Hugh Pickens (Peru 1970-73) who started www.peacecorpsonline.org back in the early days of 2001 as a news service to the Peace Corps community has collected the various documents relating to what Aaron Williams should do, now that he is about to be sworn in as the new director. Check out the ideas at:
Archives for Peace Corps today
Federal law permits only two commemorative coins a year and for 2011 a silver dollar for the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps has already been stuck….the second silver dollar is the 200th anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s birth.
Beyond the PCVs of Nigeria in the fall of 1961, there are other examples of how PCVs kept the Peace Corps going in the early days of the agency, and there is no better example than what a group of brave Volunteers did in the Dominican Republic in the spring of ‘65.
Let’s look at how individual PCVs in the field were as important as early Peace Corps Staff in keeping the agency, alive, well, and on its own. We have to remember that regardless of the administrations who are in power, it is Peace Corps Volunteers who are the heart and soul, and the only reason for the agency. Here is the story of the Dominican Republican Volunteers of 1965.
Back then the PCVs of the DR were overwhelmingly against the 1963 right-wing military coup that overthrew Juan Bosch’s newly elected, leftist government (which had invited the Peace Corps to the country). These Volunteers lived and worked among the poor, they were working to remove the stain of the US’s long standing support for Rafael Trujillo, and when the civil war broke out in ‘65 the Volunteers sympathized with the “legitimatist” rebels.
Then President Johnson sent in 500 Marines “to protect American lives” and the American forces quickly increased to 22,000 [are we talking surge here?] The Volunteers opposed the occupation, the deception, and the Marines. Clearly it was not the danger to American lives in the DR that worried Johnson, as Harris Wofford would write in his book Of Kennedys & Kings, but the fear of a radical regime that kept his troops there. It was the first such intervention in Latin America since the ill-fated U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1925.
Guess what? With fighting all around them, the PCVs wouldn’t leave. No, way. Tad Szulc of The New York Times would write, “These brave young Americans had refused to be evacuated from war-torn Santo Domingo and had gone on working in the hospitals and elsewhere despite the fight and the mounting resentment in the rebel zone against the United States intervention…”
Later [after the U.S. government realized how loved the PCVs were by the people] the State Department proposed that Volunteers be assigned to work with the U.S. Special Forces, the Green Berets, and when the scheme was put to the Peace Corps, the answer from Frank Mankiewicz, who was running the Latin American region was, in a message personally approved by Sarge Shriver: “Not only no, but hell no!”
The PCVs kept at their jobs and in the midst of the fighting. When Volunteers had to move from one place to anther, signs were held up by the rebels to stop shooting, that the American Peace Corps were walking by, and Volunteers moved safely in the slums where they were living their lives working with the people.
A few weeks into the fighting, the respected chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico, Jaime Benitez, who was then serving as an adviser to McGeorge Bundy, and who was in the Dominican Republic seeking a negotiated settlement, suggested that the DR would be better off if the respective numbers of PCVs and Marines on the island were reversed. It never happened, of course.
And that thinking by our government, of course, is why we invaded Iraq. At the end the Marines left the DR and the Volunteers stayed and kept working.
The success and secret of the Peace Corps has always been the work of the individual PCV who couldn’t care less about Washington, or for that matter, the APCD. [Those PCVs don't mind if the APCD is buying the beer.]
Yes, we have had many losers PCVs among us, God’s knows! But for the most part, and for most Volunteers, the work has been done, the effort made, and those first friendships with the HCNs continue for many of us today. Throughout all these years, we had done what Kennedy first asked us to over four decades ago, we have tried to make a difference, and we didn’t ask for honor or praise or anything else, but we are not going to let a bunch of political hacks in D.C. ruin our Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps Volunteers of the Dominican Republic proved that in 1965 when they stood up to the Marines, when they stood up to LBJ, and when they told the world they won’t leave their jobs, they won’t leave the DR. No they won’t leave. Not only no, but hell no!
