The Foreign Service Journal - November 2015
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ast month, in “Setting Our Course,” I concluded by sa


that as AFSA president I want to

spark and sustain a conversa-

tion with you, the members of the Foreign

Service, about our profession.

As I write my third President’s Views

column, the new AFSA Governing Board,

sworn in on July 15, is headed to a retreat

aimed at further refining the vision for

our term in office and aligning AFSA’s

resources behind the three pillars of the

work plan—comprehensive workforce

planning, outreach to the American public

and inreach to our members—that sup-

port the goal of a stronger Foreign Service

fit to lead American foreign policy today,

and a generation from now.

We will open the retreat by talking

about the mission of the Foreign Service:

What does the Foreign Service do and

what will it be called upon to do in the

next 15 years or so? If we are going to be

successful telling our story to the Ameri-

can people and, indeed, to the newer

members of our profession, we need to be

able to speak and write articulately about

what the Foreign Service actually does

and why that matters to the American

people. I sometimes joke that we resort to

saying things like, “We write memos and

go to meetings.” I

know we can do

better than that.

For example, we

convene stake-

holders, we frame

agendas, we build

bridges across cultures and languages and

disciplines, and we enable people to make

common cause.

I invite you to join in this effort to

describe—in compelling terms that

resonate with the American people—what

the Foreign Service does today and what it

will be called upon to do in the future. The

clearer we can be about the task before

us, the better we will do at advocating

for a workforce properly resourced and

structured to excel at the task. Please

send your thoughts, using action verbs, to

To get the conversation going, I invite

you to read the article by Maria Livings-

ton in the AFSA News section on the

speech I gave recently on the “NewThreat

Set”—climate change, immigration, rising

oceans, declining fisheries, pandemics,

cyberattacks, food and water insecurity.

In the face of these new challenges, we

in the Foreign Service will not be able to

call on our military colleagues (none of

these threats is particularly responsive to

the application of military force), nor will

we be able to rely as much on traditional

counterparts; namely, host government

ministry officials. The oceans don’t have

a government; neither does cyberspace.

Neither Ebola nor immigrants stay within


With power becoming more diffuse,

U.S. convening authority can no longer be

taken for granted. We are going to have to

work hard and smart to maintain our role

as the indispensable nation—harness-

ing America’s unrivaled soft, attractive

power to convene stakeholders around a

thoughtful agenda to achieve purposeful,

collective action.

We are going to need to not only up our

game but also understand that the game is

changing—fast—and we must stay ahead

of that change. We need to be knowledge-

able and strategic, playing an increasingly

critical role as the bridge builders central

to addressing complex global issues.

I will aim to report back to you next

month on the best ideas from the AFSA

Governing Board retreat and from you

on how to tell our story and how best to

explain what the Foreign Service does and

what we will be called on to do in the next

15 years. I also hope to be able to share

with you a core set of arguments about

why it matters, or should matter, to the

American people to have American diplo-

macy in the hands of a top-flight corps of

career professionals.



Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Opening the Conversation



We need to be able to speak and write

articulately about what the Foreign Service

actually does and why that matters to

the American people.