When U.S. diplomat Maryum Saifee was based at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, she oversaw a program that brought together tech entrepreneurs from Austin, Texas, and businesses in Pakistan’s Punjab region. The goal: to expand investment and business opportunities in both countries.
“We have mayors and governors already engaging with their overseas counterparts, and they’ve been doing this for years,” Saifee says.
“So in Pakistan, I got to see this firsthand in an action,” she explains. “It’s increasing investment dollars into Pakistan, but also expanding new markets and business for the folks in Texas. So it’s a win-win in terms of the economy, but also the people to people.”
Saifee says this type of “subnational diplomacy” should be a priority at the State Department.
She is one of the current State Department employees who contributed to a new report, “Transforming State,” from the Truman Center, a think tank in Washington. The report focuses on how to make the department more ethnically diverse, equitable and innovative, while making a case for strong diplomacy to the American public by engaging locally across the country.
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The Biden administration has said it wants a foreign policy that delivers to middle-class Americans. Having more connections to cities and states could help with that, according to the authors. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also promised to make the State Department look more like America, announcing in February that he would appoint a chief diversity and inclusion officer as a first step.
There are diplomats in residence at a handful of universities across the country and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is sponsoring legislation to create an office of state and local diplomacy in the department.
“We have a real opportunity to modernize the State Department so the agency can better represent America, both by diversifying the ranks of our diplomatic corps and expanding foreign policymaking outside of Washington to bring mayors, governors and local elected officials into the fold,” Murphy said in a statement.
Getting Congress involved is…