The 2023 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs (CDIA) was a collaborative effort by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Global Access Pipeline, and the International Career Advancement Program, generously funded by the Ford Foundation. All CDIA 2023 content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
LINDSAY: Hello, everyone. It is my great pleasure to welcome you all, both here in person in Washington, DC and joining us through the miracle of technology virtually, to the eleventh annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs.
America’s racial and ethnic makeup has changed dramatically over the last five decades. The ethnic and racial makeup of America’s foreign policy community, however, has not. And the composition of that foreign policy community is not likely to change significantly without a dedicated effort to identify talented members of underrepresented groups, expose them to career possibilities in foreign policy, and actively recruit them to positions in the community. That is the reason we hold the conference on diversity in international affairs every year. We are seeking to highlight opportunities for careers in foreign policy and to help participants learn about the skills needed to succeed in a field that is critical to the country’s success in the world.
On that score, we encourage everyone here in person to attend the panels we are holding today and tomorrow. Many very talented people have agreed to share their experiences and insights on foreign policy with us. But just as important, we encourage all of you to connect with each other. Building a network is critical to succeeding in the foreign policy field, just as it is in any other field. And this is a great opportunity to make contacts and to make friends.
This conference, like any other important venture, reflects the adage that it takes a village. CFR has benefitted enormously from closely on the conference with two outstanding organizations that share our commitment to diversity—the Global Access Pipeline, GAP for short, and the International Career Advancement Program, ICAP. For those of you who are unfamiliar with GAP, it is a collaborative network of organizations forming a pipeline for underrepresented groups in the United States, from elementary school to senior leadership positions. ICAP is a professional development and leadership program for promising mid-career professionals in international affairs in the United States.
I want to thank the GAP and ICAP teams for their work on the conference and for their broader work on diversity. It is to be applauded. Let me say here, perhaps the people in the room could stand up. I want to say thank you to Bunmi Akinnus—I was going to do this right, and I botched it. I apologize, Bunmi. Buni Akinnusotu, Wida Amir, Zarina Durrani, Hermes Grullon, Lily Lopez-McGee, Marsha Michel, and Norma Toussaint, if you could stand up and people could applaud—(applause)—your great work, thank you. All of us also owe a special thank-you to Tom Rowe, who oversees both GAP and ICAP. (Cheers, applause.) Tom, if you could stand up. Tom's commitment to increasing the diversity in the foreign policy community is longstanding and has been an inspiration to all of us. And so I want to say, Tom, thank you. We appreciate it.
I also want to thank my many wonderful colleagues here at the Council on Foreign Relations, particularly in CFR’s Meetings Program and the Events team for planning this important event, to being able to bring all of you together. So thank you to Nancy Bodurtha, Stacey LaFollette, Monica Bailey, Teagan Judd, Connor Sutherland, and Krista Wessel. If you want to stand up so people can see you, and we can applaud. (Applause.) I also want to thank Shira Schwartz, my colleague in CFR’s Studies Program. Shira’s commitment to this conference over the years has been critical to its success. So thank you, Shira. I certainly hope she's in the room. (Applause.) Let me conclude by thanking the Ford Foundation, which provided generous support to make this year's conference possible. We really appreciate their support for this important initiative.
But enough from me. And without further ado, I'd like to turn things over to Leila Fadel, who will moderate today's discussion with Senator Tammy Duckworth. It will be a stimulating conversation. (Applause.) Thank you, Senator.
FADEL: Good morning. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations keynote session with Senator Tammy Duckworth, who's fresh off a boat and got here in time—we somehow got here in time. I'm Leila Fadel, host of Morning Edition and Up First at NPR. So if you need a face to put with the voice, here I am. (Laughter.) Before we start, I think I would—I'm not sure how much of an introduction you have had. But I'll just run a little bit through your—
DUCKWORTH: Don’t quote the version that my mom wrote. (Laughter.) That’s, like, eight pages long.
