Why “Soft Power” Matters: How USGLC’s Advisory Committee Members are Using Unconventional Ways to Advance American Values Abroad 

August 7, 2023 By Camilla Reitherman

At the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), we recognize that diplomacy and development – alongside defense – are central pillars of U.S. national security. America’s civilian toolkit embodies the term “soft power,” as a tool that countries use to strengthen their relationships, disseminate values, promote peace, and contribute to international prosperity—all without requiring the use of military force. Through the USGLC’s Advisory Committees, our members are leading initiatives and programs that advance U.S. soft power abroad in unconventional yet crucial ways. Whether through sports, culture, or education, the USGLC community proves that “soft power” is worth fighting for.

Justin Forzano, Founder and CEO, Open Field—Pennsylvania Advisory Committee

While spending several summers in Cameroon, Justin Forzano witnessed just how influential the game of soccer could be. In his words, a suitcase of his old soccer cleats and jerseys “transformed a local group of men into diplomats for their village, sent off to other communities to compete as a team and represent their community.” Inspired by the positive impact of intentionally organized and socially conscious soccer programs, Forzano launched Open Field, a global nonprofit seeking to improve the lives and future of youth through sports.

Active in Western Pennsylvania and West Africa, Open Field uses soccer to engage its students, create opportunities, and cultivate leadership and life skills to flourish in their communities. Staff have gone on to represent their country at seminars and workshops hosted by the United Nations, and students have graduated from higher education and started their own businesses. “Many credit being involved in the program with giving them a North Star,” Forzano said, “something to guide them through their turbulent teenage years and come out on the other side with more skills to succeed.”

When asked what the term soft power means, Forzano responded “influence.”

“On soccer fields across West Africa, we connect with local leaders and change-makers to identify common goals and work towards them. Sport breaks down barriers that often divide people – language, religion, race, culture – and connects different people in a way that few things do,” Forzano said. His advice to leaders in Washington is to embrace the full potential of Sports Diplomacy as a creative way to improve lives and promote development and diplomacy abroad. And as Forzano says, it doesn’t hurt that they have the world’s most popular sport on their side, too.

Judith Schweikart, Former President, Omaha Sister Cities Association (OSCA)Nebraska Advisory Committee

After Judith Schweikart acted as a host family for two college students from Siauliai, Lithuania (one of Omaha’s sister cities), her eyes were opened to the possibilities of citizen diplomacy, and she knew she had to get involved. She joined the board of Omaha Sister Cities Association (OSCA)—a coalition of eight cities from all parts of the globe who share an interest in cultural exchange—and later served as president from 2020 to 2022. In her role, Schweikart navigated the nonprofit through Covid, maintaining the mission of OSCA despite the lack of travel and face-to-face connection.

With partner cities in Asia, Europe, and Central America, OSCA has worked for over 50 years to bring the world to Nebraska and Nebraska to the world. “From donations of an ambulance to Xalapa, Mexico to a Tanuki sculpture to Shizuoka, Japan, OSCA has embraced what it means to promote citizen diplomacy through our actions and our relationships,” Schweikart said. Within Omaha, OSCA partners with youth organizations such as the Girl Scouts to hold informative and interactive series on the Sister Cities and their cultures. These “provide a foundation for new generations to promote understanding and cooperation among our eight cities.”

As envisioned by Sister Cities International, Schweikart identifies “soft power” as an “approach that encourages people-to-people exchanges, and champions peace and prosperity abroad.” As she makes clear, this work takes place at the local level, not just in Washington or our embassies abroad.

Her advice to lawmakers and leaders— “Reacquaint yourselves with the concept that personal interactions help promote understanding and respect. If we can encourage such interactions among people of different backgrounds, then we can better strengthen our global connections on a broader scale.”

Dr. Matt Rosenstein, Director, Global Education and Training, University of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignIllinois Advisory Committee

Dr. Matt Rosenstein’s lifelong passion to learn about other countries and cultures drew him into the world of international education, and the inspiration he receives from his students and global partners continues to fuel his motivation each day. Serving as director of Global Education and Training at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign since 2015, Dr. Rosenstein says his position in higher education allows him “to not simply continue learning, but also to share knowledge and resources, and contribute toward solutions to global challenges.”

With over 60 institutional partnerships worldwide, the office of Global Education and Training provides students and professionals with an array of developmental programs, designed to enhance their skills in topics such as leadership, research, and the English language. One of the office’s most successful partnerships is in Egypt, where they provided training to “university leaders and staff from 20 different Egyptian public universities to help them establish disability services centers and increase accessibility for disabled students on their campuses.” Dr. Rosenstein said that “the project is funded by USAID as part of the US-Egypt Higher Education Initiative and is carried out in cooperation with Amideast Egypt and the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education.”

This initiative demonstrates the importance strategic investments in diplomacy and development programs—such as continued federal funding for agencies like USAID—so that the U.S. can respond to global challenges and proactively invest in our allies and future partners.

In Dr. Rosenstein’s eyes, “soft power” means “using diplomatic tools to promote positive social changes and democratic ideals abroad…where all stakeholders benefit.” He believes U.S. investment in global education and educational diplomacy is a two-way street – not only do the countries in which we invest benefit, but in turn, “we enhance our own global security and stimulate economic growth.”

Patricia Grote, Executive Director, Iowa International Center (IIC)Iowa Advisory Committee

First created in the 1940s to help resettle refugees fleeing persecution, Iowa International Center’s  mission was to welcome the world to Iowa. Today, with Executive Director Patricia Grote at the helm, the organization has grown while staying true to its founding mission—expanding its program to host international professionals and youth, in addition to supporting Iowa’s immigrant community with interpretation and translation resources.

“When visitors come to Iowa, they are astounded by the openness of the people they meet and the incredible access to elected officials,” Grote says. “The success of our work often stems from those factors, such as the 40-year relationship between an African farmer and his Iowa farmer host family. Their connection has improved the economic prosperity of the African visitor’s home community.” Through IIC’s International Visitor Leadership Program, international visitors return to their

countries with new insights that contribute to greater economic development within their local communities, while also maintaining long-lasting relationships with Iowans and garnering a better understanding of the U.S. This work is sponsored by the U.S. State Department, allowing the organization to implement its programs more widely.

According to Grote, “IIC is built on the foundations of ‘soft power.’”

She urges leaders in Washington to prioritize the promotion of citizen diplomacy, which helps cultivate greater understanding among people that formal diplomacy cannot. “Over home-cooked meals, jazz concerts, baseball games, and conversations about family, citizen diplomacy becomes a catalyst for broader trust of Americans and American values.”

From Omaha, Nebraska, to West Africa, members of USGLC’s Advisory Committees are making the case for the importance of diplomacy and development at the local level, setting a high bar for federal policymakers and officials. Their contributions underscore areas of untapped potential within U.S. “soft power” strategy, and it’s positive impact on our communities and the world.