriansky and colleagues recently published an opinion piece on The Hill about the positive benefits of exchanges, which facilitate direct engagement with counterparts in the academic, governmental, business and cultural fields and are effective in promoting economic values of private enterprise and free markets.

As former Secretary of Defense James Mattis asserted, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition." 

His insight is reflected in recommendations we recently made to the State Department and U.S. Congress. We were asked by the Congress and the State Department to examine whether federally funded educational and cultural exchanges advance the foreign policy objectives of the United States. As part of our effort, we conducted over 125 interviews comprised of U.S. ambassadors and staff in embassies in more than 20 countries, as well as with exchange participants and alumni, current and former State Department leadership, officials from non-governmental organizations, Capitol Hill and other stakeholders. 

After extensive research and interviews we found overwhelming evidence that people-to-people exchanges are highly successful and produce a tremendous return on investment. We believe that exchange programs are one of America’s most effective soft power tools when integrated into U.S. foreign policy strategy and planning.

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