Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet delivered a speech on the role of the Peace Corps in the future of international development in the Intercultural Center on Monday.
The speech was followed by interactive discussion with attendees moderated by School of Foreign Service Associate Dean Emily Zenick, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand.
SFS Interim Dean James Reardon-Anderson introduced Hessler-Radelet by listing her extensive background serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Reardon-Anderson also noted the attendance of many former, accepted and prospective Peace Corps volunteers, which included students and faculty, at the event, as he encouraged students to take part in the Peace Corps’ operations.
“We hope that many of you will follow in that tradition and choose to join the Peace Corps, which is a really wonderful and very American enterprise and one of our great contributions to the world,” Reardon-Anderson said.
Hessler-Radelet began her discussion by first thanking the Peace Corps volunteers present at the event for their service.
“Because of you, we have people who call Americans friends from the farthest corners of our globe,” Hessler-Radelet said. “In this fractured world, that is such an important thing.”
With over 7,500 volunteers in 67 different countries working in six sectors including education and economic development, the Peace Corps places its volunteers in communities for two years to promote both skills development and cross-cultural understanding.
“Our mission is no less than world peace and friendship,” Hessler-Radelet said. “We have three goals: to help the people of interested countries meet their needs for training men to meet their goals, to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served, and to promote a better understanding on the country and the people served on the part of Americans.”
Hessler-Radelet then pointed out a series of global issues in the future that may pose problems to the Peace Corps’ goal of international development, including unexpected disease outbreaks, overpopulation and terrorism.
However, Hessler-Radelet said that the role of the Peace Corps will become more important in light of these trends.
“I believe the Peace Corps will not only be relevant [in the future], but even more important in this increasingly diverse and interconnected world,” Hessler-Radelet said. “Peace Corps’ place in coming decades will depend on our ability to discern what the future holds and to become adaptable, resilient and stay true to our mission.”
Hessler-Radelet stressed the importance of tackling these issues through a bottom-up approach in order to directly help communities adapt to them.
“In order to address the next development problem, wherever it comes from … we will need to help vulnerable communities develop an approach to adaptation that manages uncertainty and fosters resilience. That has to be at the community level,” Hessler-Radelet said.
As an example, Hessler-Radelet cited the Peace Corps’ “Stomping Out Malaria in Africa” initiative from 2011, which used community-based approaches to significantly decrease malaria mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hessler-Radelet then shifted the discussion to the use of technology in achieving development goals for rural communities.
“As we move forward, it’s really a priority to make sure that technology and innovation are woven through all of our work,” Hessler-Radelet said. “Our communities need to become digitally literate so that they can access the tools and services that they need that will help them develop.”
As a final point on the future of development, Hessler-Radelet emphasized the Peace Corps’ goal in establishing relationships with its beneficiaries to help them discover their potential.
“The beauty of the Peace Corps service is that most of us work with young people … [who] grow up to be leaders in their countries,” Hessler-Radelet said. “The greatest tragedy in the world is not poverty … [but] the lack of dignity, opportunity and hope. Peace Corps volunteers nurture the leaders of tomorrow. … Peace Corps volunteers identify potential.”
Paola Capo (SFS ’17) said that she enjoyed the event as an opportunity for former, accepted and prospective Peace Corps volunteers to come together.
“I really enjoyed the event, especially because I’ve had Peace Corps in mind for some time now,” Capo said. “Just seeing all the former Peace Corps volunteers as well as those who have recently been accepted to the Peace Corps come together for this event was heartwarming.”
However, Capo said that the speech did not suggest any concrete courses of action for the Peace Corps to achieve its goals.
“I wish she would have expanded a bit more on specific measures the Peace Corps will take as problems arise, instead of just saying that they would adjust when the problems come along,” Capo said. “However, I think the attitude is a good one, and it will be exciting to see what reforms continue to occur in order to improve the service the Peace Corps provides.”
Andrew O’Brien (MSB ’18) said that the speech shed light on the impact of the Peace Corps in shaping the United States’ diplomatic relations with other nations.
“I never realized the scope and influence of the Peace Corps in the international community, and what a role the organization plays in shaping foreign opinion of the United States,” O’Brien said. “The fact that 12 African presidents have attributed a large part of their success to Peace Corps volunteers says a lot about the lasting impact that just a few committed volunteers can have on foreign politics.”