Citizen Diplomacy Int’l Mtg #18: City Diplomacy

About Citizen Diplomacy International

Due to globalization, the internet, rising education levels, and long-term democratization, citizen diplomacy is growing, and becoming a more important part of diplomacy and international affairs.  Thus, in 2020, the Public Diplomacy Council of America (PDCA), a US-based NGO devoted to advancing the field of public diplomacy, formed the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group (CDRG) to advance the research and practice of citizen diplomacy.  In 2023, the CDRG became Citizen Diplomacy International (CDI), a network and program of Learning Life, a Washington DC-based nonprofit devoted to developing innovative learning communities in order to widen and deepen participation in democracy and diplomacy.  

CDI meets every three months online via Zoom for 1.5 hours to share research and news on citizen diplomacy developments worldwide with an eye to building a vibrant global CD sector for a more participatory, equitable and sustainable world..  Meetings typically begin with two presentations on CD research or practice, followed by discussion of the presentations, then news and announcements of past or upcoming international CD-related initiatives, publications, funding, conferences, etc. 

Anyone  — including scholars, students, citizen diplomacy practitioners, current and retired official diplomats, and others interested — can join CDI to learn, network, and/or present substantial research or practice in citizen diplomacy. For more information or to join the CDI email list, contact You can also connect with CDI members via our Facebook group and Linkedin group, to which you can post citizen diplomacy-related articles, books, events, funding, etc. 

For more about CDI, click here.  For the video recording of this CDI meeting at Learning Life’s Youtube Channel, click here.  Photos from the meeting below.  

Meeting Participants & Agenda


The meeting drew 42 participants from at least 16 countries: The Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Romania, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Korea, Philippines, USA, Colombia, Suriname, St Lucia. 


1) Opening Remarks & Introductions  (10 minutes)

Review of meeting agenda.  During this time everyone is encouraged to post to the chat a one-paragraph bio about themselves, including your name, city, country, job title and organization.  

2) Two Presentations (30 minutes total): 


“City Diplomacy: State of the Research” by Sohaela Amiri, Senior Research Specialist, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and Efe Sevin, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Towson University. 

Two Examples of Citizen Diplomacy: Seattle-Tashkent Sister City and Target Seattle” by Dan Peterson, former President of Seattle-Tashkent Sister Cities Association, and Betsy Bell, co-founder of Target Seattle and author of Open Borders. 

3) Questions & Discussion about the Presentations (40 minutes)

4) Announcements (10 minutes).    

  1. A look at the December issue of the Citizen Diplomacy Bulletin.
  2. Meeting participants have the opportunity to publicize citizen diplomacy events, publications, projects, programs, and related needs.  Participants can also post details and links to the Zoom chat box to share with the wider CDI email list.

Three Years of Citizen Diplomacy in Four Parts

by Debbie Trent, CDI Vice Chair

While the Covid-19 virus covered the globe and isolated so many of us, the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group – now Citizen Diplomacy International (CDI) – emerged as a new community for connecting analysts, volunteers, practitioners and students. Our Zoom platform has opened up more space for networking and collaboration. It’s also provided opportunities for social connection among thoughtful people with mutual interests. Thanks for visiting this page for my reflections on our CD community’s shared experience during the pandemic and several personal transitions.


CDI is celebrating Birthday #3.  As I’ll soon step away from the CDI vice chair role, here’s kudos to all who have participated to make this community thrive.

Since our launch meeting on June 23, 2020, the member listserv has expanded ten times, to more than 1,200 people in 108+ countries across the globe. Each Zoom meeting draws at least two expert CD presenters and 20-40 international attendees. They include scholars, practitioners, students and volunteers.  CDI Chair Paul Lachelier coordinates an extensive collection of resources – and an able cadre of student interns – including the presentations, Zoom chat discussion, screenshots and video recordings of each meeting, the bi-monthly Citizen Diplomacy Bulletin and the CDI Bibliography of literature, experts, practitioners, and organizations. All are accessible in this share drive to CDI email list members.

