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An Initiative to Establish a
Foundation for International Understanding

Motivated by the rise in anti-American sentiment around the world and the need to bridge the gap in understanding across borders, the Center for the Study of the Presidency is developing the architecture for a proposed Foundation for International Understanding (FIU). As an independent grant-making foundation, the FIU would support the production and international distribution of media productions that expand knowledge and appreciation of the world's cultures, while providing alternatives to the misperceptions that Americans and other peoples often have of one another. The FIU would not produce or disseminate these media productions; rather, it would provide grants to marshal talent and expertise from the private sector to do so.

The Global Communications Challenge

At a time when multilateral cooperation is indispensable for advancing critical international objectives - such as combating terrorist networks, halting the spread of avian influenza and other diseases, and promoting economic development and representative governance - widespread anti-Americanism undermines efforts to meet these and other global challenges. Legitimate differences over U.S. foreign policies and America's role in the world explain much of this resentment. However, the misinformed and distorted images that people around the world often have of America, and that Americans frequently have of other cultures, constitute a more insidious force that undermines the foundations of mutual respect and civil discourse.

Much of the world's exposure to America, and much of America's exposure to the world, comes from popular entertainment and news media. Although many high-quality productions are available on the international media market, audiences also have access to misleading programming that reinforces stereotypes and exaggerates negative aspects of different societies. As communication expands across borders, these images exert growing influence on popular perceptions at home and abroad.

Inspiring Creative Solutions

Taking advantage of the global reach and influence of the media and entertainment industries, the Foundation for International Understanding would support media productions that promote mutual understanding and shared learning across borders. In addition to providing grants for radio and television productions, the FIU would support programming for new innovative media, including Internet productions, educational video games, and "cyber classrooms" for distance learning. The FIU would not produce, distribute, or broadcast this programming. Instead, it would use its grant resources to marshal the creative talent of producers, educators, artists, writers, and broadcasters around the world.

The FIU would place special emphasis on:

Co-Productions and Joint Projects – Collaborative efforts between American and overseas partners enhance the quality and credibility of programming, while encouraging cross-border cooperation.

Interactive Programming – Direct interaction between Americans and their counterparts abroad encourages open dialogue and mutual learning.

Educational and Instructional Programming – Shared aspirations are promoted through the acquisition of practical knowledge and technical skills that are valued across cultures.

The FIU would be founded as an independent not-for-profit organization with tax-exempt status. It would serve as a pubic-private partnership, utilizing public funding while mobilizing resources from corporate sponsors, private foundations, and other sources.

The Center’s Role

In July 2003, following a year-long initiative to revitalize America's ability to communicate with and engage Muslim societies, we at the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP) released our report, Strengthening U.S.-Muslim Communications. Among its many recommendations, this report included a proposal, originally put forward by the Council on Foreign Relations, to create a "Corporation for Public Diplomacy." This proposed independent non-profit corporation would be tasked with marshaling expertise and financial resources from the private sector to help America meet the global communications challenge.

Later in the summer of 2003, CSP President David Abshire served on the Congressionally mandated Advisory Group on U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World, chaired by Ambassador Edward Djerejian. The Advisory Group also endorsed the concept of a Corporation for Public Diplomacy and incorporated this proposal into its October 2003 report, Changing Minds, Winning Peace. In February 2004, Ambassadors Djerejian and Abshire testified about this and other Advisory Group recommendations before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce. Following their testimony, Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf requested that CSP develop a business plan for the proposed corporation. Congress subsequently earmarked funds in the FY 2005 appropriations bill to support our efforts.

In response, we organized an informal advisory group of producers, educators, international communications professionals, and specialists in global media markets and innovative media technologies. After extensive consultations with our advisory group and Members of Congress, we tightened the Council on Foreign Relations' original proposal and recast the proposed Corporation for Public Diplomacy as a grant-making "Foundation for International Understanding" (FIU). For the remainder of 2005 we will continue to convene working sessions of our advisory group to determine the FIU's operating plan, organizational structure, and financial requirements. The final business plan will be completed by January 15, 2006.

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