FADEL: But I called her this morning, and basically there's no time for questions. (Laughter.) So it's a true pleasure to be presiding over this discussion. I think what's noteworthy here is that Senator Duckworth’s life in public service started long before she got to Congress. In 2004, she was among the first women to fly combat missions into Iraq. In 2004, her Black Hawk was hit by an RPG and she survived, but lost both her legs and a partial use of her right arm. She continued to serve in the reserve forces for twenty-three years, retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel. She's a Purple Heart recipient, the former U.S. assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and she represented Illinois's eighth congressional district in the U.S. House for two terms before now serving as a senator from Illinois. Thank you so much for joining us. (Applause.)
DUCKWORTH: Thank you. My pleasure.
FADEL: So I think I’d love to start with looking out at this audience. It is young. It is diverse. It is the future. And I think that you can agree with me on that. And so I'd love to really talk about your path to where you are today, how you decided to run for office, how you found your calling.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, looking out at this audience, this audience does not look anything like the United States Senate. (Laughter.) There are literally as many White men named John in the Senate as there are people of color. (Laughter.)
FADEL: Oh, wow.
DUCKWORTH: Go ahead and count through, literally.
FADEL: Is that true?
DUCKWORTH: That's true.
FADEL: I’m going to check those numbers. (Laughter.)
DUCKWORTH: That’s true. And so, for me it was always about an opportunity coming my way, and not saying no to it, and not self-selecting myself out of it. So when I was a young person going through ROTC, and it came time to be commissioned into the Army, you had to choose what career field you wanted. And I went ahead and took the aptitude test for helicopter pilots, and I scored off the charts on it. And when I got to flight school it was very interesting, because there's only two women at my flight school the entire year that I was there. And there were thousands of men. And there was two women. The other one became a bridesmaid at my wedding. (Laughter.) So you kind of, like, bond as sisters, like, you know, we’re the survivors together.
But the instructors would come up to us and say: Do you know any other women in the Army who would actually just take the test so that we can see how well they would do on it? Because women don't take the test. They don't think of themselves as being able to do this, or that this is even a valid career field for them in the military. And he says, if they do—when they show up here, they're better natural pilots on day one than men are. Men are really good at focusing. Like, if you tell a guy, take that bridge, destroy that bunker, he's going to go get that done.
But if you want someone to fly a helicopter, where you're controlling the tail with your foot pedals, the motion up and down with your left hand, the motion through the air with your right hand, talk to the other pilot, talk to the crew behind, you read the map, operate the radios, and talk to the ground commander and air traffic controller, you want someone who can multitask. And that's a woman. (Laughter.) But they do say that women naturally, the aptitude is there but we don't take the test.
And similarly, when I was asked to run for Congress, I said “yes” the first time I was asked. Emily's List, which helps women—supports women running for office, in all of their studies it shows that women have to be asked seven times to run before they finally say “yes.”
FADEL: Wow. Why do you think that is? I mean, in those moments where you look at a room and you don't see anybody else that looks like you, how do you say “yes”? When do you make a room welcoming? I mean, how—I think that can be very much an obstacle for a lot of people, feeling, well, I don't see anybody else like me here, so maybe I don't belong here.
DUCKWORTH: Well, you probably don't belong there. But—(laughter)—but in the room—in the room, the way it is configured. But you have to make a place there for you and for other people like you to be in that room. You have to change that room and so, yeah. I've often—you know, I was the first woman to command a Black Hawk company in my battalion in Illinois. And I took extra good care of my men, I made sure in a cold, Chicago winters that I had hot cocoa for them. You don't want—you don't want caffeine, because when you fly close formations, you don't want to get the jitters. And they started calling me—the guys started calling me the mommy platoon leader.
And they meant it as an insult. And I accepted it as an insult. And so as if I wasn't as tough as the guys, or, you know, that I was getting to be, you know, too wishy-washy. Or, oh, she's worried about the guys being comfortable. They're soldiers. They're warriors. You know, they should be tough. I took away the hot cocoa. And then I realized that my readiness rates fell because my crews were cold in the Chicago winter, and that they were deadlier and more able to carry out the missions when they were warm and comfortable. So I brought out the hot cocoa again. But I had to change that environment, because if I accepted the definition of what that environment is supposed to be for the people who were there, then I would never have been able to stay in that room.