Here’s the “honor roll” of our researchers and practitioners and their wide-ranging presentations, with their respective presentation focus indicated in brackets [ ]:


August 25: Robert Kelley, “Citizen Diplomacy Definitions, Landscape, and Trends” [Global.] Hayley Pottle, “TechGirls: Brief History, Purpose, Program, and Benefits” [Global].

October 28: Nikki Hinshaw, “A Case Study of Sister Cities International” [USA]. Andreas Fulda, “The Emergence of Citizen Diplomacy in European Union–China Relations” [Europe, China].

December 1: Mohsen Amin, “The Arbaeen (annual pilgrimage) as Religious Diplomacy” [Middle East]. Jacob Schouenborg, “Grassroots Sport Diplomacy” [Global].


February 3: Giles Scott-Smith, “The Network for New Diplomatic History” [Global.] Linda Staheli,“Global Co Lab Network: Engaging the Next Generation” [Global].

April 6: Julie Moyes, “Soft Power & Citizen Diplomacy” [USA].  James Ketterer, “Jazz Diplomacy” [USA].

June 8: Tenille Archie & Rossella Vulcano, “Intercultural Communication” [Global].  Stefan Cibian, “A Framework for Community Diplomacy” [Romania].

August 4: Special Panel Discussion on “The Consequences of Covid for Citizen Diplomacy.”  Elizabeth (Libby) Lyons, on a post-pandemic action plan for U.S and other environmental scientists [Global]. Kelsey Edmonds, on digital communication and relations in sister city partnerships [USA]. Siobhan Lyons on leading Citizen Diplomacy International Philadelphia [USA]. Kadir Jun Ayhan on South Korean public and citizen diplomacy [S. Korea].

October 5: Dana Vanderburgh, Violeta Martinez & Michael Woma, on dance diplomacy [USA, Panama, Ghana].

December 8: Katherine Brown, “Global Ties US at 60″ [USA].  Paul Lachelier, “Family Diplomacy for a More Caring World” [Global].


February 9: Anna Popkova, “Exploring Citizen Diplomacy’s Local Impact: The Case of Global Ties Kalamazoo” [USA]. Nicholas Cull, “Information Disarmament: Citizens and the Forgotten Dimension of the 1980s US-Soviet Rapprochement” [USSR & Russia].

April 5: Patricia Harrison and Dianne Neville, “’Post-Pandemic’ Innovations in Exchange: The (World Learning) Professional Fellows Program as a Case Study” [USA]. Jean-Christophe Boucher, “Ukrainian Diaspora Mobilization during the Crimean Crisis” [Global].

June 8: Jay Wang, “Public Diplomacy in Your Neighborhood” [Global].  Anand Torrents & Rosa Torrademé, “Introduction to the Foundation for Democracy & Citizenship [Spain].

August 9: Book launch by Lior Lehrs, Unofficial Peace Diplomacy: Private Peace Entrepreneurs in Conflict Resolution Processes [Israel, Palestine]. Anca Anton and Raluca Moise, “The Citizen Diplomats and Their Pathway to Diplomatic Power” [Global].

October 12: John Marks, “Track II Diplomacy between Iran and the US” [Iran, USA].  Reina Neufeldt, “Research as Practice: Lessons for Citizen Diplomacy from a Canadian-Haitian Peacebuilding Partnership” [Canada, Haiti].

December 6: Carson Tavenner, “Subnational Citizen Diplomacy Leadership” [Global]. Laurie Mulvey, on the World in Conversation Center for Public Diplomacy at Pennsylvania State University [Global].

2023 (transition to CDI and quarterly meetings)

March 8: Vijay Kumar Chattu, “Strengthening Global Health Security through Global Health Diplomacy” [Global]. Sali Hafez, “Health Diplomacy in Conflict and Post-Conflict Contexts: Lessons from Iraq, Syria and Yemen” [Iraq, Syria, Yemen].

June 6: Sohaela Amiri & Efe Sevin on their edited volume, City Diplomacy: Current Trends and Future Prospects [Global]. Dan Peterson and Betsy Bell on the historic Seattle-Tashkent Sister Cities relationship [USA, Uzbekistan].

