As published on the Global Ties U.S. website on October 29, 2018.
By Sue Yang, Senior Director for External Relations, Alliance for International Exchange
Advocacy is at the nexus of policy, people, and exchanges. If you’ve ever wondered how policymakers decide on issues in Washington, DC, or how organizations can best engage in advocacy, here are three tips to get started.
To engage in advocacy, organizations should:
Be a voice for international exchange programs.
A vital part of how elected officials decide on issues is understanding how they affect their constituents, district, and state. The more policymakers understand the issues, the better informed they can be in making policy decisions.
While it may seem like there are plenty of voices already out there advocating on behalf of your issues, every voice counts. The more voices there are in support of these important exchange programs, the stronger the message and its impact. So make your voice heard.
For the international exchange community, there are many policy and budgetary challenges. In recent years, the Administration budget requests for U.S. Department of State’s educational and cultural exchange programs have been decreasing – most recently, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request was more than a 75% reduction from the Fiscal Year 2018 enacted level.
Thankfully, due to strong bipartisan Congressional support, funding for international exchange programs has been robust in recent years. An important factor for that strong support is the advocacy efforts by the Alliance for International Exchange and members of the international exchange community.
Be a resource.
Educate and inform your elected officials on exchange program issues. Be informative, concise, and clear. For example, avoid acronyms and other industry jargon without explaining what they mean. Discuss only what you know – you can always follow up with more information. This is important, as you want to be viewed as a credible and informed voice. If you are a knowledgeable resource for how international exchange issues affect the district and state, then your message will have a stronger impact.
Build a relationship.
Reach out to the offices of your Members of Congress, as well as other elected public officials at the state and local levels. Contact their district and state offices to request meetings with staff to discuss your cause. Get to know the staff as they advise the elected officials. Reach out to state and local officials as well. Engage with those who directly represent you – elected officials prioritize hearing from their constituents.
Work with other community leaders (such as business leaders, local associations, or civic activists) to strengthen and broaden the network supporting international exchange programs. These meetings are opportunities to build and sustain a professional relationship with policymakers and policy influencers. As with all relationships, it takes time to build one so be proactive and have a long-term perspective.
As you engage in advocacy efforts, maintaining a unified message on international exchange programs is essential to reinforcing their key role in our public diplomacy efforts. Specifically:
- Exchange programs support our national security and foreign policy interests.
- Exchange programs strengthen the U.S. economy.
- Exchange programs increase mutual understanding.