FADEL: And you are a person of many firsts. I'm just going to share a few of those firsts. The first woman with a disability elected to Congress. The first Thai American woman elected to Congress. The first senator to give birth in office. The first double amputee in the Senate. And that's just a few of the firsts that you are. What is it that you brought to Congress that, frankly, wasn't there before you got there?
DUCKWORTH: I think just me being there makes a difference. Just as the people in this room, I look out at you, and so many places where you're going to go, especially if you go into the foreign affairs field, foreign relations fields, you're going to be that difference. You're going to be that one—this one thing is not like the others in those rooms that you're going to show up in. And that's important. The reason that I was the first senator—sitting senator to give birth is because I was the first woman who was of childbearing age to be elected to be a United States senator.
FADEL: Wow. (Applause.)
DUCKWORTH: Right? And I wasn't really of childbearing age because I gave birth two weeks after I turned fifty. Thank God for IVF. (Laughter.) Which tells you what is wrong with the United States Senate because it doesn't reflect America. Because who has been in the Senate? Men, right? And, I mean, they've been having babies for 200 years, but the first to actually give birth was because there has not been women elected to the Senate and any real numbers, and really no younger women elected to the Senate. And that means that the Senate is hampered because it can't truly reflect the population of our great nation if there's nobody there representing everybody.
FADEL: Mmm hmm. Now, obviously, we're at the Council on Foreign Relations, and among people who are interested in entering or a part of foreign policy circles right now. And this year, you sit on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
DUCKWORTH: Yes. I had to wait six years.
FADEL: Six years. And is this a committee that you had been wanting to sit on.
DUCKWORTH: It has been. I mean, it’s one of those committees that got to wait for someone to die or retire before you can get on it. (Laughter.) You got to knock somebody off. But, yes, I had to wait six years.
FADEL: Which she did. (Laughter.) But so when you assumed that position, you said, quote, “Our nation’s standing globally is critical to ensuring we remain able to compete in the 21st century.” What is the biggest challenge for the U.S. when it comes to economic competition on the global stage? Now that you're on this committee, what are you thinking about here?
DUCKWORTH: Part of it is presence in the region. We focus—I sit on the Armed Services Committee as well. And there is a real focus on national security, the presence of U.S. troops, more military training exercises, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. But we’ve not been there engaging with our values in a non-military way for a long time. But we've sort of been a presence—our businesses have been there, especially in the Indo-Pacific, but we really have not engaged in the way that we did—with the Peace Corps, and USAID, and had those budgets behind those programs—in the way that we did post-Vietnam, for example.
I remember growing up in Southeast Asia post-Vietnam. And people loved America. And people wanted to come to America. And they wanted to send their kids to America to go to school. They wanted to be like us. Not because we had this great almighty, you know, military. I mean, we just lost a war. They loved us because of our values and what we stood for, for the Peace Corps being there, for the aid that we brought, for the fact that we opened our doors and brought in as many refugees, and were welcoming, and welcome people to be American. That's why people loved us. And we've moved so far away from that now.
FADEL: Has that image significantly changed, do you think, abroad today in 2023?
DUCKWORTH: I think it has changed significantly, but I think not irreversibly. If you go into Asia, for example—and I'm speaking about Asia because this is my area of expertise, but I think we have an even greater challenge in Africa. And we have the same types of challenges, we need to engage even more there. But in Asia, if you go and you and you poll people in the Philippines, people in Vietnam, people in Indonesia, who do they look up to? They look up to us still, especially among the young—the younger generations. And so that residual, positive feeling for America is still there. And we need to build that back up.
And the best way to do that is just send Americans back out there and engage with the world, and to send Americans of all backgrounds, and all races, and all religions. This is—this room is our greatest wealth. It's not how many tanks, and helicopters, and F 35 fighter jets can we buy at $300 million a pop. It's how many Americans from as many different experiences as we—can we get back overseas, engaging with the world. This is our greatest power.
