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What is Citizen Diplomacy?

“The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy – the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program . . . is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea, but an avenue of hope.

-J. William Fulbright, “The Price of Empire”


A map highlighting the 115 countries represented by our international visitor program participants in 2015, when WorldBoston hosted over 70 citizen diplomacy exchanges.

Citizen diplomacy, or public diplomacy, is the grassroots of foreign relations. Traditional diplomacy takes place between states; public diplomacy involves person-to-person contact between citizens of different countries – whether by professionals, volunteers, students, or travelers. This interaction helps to shape public opinion and understanding. Today, globalization and the engagement of private citizens in international business provide every individual with a greater opportunity as well as more responsibility for exercising citizen diplomacy than ever before.

Recognizing the importance of citizen diplomacy to U.S. foreign relations and national security, the U.S. Government has long supported programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Peace Corps, youth exchanges, and fellowships. Such programs are considered long-term investments, impacting individuals and communities in both the United States and abroad.

WorldBoston is proud to have implemented these and other public diplomacy initiatives since 1961, when the organization was founded as the Boston Center for International Visitors. Each year we welcome hundreds of current and emerging leaders from all over the world to the Greater Boston area, organizing professional exchanges, forging connections between them and local counterparts, and promoting international cooperation. We are a member of the Global Ties U.S. (formerly the National Council for International Visitors) network and collaborate with affiliated organizations in Washington, D.C., on many projects.

You can learn more about IVLP, our visitors, and how you can become a citizen diplomat in the Boston area.

Video: “Expand Your World” citizen diplomacy video featuring Michelle Kwan, originally posted by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

“The problem is for people to get together and to leap governments…to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other…I am talking about the exchange of professors and students and executives, the providing of technical assistance, and of the ordinary traveler abroad. I am talking about doctors helping in the conquering of disease, of free labor unions showing other people how they work…In this way, I believe, is the truest path to peace.”

-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 11 September 1956