We now have a former DR PCV– Aaron Williams–as the new Peace Corps Director! We have come full circle.
A lot I’d say. Williams is a Chicago kid. He graduated from Chicago State University in 1967 with a B.S. in Education and Geography. Next he was in the DR as a PCV from 1967-70. When he returned home, he worked for the Peace Corps in Chicago and Washington (1970-71) as the Coordinator of Minority Recruitment, then went to the University of Wisconsin for his MBA in Marketing and International Business, graduating in ‘73. He is fluent in Spanish and also speaks French.
He worked in Minneapolis with General Mills before beginning a long USAID career with various positions and stationed in Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, Barbados and South Africa. In 1998, he went to Baltimore as the Executive Vice President of the International Youth Foundation.
He has received the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award in 1998, and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service in 1992 and 1988 for his government service.
A board member of the NPCA since 2006, he is also a member of the Society for International Development among other organizaitons.
In 2002, he went to work for RTI International. The international development side of RTI is (according to their website) “dedicated to improving the human condition in developing countries. With more than 200 international development staff members based around the world, we deliver advisory and training services at the national, sub-national, and local government levels, providing institutional development through the transfer of analytical tools and methods. We often work in multidisciplinary teams that cut across traditional sector boundaries.”
Their clients are: are (of course) the United States Agency for International Development, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and several agencies of the United Nations, as well as foundations and other regional and international organizations.
Married to Rosa Maria Williams, they have two sons and live in Reston, Virginia.
Former Senator Harris Wofford, a key architect of the Peace Corps in the days of Sarge Shriver, will introduce Aaron William (Dominican Republic 1967-70) to be the next Director of the Peace Corps this Wednesday afternoon in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Hearing will be held at 2:30 PM in Room 419. Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966-68) will preside over the Hearing.
Wofford, who was the CD in Ethiopia (1962-64), then worked in Peace Corps Washington before becoming the founding president of SUNY Old Westbury. From 1970 to 1978 he was president of Bryn Mawr College. Later Wofford chaired the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, and in 1991 he became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania since 1962.
During most of the Clinton years, Harris headed the Corporation for National Service. An early supporter of President Obama, Wofford campaigned for Obama in Pennsylvania, and introduced Obama at the historic address given by Obama on race relations after Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. comments.
If you have nothing better to do–or if you have something better—what would be best is if you dropped by the Capitol Visitor Center today, Wednesday, July 22, at 2:30 for an hour long reception that the Peace Corps is throwing for the Capital Hill Staff and Interns to try and talk them into joining the Peace Corps (no wonder Congress can’t get anything done; they are always partying in the middle of the day.)
Telling tall tales from when they were PCVs will be Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966-68); and Congressmen: Tom Petri (Somalia 1966-68); Sam Farr (Colombia 1964-66); Mike Honda (El Salvador 1966-67); and Steve Driehaus (Senegal 1988-90).
If you want to contact HQ for details on this reception email:Dwesterhof@peacecorps.gov. The agency expects about 200 (not counting you) to show up.
And if you go, look for Allison Price, who runs the Peace Corps’ Office of Communications, say hello and ask her a difficult question, or just give her a hard time.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2009
President Obama Announces Intent to Nominate Aaron Williams as Director of the Peace Corps
WASHINGTON, DC - President Obama today announced his intent to nominate Aaron Williams to be Director of the Peace Corps.
President Obama said, “America was built on a belief that the best progress comes from ordinary citizens working to bring about the change they believe in. Through a lifetime of service, Aaron Williams has embodied the very best of that American ideal. I am grateful for his service and honored to nominate him to direct the critical work of the Peace Corps.”
The announcement comes as the President prepares to throw out the first pitch at tonight’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game and appear in a video with all five living presidents to spotlight the stories of five of Major League Baseball’s “All-Stars Among Us,” Americans who have undertaken extraordinary service in their communities. Answering the President’s call to service through United We Serve, Major League Baseball has dedicated this year’s All-Star Game and the events surrounding it to highlighting the critical importance of community service. United We Serve is the President’s initiative encouraging all Americans to engage in sustained and meaningful service in their communities.