FADEL: You talk about the Indo-Pacific region is your area of expertise. And when you look at the global stage, China has really been growing not just economically but also in the way that it has worked diplomatically. We saw them mediate a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. There's a lot of concern right now in Taiwan as they look at Ukraine and Russia and what that might be telling China vis-à-vis Taiwan. I'm curious how you think the U.S. should be engaging in the Indo-Pacific region, and specifically when it comes to countering not just the economic power that China has, but the global influence that seems to be growing?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, I think the PRC’s—and I say PRC intentionally, because with the rise in anti-Asian hate in this country and anti-China rhetoric, Chinese Americans get swept up into that hate. And so I'm very careful about saying the PRC, the PRC government, the Chinese Communist Party. But I don't talk about the Chinese people because we have Chinese Americans, and we need to separate that.
I do think that the PRC government and its various arms of that government is very transactional. And so when they do engage in the Indo-Pacific region, they don't generate the kind of goodwill that we generate in our interactions. And that is why you still have this residual positive feeling about Americans. And it's why, you know, I've met with Cambodians, and met with the Vietnamese delegation from the Foreign Relations Committee today. They want America to stay engaged, because our interactions are very different than those of the PRC. The PRC is much more transactional. Yes, they're mediating things, but that is at a very particular level. It's not at a people-to-people level.
And even, for example, when they do military training, we have a program called IMET, which is where we provide foreign military members the opportunity to come to the United States for military education. So they can—we give them a four-year scholarship to West Point, or to Annapolis, or one of these programs, or to the War College. Those relationships that are built there last an entire lifetime. And those foreign officers grow up remembering the good times that they had, because when they were here they hung out with Americans, they went to the bars with their classmates and all that. When their colleagues go to a similar program in the PRC, they're locked down on military bases. They don't have the freedoms, they don't interact. And it's a very different experience than the way—the ones that they have with us.
Which is why, for example, I'm trying to expand the program to include ROTC, and also to include foreign civil servants so it's not just military. But I would love for foreign civil servants be going to American schools, and hanging out, and getting a master's and, you know, going out on Thursday night to the bars afterwards with American, you know, grads who maybe one day a GW grad will meet up with—you know, similar to a—(inaudible)—University grad, and they hung out together, and now they're both rising stars and their respective governments.
FADEL: Do you think that the US is engaged enough specifically in this region? I can think of many administrations that have talked about, we're going to pivot to Asia and then get sucked back in as top foreign policy priorities in the Middle East, or right now Ukraine and Russia? Is the U.S. engaged enough?
DUCKWORTH: I think we could do more, but I think we've done more than many others have—than previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican. Obviously, we had President Obama, who was just a superstar and people loved him whenever he went. But really, what's happening now is—with the Biden administration—is we're engaging more often at many different levels and developing those relationships, which I think is—are the ones that are going to be long lasting over time.
FADEL: So I know that we're supposed to go over to audience questions at some point, but I wasn't sure how much—we have a few more minutes? OK, good. I just didn't want to rob you of your time to ask questions.
So specifically with Taiwan, there is a lot of concern that at some point China could become—the PRC could become more aggressive towards this island. And Russia has, in many Taiwanese officials interviews that I've done, they've talked about Russia being a roadmap. Russia, invading a country that is sovereign, claiming it as its own. What can be done to deter any type of military action there?
DUCKWORTH: Well, the rest of that roadmap story, though, is the fact that the United States rallied Europe and are supporting the Ukraine to fight back. And what we do in Ukraine is being watched around the world, and in particular across Asia. Asia is watching to see what we do. Do we abandon Ukraine or do we stand up and fight with the Ukrainians, and fight with our NATO allies? And by us sticking with them, we're sending the message that we're not going to leave you either.
We had a similar experience when COVID happened. When the vaccines were first being developed, Taiwan was trying to buy vaccines and the PRC government was blockading them from being able to buy the vaccines. They were going to various countries and saying, do not sell your vaccine, AstraZeneca or any of your vaccines, to Taiwan. If you do, we will not conduct trade with you. And so the Taiwanese were finding themselves unable to buy vaccines. They weren't asking for donations. They were unable to buy vaccines.
So we—I, in a bipartisan way with Senator Sullivan from Alaska, talked to the White House and said: When we start donating vaccine, the first nation we send it to has to be Taiwan because they're the only nation in the world being blockaded from vaccines during doing a global pandemic. And I said, it's important that we send the message that we will stand with Taiwan. If we can't stand with them in the middle of a global pandemic, when will we stand with them? Which is why I was able to, along with Senator Sullivan and Senator Coons, go to Taiwan in the middle of the lockdown. We weren't even allowed to leave the airport. We were allowed to be on the ground for three hours and announce that we were donating vaccines to Taiwan.
