The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2021

62 JULY-AUGUST 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA sought to broaden its ties with the employee affinity groups at State and USAID, as well as with important outside organizations such as the American Academy of Diplomacy, the Council of American Ambas- sadors, the Association of Black American Ambassadors, DACOR, the National Museum of American Diplomacy and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. In unity there is strength, and as a result of our outreach efforts we are now able to more closely coordinate with all of these groups and organizations. AFSA also maintained a high public profile, with numerous interviews, television appearances and social media outreach. This has proven to be of enormous help in getting our message out during the pandemic. Our member services have not flagged during the shutdown, and we have managed to ramp up represen- tation of our members on matters large and small. The Foreign Service Journal has kept up an impressive pace during the pandemic shutdown, with more content for our members and more advertising to pay for it. AFSA’s current governing board will step down in July with gratitude to our members for their ideas and sup- port and with a determination to hand over our list of pri- orities to the next board with evidence of clear progress on most of them. –Eric Rubin, AFSA President Executive Director’s Report I t is no exaggeration to say that the term of AFSA’s 2019-2021 Governing Board was unlike any other. On March 16, 2020, AFSA closed its offices and directed staff to telework out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19. Little did we know that our proposed two- week telework pause would eventually become more than 14 months before we could attempt a safe “soft” reopen- ing in early June 2021. While it has been a chal- lenging time for AFSA staff and the organization, I am pleased to report that we were able to make this transition to telework quickly and (mostly) smoothly. Our staff adapted to the Zoom and Microsoft Teams environments, and mastered the screen share and the virtual conversation environment. We became ever more adept at telling our colleagues “erm, you’re muted.” Most importantly, the work of the association contin- ued almost entirely uninterrupted. The only AFSA service that was completely paused during COVID was in-person events. Everything else carried on as scheduled, as you will see in the rest of this report. During the pandemic we discovered that virtual events had certain advantages we had not previously consid- ered, which brought unexpected gains. We were able to reach more members in more parts of the world than we had ever done previously. We conducted two rounds of global town halls to talk with our members near and far. We met virtually with members at individual posts when they had questions and concerns they wanted to raise with us. One panel we held with the State Department Bureau of Medical Services to discuss vaccine distribu- tion had more than 950 in attendance, and questions came in from nearly every continent—something we never could have accom- plished at our physical headquarters. There were challenges, of course. We all missed the helpful in-person interaction we are so used to in the office environment. Ongoing issues with the U.S. Postal Service made delivery of some invoices and dues payments slow and unreliable. Our ability to enroll new members was somewhat affected by the virtual environment. We are glad to be back in person, if in a limited capacity for now, so that we can work on fixing those problems and continue serving our members. I have been very encouraged by the members of the 2019-2021 Governing Board and their willingness to entertain and agree to new ideas for the organization. These have ranged from investments in new technology, to a friendlier employee evaluation process, as well as increased telework options and the formal introduction of diversity, equity and inclusion principles in AFSA’s hiring practices and internal policies. While our members may not see this work on a daily basis, all of it is important for During the pandemic we discovered that virtual events had certain advantages we had not previously considered, which brought unexpected gains. AFSA TERM REPORT