Aaron Williams, Nominee for Director of the Peace Corps
Currently a Vice President for International Business Development with RTI International, Aaron Williams has over 25 years of experience in the design and implementation of worldwide assistance programs. As a senior manager at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where he attained the rank of Career Minister in the US Senior Foreign Service, and as Executive Vice President at the International Youth Foundation, Mr. Williams established innovative public-private partnerships around the world. As USAID Mission Director in South Africa, Mr. Williams led a billion dollar foreign assistance program during President Nelson Mandela’s administration. In addition to his work in South Africa, he has extensive experience in the strategic design and management of assistance programs in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East; including long-term assignments in Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica, and Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean islands region. In addition to his tenure with USAID, Mr. Williams served on the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid at USAID. Mr. Williams was awarded the USAID Distinguished Career Service Award and the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service twice. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he serves on the Advisory Board of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, the Board of Directors of CARE, and the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association. Mr. Williams served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic (1967-70). Upon completing his service, he became the Coordinator of Minority Recruitment and Project Evaluation Officer for the Peace Corps in Chicago (1970-71). Mr. Williams is fluent in Spanish. He is a graduate of Chicago State University, and has an MBA from the University of Wisconsin.
A Washington friend of Babbles dropped us a note with some interesting, and unsubstantiated, gossip:
At a Washington dinner party over the weekend with journalists and Capital Hill staff types, I heard two bits of gossip which intrigued me.
The first is that the $450 million Peace Corps appropriation may be in trouble because, as one staffer told me, “The director of the Peace Corps hasn’t made a personal visit to Senator Leahy asking for the money.”
“Humm,” I replied, “There is no Director of the Peace Corps. Obama hasn’t appointed one yet. I’m not sure the acting director is expected to do that sort of thing.”
This stumped my source who said he was just repeating Hill gossip that Leahy was somehow offended. So never mind all the lofty arguments about Peace Corps needing a larger appropriation, it may come down to ego and a protocol misstep.
The second point has to do with lack of action on the Peace Corps director. ”If you think that is a problem, what about USAID?” said this staffer. “They are still waiting on a director too.” And the problem is that State — and more specifically, at least in this telling, Clinton — keeps vetoing names being sent down from the White House. The reason: Hillary wants to keep a tight hold of USAID, a nominally independent agency, and that’s easier to do with no director in place, especially a director who has tight links to the White House. Perhaps the same is true of the Peace Corps director.
Any of this true? Who knows, but the talk is delicious.
Step # 10:Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Save Money, Improve The Agency, and Make All PCVs & RPCVs Happy!
Step # 10: Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Save Money, Improve The Agency, and Make All PCVs & RPCVs Happy!
There is a story told that when Sarge Shriver was first presented with an organization chart of the new agency, he turned it upside down, placing the PCVs at the top and told his staff that in the Peace Corps everyone worked for the Volunteers.
It has been a long time since the Peace Corps has been run this was. We have come, too, a long way from when Shriver ran the agency from the fifth floor of the old Maitatico Building drawing to him the best and the brightest of the young and talented arriving in Washington with John F. Kennedy’s administration, men and women like Harris Wofford, Warren Wiggins, Charlie Peters, Bill Josephson, Bill Haddad, Franklin Williams, Betty Harris, George Carter, Nan McEvoy, Dick Ottinger, Nancy Gore, Sally Bowles, Doug Kiker, Glenn Ferguson, and, of course, Bill Moyers. These were the best and the brightest and they would go on to become senators, ambassadors, congressmen, novelists, corporate executives, college presidents, television journalists, political operatives, non-profit executives, and to start award winning magazines of their own.
The list of pioneers is long, and there are many more names I could add. I could add the names of the first Volunteers who joined the agency in those early years when no one knew if serving in the Peace Corps might be a black mark on their careers for the rest of their lives.