We’ve hosted many global presentation topics and speakers from most world regions, and the remaining CDI meetings in 2023 promise to further enrich that diversity:

September 6: Presenters TBA, on democratizing and localizing world affairs.

December 5: Presenters TBA, on digital diplomacy.

Here’s a round of virtual applause to the 38 researchers and practitioners with whom we’ve had the benefit to engage so far!


Involvement in the CDRG/CDI community, and hearing the stories of practitioners and scholars has been personally and professionally motivating. It’s been a career-long goal of mine to support a trans-sectarian, transnational, public-private partnership to promote mutual understanding, peacebuilding and sustainable socioeconomic reform in Lebanon, my heritage country. The August 4, 2020 chemical explosion at the Port of Beirut catapulted me into action. I contacted a cousin with extensive development experience in the Middle East, and this past March 10th – along with more cousins, pioneering fuel cell experts, and investors – we incorporated  the U.S. nonprofit. Illumi-Nation Global, Inc.

Illumi-Nation Global will raise funds to undertake a sustainable decarbonization program in Lebanon and hopefully beyond. The “Phoenix Initiative” will produce and distribute solar-powered electricity, liquid bio-ethanol fuel and biogas for transportation, cooking and heating in Lebanese villages. The program is designed to minimize interaction with and interference from the central government, significantly reduce energy costs to – and increase gainful local employment opportunities for – the Lebanese, as well as offer green bond investment opportunities for the diaspora and other donors.


Also on the personal side, I lost both my parents in these past three pandemic years. In February, 2020, my 86-year-old Lebanese/Arab American mother in north central New Jersey elected home hospice.  With the New York City region a Covid-19 hot spot, and dad’s vascular dementia intensifying, mom, dad and we three “kids” agreed she’d be safer with my sister and her family outside Erie, Pennsylvania. A week before the March shutdown, I drove mom halfway there and met Patti and nephew Charles for a quick takeout pizza lunch in the parking lot of a restaurant, then parted ways.

For eight months, mom’s hospice nurse, my sister and brother-in-law provided her medical care and my brother, dad and I visited regularly. We took care of each other amidst the isolation of the pandemic and the sadness of our eventual goodbye with unhurried, intentional conversation, singing, cooking, card-playing and companionship of the family dogs.

Mom was the youngest of nine. Her parents were from the same village in the Bekaa Valley between Beirut and Damascus, but they left for the U.S. separately in search of physical and financial security and married in the Midwest. They learned and passed along to their children the value of hard work and governance of, for, and by the people. Mom was my first exemplar for responsible citizenship and found CDRG a healthy response to socioeconomic discord, especially with the uncertainties of the 2020 presidential election campaign and the pandemic.

Our conversations dwelled on politics and how we could possibly make a difference in our troubled democracy. We read Kahlil Gibran together. The popular painter-author’s 1925 work, “The New Frontier,” challenged Middle Easterners to conduct their individual and collective lives responsibly and was a source for the call in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address to “ask not what your country can do for you—[rather,] ask what you can do for your country.”  Mom followed the news, prepared her absentee ballot and donated to medical NGOs channeling relief across the United States, and – after the August 4th chemical explosion in Beirut – to the Lebanese people.

Despite updating his Covid vaccinations, dad contracted the omicron variant in December, 2021. Covid “fog” probably caused dad to fall, and he was found on the bathroom floor with a fractured C-2 vertebra. He had always been physically strong, but at age 90, it’s likely the virus accelerated his dementia, prompting us to relocate him to an assisted living residence outside Washington, DC.  My sister, brother, all four grandchildren, and local friends joined us as often as possible, savoring meals together, swapping stories, and doing our best to keep him safe and comfortable.

Among our shared memories was a lunch he initiated – as a young psychiatrist conducting research on an aspect of human sexuality in the early 70s – with cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Dad used the occasion to pitch a grant proposal. As the meal concluded and the bill was presented, Professor Mead excused herself to use the restroom but didn’t return to the table. Dad was stuck with the hefty bill and perhaps a bruised ego, later hearing that was not the first time she had “dined and dashed.” He nonetheless encouraged my acquaintance with Mead’s work.