And that was a huge, huge boost in the morale of the people of Taiwan. Because at the time the PRC was, like, running ads in Taiwan. They were saying things like America has so many vaccines we were giving it to our cats and dogs and were not giving it to Taiwan. (Laughter.) That was the kind of propaganda that was happening.
FADEL: But there's also another message that comes out of Russia and Ukraine. I did interview the foreign minister of Taiwan. He said that the United States is its greatest ally, in his view, if there were to something to happen. But he also understands that they would have to fight a ground battle on their own, that they knew that that would be something that they would have to do on their own. Is that what would happen?
DUCKWORTH: Initially, until we could get to them. I think that there is an initial defense piece that they in the first hours, until we our troops would come in from Korea, Japan and in the nearby vicinity. Hopefully, they would not be on their own for very long. Here's what we have done, though, to address that. Along with Senator Cornyn, I passed last year, the Taiwan Defense Act, which set up a partnership between our National Guard with the Taiwanese National Guard. They don't really have much of one, but they're going to stand one up. We have a program called the State Partnership for Peace, which is each state's National Guard is partnered with a foreign nation’s military. So my home state of Illinois, for example, has been training with the Polish Army, the entire Polish military for thirty years. And so I grew up as a young lieutenant, I had a Polish counterpart and we got to know each other, and that relationship is enduring.
And that is also part of why Ukraine has been able to do as well as they have, because for the last eight years they have been working very hard with American National Guard units, including from Illinois. And so we are working very hard to help Taiwan stand up its defense forces, not just with, you know, providing them with F-16s and fighter jets. Those are sexy, but what they really need is to turn into a porcupine. Which means they need anti-aircraft artillery, they need more mining, they need all of those things to make themselves into a porcupine. And we have to show them how to do it. And that's going to happen, again, at the people-to-people—the National Guard to the National Guard level on an enduring basis that goes well into the future. And we were able to pass that in a bipartisan way last year.
FADEL: When you think about the world and foreign policy, how much of your viewpoint is really colored by your time serving in the Army, and also your own personal history being born abroad, coming to the United States? How much of that is sort of part of what makes you think about this interconnected world that we live in?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think from—I always tell people, I'm really easy to figure out. I'm about defending and protecting this great nation, all right, that I was willing to die—and continue to be willing to die—to protect. And for me, though, my definition of America's might and America's strength is not just tanks and guns and helicopters. Don't get me wrong, I think tanks, guns, and especially helicopters are really sexy. (Laughter.) And I’m all for spending money on them, in a responsible way. So don't think of me—don't think that I'm a dove. I am somebody who is very much invested in our military and our resources.
But that childhood spent overseas allowed me to grow up with a view of America almost like an immigrant’s view. Because I didn't move to the U.S. till I was sixteen. I didn't speak English till I was eight years old. I followed my dad from refugee camp to refugee camp where he was working with the United Nations refugee programs bringing American aid. My childhood dream was to grow up and become an ambassador, because I remember seeing the American ambassador bringing bags of rice with the American flag on it to the Vietnamese boat people. I was in Cambodia till two weeks before the Khmer Rouge took over, because my dad was so sure that we would not abandon Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge. And we stayed there as long—I left on the last commercial flight out.
And so that viewpoint, I think—that experience has given me this understanding of America's might and America's strength is not just our hardware. It is our people. It is our values. And I see my role in Congress as really pushing and elevating that more, because I think that that has really been overlooked. It was something that we understood, I think, in the ’60s and the ’70s, but we've really moved away from that.
FADEL: Is that—in 2023, do you think that has been too much in the forefront? The hardware, the helicopters, the military might, the might of America?
DUCKWORTH: I think so. I think it has been that way for decades.
FADEL: Yeah. So at this time, I would like to invite participants to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record. And we will start with a question from our audience here in Washington, if someone has one. OK, everyone has one. This is great. (Laughter.) I think we'll start with a woman. Let's start here. Right, yeah, you right there.