The “Peace Corps” was so new in the early Sixties, so untested, so revolutionary (yes, children, in its day, it truly was) that these Volunteers were pinning their lives and ambitions on an idea that was scorned by many, laughed at by people who ‘knew better,’ the subject of cartoons in newspapers, and made a joke of on Jack Parr’s late night television show.
My wife, Judy, who never was a PCV (Forgive me, Farther, but yes, I did marry outside the Peace Corps) has over the years listened endlessly to my long ago Shriver stories, but she had never met the man.
Then she had her first exposure to Sarge at a fund raising dinner for the forerunner of the NPCA, a dinner organized by Tim Carroll (Nigeria 1964-66) and Maureen Orth (Colombia 1964-66), and attended by just about every famous RPCV from Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) to Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967-69) and when Shriver spoke to the crowd she, too, was caught up, as we were all once again, with his charm and good humor and his way of looking at the world as a place where change happens, where we all could make a difference with what we did with our lives.
That night in Washington when we stood to cheer Sarge, and, in truth, to cheer our ‘better angels,” Judy turned to me and nodded knowingly that now she understood how all of us in the Sixties were swept up by this man’s personality and would follow him to the ends of the earth as Peace Corps Volunteers.
Obama has given us hope again and a glimpse of what it was like once in the time of Kennedy’s Camelot, the thousand days of the New Frontier. What Obama needs now, what we need now for the Peace Corps, is someone who can turn around the tide of apathy towards the agency in Congress, who can bring back to Washington the spark that lit a thousand fires in the villages of the world, someone who can make the Peace Corps matter.
Let me close my list of 10 Steps with a story told and retold in the old days of Peace Corps/Washington and then committed to paper in Coates Redmon (PW/Staff 1961-65 ) charming history of the early days of the agency, Come As You Are.
The story goes this way.
Tom Mathews was at a ski resort in Utah in February 1961, sitting in the lodge’s bar after a late day run. He ordered a drink, then glanced around the room, looking for a familiar face. He spotted instead the newly famous figure of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, also in ski clothes. It was odd, Mathews thought, that McNamara would be in the bar. The New Frontier was known to be notoriously workaholic, so what was President Kennedy’s top Pentagon man during in Utah two months after the historic inauguration?
The telephone behind the bar rang and the bartender answered it casually, then began nodding earnestly, suddenly turning and announcing, “Washington is calling.”
McNamara rose immediately and reached across the bar to take the call.
“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary,” explained the bartender. “It’s not for you. It’s for Tom.”
Tom Mathews took the phone, baffled as who might be wanting him. He didn’t know anyone in Washington or with the new administration.
A voice full of energy and impatience rang across the phone line. “Tom, this is Sarge Shriver calling from the Peace Corps in Washington. I’ve heard a lot of great things about you, and I want you to come work with us and help put this new thing together. How soon can you get here? What about tomorrow?”
“Well,” said the utterly flummoxed Mathews, “I’m on vacation and I have nothing but ski clothes and a bad sunburn.”
“That’s fine, Tom. Come as you are. Seeya tomorrow.” Click.
The next day, Tom Mathews arrived on the fifth floor of the Maitatico Building. He was still in his ski clothes and he went to work for the Peace Corps as deputy director of Public Information.
Let President Obama, on this the 175thDay since his own inauguration, appoint another Sarge Shriver to run the Peace Corps and the best and the brightest of this generation will come as they are to change the world.
I received an email today that I’d like to share with you. Dave Berlew, the Peace Corps CD in Ethiopia (1965-68), was in his professional life a PhD from Harvard in behavioral science and a management consultant in his career. He wrote to say what he thought of my Step #9 for the Peace Corps. Take a look.
John, your list qualities for CD (Country Director) candidates, while on the one hand humorous, is also pretty close to the mark if you look at it as a Gestalt rather than item by item. But there are more systematic ways of approaching the CD assessment problem.
