(Click here for video and remarks from the event.)

Leaders from the nation’s foreign policy, NGO and business community gathered last night in Washington to hear a groundbreaking speech from Bill Gates and honor former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge for their public service and continued advocacy of smart power tools like development and diplomacy.

In his address, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, urged federal policymakers to continue to invest in foreign assistance as a critical means of strengthening U.S. economic interests. His message was especially timely as the new Congress begins to examine possible spending cuts to address deficit reduction.

“The investments we make today in the developing world will help create the jobs of tomorrow here in America,” said Gates. “Right now, the tough choice is to maintain foreign assistance, not to cut it. Right now, the bold act of leadership is to defend spending on key international programs, not to attack it.”

Secretaries Ridge and Albright, who co-chair the USGLC’s Putting Smart Power to Work campaign, were honored by the 400 businesses and NGOs, national security and foreign policy experts and business, faith-based, academic and community leaders who make up the USGLC.

In their remarks, they each stressed how important the International Affairs Budget is to our national security, economic prosperity, and values as a nation.

“Greater engagement through diplomacy and development is not an option in today’s world: it is a necessity,” said Albright. “Investing in American diplomacy serves the interests of our country in all corners of the globe and helps create a better, safer world.”

“Fully utilizing our civilian smart power tools is critical to our national security,” said Ridge. “Keeping America safe and competitive in the global economy is a value both Democrats and Republicans share, and a strong and effective International Affairs budget is a great return on investment for the American taxpayer.”

Guests included Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO Daniel Yohannes, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and ambassadors from more than a dozen countries.

The USGLC’s annual Tribute Dinner has become a can’t-miss event for the top foreign policy leaders in the country, and this year delivered another memorable evening. Co-chairing the dinner on behalf of the USGLC’s many member organizations were Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, and Robin Lineberger, CEO Federal Government Services, Deloitte LLP. ABC News and NPR Correspondent Cokie Roberts served as master of ceremonies.

Secretaries Ridge and Albright now join a distinguished cast of previous honorees at the USGLC’s Tribute Dinners, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Senators Dick Durbin, Chuck Hagel, and Paul Sarbanes, and Representative Chris Shays.

Make sure to check out the pictures and video from the Annual Tribute Dinner.

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