U.S. Overseas Image Gets New Focus

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will announce today the creation of a new annual award to honor a company, academic institution or other nongovernmental entity that does the most to promote the U.S. image abroad through intercultural understanding, State Department officials said.

The Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy is designed to prod corporations and other nongovernmental groups to play a bigger role in public diplomacy at a time when the image of the U.S. government has been battered by a backlash, especially in the Arab world, from the invasion of Iraq.

Rice will highlight the award during a speech at a conference of public relations organizations at the State Department. During the meeting, the group will select the 10 best ways that the private sector can promote understanding between the United States and people around the world.

"The award and the summit are part of our greater effort to partner with the private sector," said Assistant Secretary Dina H. Powell. "Public diplomacy is not the government's job alone, and we will be much more successful as American citizens if we work together with corporations, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], academic institutions and everyday Americans to amplify our efforts."

Powell, along with Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, has worked with private entities on a number of initiatives in the past year, including bringing journalists from 100 countries to learn U.S. journalistic practices, creating an international women's mentoring program in partnership with Fortune magazine and sending 12 university presidents to Asia to promote educational opportunities in the United States.

The new award would complement another State Department honor, the Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE), which the agency gives annually to U.S. businesses that act as good corporate citizens overseas. Goldman Sachs, for instance, was selected last year for endowing a gift of 680,000 acres of wilderness in Chile for a national reserve. Competition for that award -- presented by the secretary of state -- is intense, and State Department officials hope the Franklin award will prove equally alluring.

Unlike the ACE award, the new honor will be available not just to companies but also foundations, nonprofit organizations, think tanks, universities and other academic institutions, labor organizations and even individuals. The award was named in honor of Franklin because, as the nation's first envoy, he was known for his creative ways of using culture, business and science to attract the attention of foreign audiences, State Department officials said.

James E. Murphy, chief of marketing and communications for Accenture, chairs the PR Coalition, an organization of 20 major public relations groups that is meeting at the State Department today. He said the group previously identified 10 models to help companies promote corporate governance and diversity. The group, concerned about the image of the United States around the world, approached Hughes last year about holding a meeting at State to produce a similar list for public diplomacy.

Murphy said U.S. companies and individuals donate significantly more money overseas than the overall U.S. aid budget. "The most powerful thing we have going for us is the private sector overseas," Murphy said.

The 150 participants will vote on the 10 best models from a list that includes programs for employees and customers that promote understanding of American society and programs that build trust and respect with counterparts abroad.

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