In late 1964 I traveled to Washington to interview with Shriver for the Director of Selection position. When I got there he told me had filled the position the day before with the head selection guy at Exxon Corporation. When he offered me the job as Deputy Director of Selection, being young and full of oats (or something else), I told him I wasn’t interested in being a number two. A few months later he called and offered me a CD job. I concluded that Shriver was a genius at recognizing talent and didn’t need a new approach for selecting CDs. But he is no longer head of the PC, and now we do.
The Country Director Job
When I was a CD I found most of my time taken up by three core challenges or tasks. The first was engaging PC values in volunteers and trying to keep them salient. In the Sixties, we had PCVs who joined the PC to avoid Vietnam, many of whom were openly cynical. Bringing to the surface their latent values related to serving the less fortunate was the primary leadership task. This task requires leadership and communication skills. Even today, I’m sure there are many PC recruits whose primary motivation isn’t service
A second focus was creating a culture where PCVs felt reasonably secure, recognized as individuals, and above all, challenged. As a CD I spent 50% of my time doing the work of a dean of students, a job requiring interpersonal skills such as listening, guiding and occasionally tough love. Perhaps with older volunteers now, that isn’t as important, but I somehow doubt it.
The third core task was dealing with Ministries, the US Embassy and PC/Washington. This can’t be done effectively by someone who is either intimidated by authority or whose first impulse is to push back.
Some may wonder why I didn’t list management as a core task. I didn’t find managing a 600 volunteer program particularly challenging; it’s a relatively simple organization and you don’t have to make a profit. And with a Deputy Director and Administrative Officer, I had lots of help.
A Systematic Selection Process
What I have described above is only a cursory analysis of a CD’s job requirements over 40 years ago. I believe the importance of the CD position requires a more scientific approach to selection. Such an approach would involve three key tasks.
Job Analysis: The first step is to identify the demands of the CD job. What kind of environment will a CD be operating in? What problem and issues will he or she confront? What kind of experience, skills, and personal skills will the CD need to excel? When, in the early 1950s, AT&T realized it had to dramatically change its corporate culture to continue to be successful, a high level task force spent a year visualizing the business and social climate 20 years hence, and then identifying the skills, values and other personal attributes required to lead and manage successfully in that environment. Example: No bias against women or minorities.
Selecting/Designing Assessment Tools: The second step, best done by psychologists, consists of identifying the best way to measure the critical skills, values and other attributes a CD will need to excel at the challenges and key tasks identified in the first step. This should include a variety of assessment tools, such as personality tests, individual and group tasks, individual and small group simulations and carefully structured interviews. Example: A simulation in which a candidate must influence someone they believe to be a high level Foreign Embassy and/or Peace Corps official.
Candidate Assessment: The third step is the actual assessment of CD candidates. This is best done using an assessment center approach where a group of 8-10 CD (or APCD) candidates and a trained cadre of PC Staff and assessment psychologists are brought together for three or four days in a residential setting. This arrangement makes possible the use of realistic small group tasks and simulations, with or without competition, as well as the opportunity for the staff to interact informally with the candidates and watch them interact with each other. Using the assessment tools selected in Step 2, the staff develops a profile of each candidate’s attributes which can then be compared with the profile of job challenges and tasks developed in Step 1. The best assessment centers spend the last half day giving extensive feedback to each candidates so those who are successful can see where they will have to focus extra effort to succeed in one or more aspects of their new job, and unsuccessful candidates will come away viewing it as a valuable learning experience. Example: Candidate depends too heavily on logical persuasion as an influence technique. Is uncomfortable being assertive, is not good at drawing other people out, and lacks charisma.
The methodology I have described was first used to select Professional Luftwaffe Officers, and in WWII was adapted by the OSS to select agents. A modification of this approach is now used by many US and international corporations. My oldest son went through a selection process before becoming a Foreign Service Officer which, according to him, included a number of simulations and group tasks.
In the past, the PC has spent much more effort and money selecting PCVs than CDs. I think it’s time to reverse that ratio.
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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