I was so lucky to be with each of my parents during their final hours. As each of them struggled to breathe, I remember beginning to consider the good fortune of having such loving relationships, but I was too upset to be able to thank either of them. These days, when I feel their spirit, I do thank them.

I deeply appreciate your read of these reflections. Sharing them reinforces a basic need to take time for sense-making that strengthens self-awareness and relationship-building capacity, cornerstones of sustainable community, coexistence and CDI.

Recalling Margaret Mead’s insight to “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world,” I look forward to our June 6th Zoom (11am EDT) and many future CDI convenings to come.

First Animated Family Stories!

Learning Life is pleased to announce that three of our family diplomats (FDs) have had their stories animated.  Thanks to Learning Life Board of Directors Chair, Joe Toles, who sponsored the animation of their stories, FDs Nusrat Jahan Nipa from Bangladesh, and Maria & Marvella Kavuma from Uganda, have a new medium of animated video to communicate their family stories.

Nusrat, who has now won two Learning Life awards for her storytelling, tells the tragic story of her aunt’s suicide.  Watch her short family story here.

Maria and Marvella, in turn, carry on a dialogue about respecting Ugandan tradition while empowering girls.  Watch their short story here.

Nusrat, Maria and Marvella’s stories were voted the most compelling in the culminating meeting of a series of Learning Life storytelling workshops that ran from November 20, 2022 to January 29, 2023 led by Joe Toles.  See below actual photos of Nusrat and her husband, and Maria and Marvella, and learn more about Learning Life’s other FDs and their families worldwide here.

The workshops followed the successful completion of Learning Life’s first online international FD training in July to October 2022.  The training launched Phase 2 of Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI).  FDI is an ambitious, long-term, grassroots effort to connect, train and empower a growing international corps of family diplomats to participate in decision-making at local to global levels.  We envision a world more connected and caring because every family has one or more family diplomats, and those citizen diplomats advocate effectively via nonprofits, businesses, media and governments for the needs, concerns and aspirations of families worldwide. 

FDI’s Phase 1, launched in 2016, initiated live international family dialogues and connected a growing number of people (now over 15,000) worldwide to FDI on Facebook.  Phase 2 is focused on training a growing international corps of volunteer FDs with an eye, in Phase 3, to connecting these FDs to governments, nonprofits, businesses and media so that they can advocate effectively on issues that affect their family and other families like them, from cancer, suicide and domestic violence, to war, climate change and women’s empowerment.  

The next international FD training is happening July 9 to October 29, every Sunday, 12:00-1:30pm, live via Zoom.  To learn more and apply to be included in our 2023 training cohort, visit Learning Life’s FD training application page.

Family Diplomacy Facebook Group Reaches 15,000 Members Worldwide

Learning Life’s “Families Connecting to Build a Caring World” Facebook Group today reached a new growth milestone: 15,000 members worldwide.

Established in April 2017, the Facebook group is the community gathering place and most public face of Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI).  In 2021, we focused on scaling up the group, and with the help of a lot of interns and volunteers worldwide, succeeded in more than quintupling membership, from less than 1,700 at the start of January 2021, to over 10,000 by the end of December.  We have since been steadily building membership by inviting hundreds of people individually in different international Facebook groups.

Through the Facebook group, members get (a) notice of upcoming FDI events, like our family diplomat training, (b) FDI news and features, like Facebook group growth milestones, family diplomat (FD) awards, and diverse FD and family profiles, (c) monthly recommendations of films, shows and songs about family life, (d) posts from other families across the world.  Members, in turn, are welcome to (a) post profiles and news about their families or family life in their community or country, and to (b) be featured with their family on one of our “We Are Family Diplomats Because…” posters.

FDI is an ambitious, long-term, grassroots effort to connect, train and empower a growing international corps of volunteer family diplomats (FDs) to participate in decision-making at local to global levels.  We envision a world more connected and caring because every family has one or more FDs networked with fellow FDs worldwide, and these citizen diplomats together advocate effectively via nonprofits, businesses, media and governments for the needs, concerns and aspirations of families worldwide.  To learn more and get involved, click here