Q: Hello, I'm also Leila. So that's funny.
FADEL: Oh! I knew it, that’s why I picked you. (Laughter.)
Q: Leila supremacy. (Laughter.)
Thank you for being here, Senator Duckworth. You’re super cool. (Laughter.)
I had a question about our military. And particularly, you know, we lack recruits. And we're having a hard time recruiting and preparedness because of just, like, a sheer lack of people power. And so I was wondering what you think the U.S. can do and what our strategy should be going forward, especially as we have an aging population, to keep our military fully staffed.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. So I want to keep on military an all-volunteer force. So that's one of the key things. I can give you two things that I've been working on for a long time. One more recent thing that I have done is to address the current recruiting challenge is a piece of legislation I call the Enlist Act, which allows those who have come to this country on a valid visa, but have somehow overstayed that visa or are now no longer in a legal status, and also for those who are DACA recipients, the DREAMers, also the children of folks who came here on a work visa and their children that have aged out, all of those folks to be able to enlist in the military.
And when you enlist, you have to pass all of the military entrance examinations. So you got to pass the written tests. It's math and English, written at the eighth-grade level, the physical, the background check, which goes back five years. If you meet all those standards without reducing them, you get a provisional green card upon swearing the oath. And then for that first tour of enlistment, you got to keep your nose clean. And once you have one tour that honorably served, that green cards becomes permanent. And so this is a way to get yourself right with the law. This is a way to show—there's no greater way to show your allegiance to a nation than put on her colors and being willing to defend her.
But it also I think adheres to three things that I think about when I talk about immigration. It needs to be practical. So it has to be something you can achieve, right? So telling 11 million people to self deport, that's not going to—that's not practical. It's got to be something that is humane. Separating moms from babies at the border because you think that's a deterrent, that's not humane. And it has to be fair. And this is a way for people who have broken the law to get themselves right with the law. And I will tell you that it is—in my conversations, it’s getting a lot of bipartisan support. And I'm socializing it with the Department of Defense. And it's gaining ground. So that's one way.
Another way is I have had a piece of legislation that I keep introducing every so often, and I'm working with Senator Coons on this, which is voluntary national service. And my bill would—what it would do is when somebody turns eighteen, everyone registers for selective service, male or female. Everybody registers. When you turn eighteen, you get a letter from the government. It says: Congratulations. Happy birthday. (Laughter.) Happy birthday, here are all the ways you can serve your nation.
And what you get for it? You can go to the Peace Corps. You can go to Teach for America. You can go—and these are the educational things that you get for it. You get a stipend. You get a block grant. You can serve in the military and get the GI bill. And at the end of that letter, it says: I'm not interested in serving my country, take me off this mailing list. If they do not opt out, every two years until you're thirty you get a letter in the mail. Hey, happy birthday! (Laughter.) How are you, now that you're twenty-four? Hey, happy twenty-sixth birthday. Are you in a different place at twenty-six than you were at eighteen? How about the Peace Corps now? And this would be a way to bring that universal idea of service back to America. And by the way, those public service programs have a more have a harder acceptance rate than the Ivy League universities because the slots are so few. And we need to expand them.
FADEL: Wow. That will be a hard unsubscribe. Are you not interested in serving your country and being a good citizen? (Laughter.) You would be like, ugh!
DUCKWORTH: It's the Asian mommy—it’s the Asian mommy in me coming out in the language. (Laughter.) I’m going to guilt you into staying on this list.
FADEL: So we have a packed audience here in Washington, but we're also joined by a virtual audience. Our next question—should we stay in the room? OK, never mind. I'm going to take that all back. I'll take this question right here. And then we'll go to the back after that.
Q: Good evening, Senator. Brander Suero from Open Society Foundations.
You've mentioned repeatedly that is not all about our military and our hard power. In your view, where are areas for cooperation with China to lessen the tensions using diplomacy, or in regards to sharing kind of responsibility in the region to maintain the peace and stability?
DUCKWORTH: Well, trade is was one great place. I mean, my home state of Illinois, our three top products are corn, soybean, and pork. Who do you think our biggest—what our biggest market is? It’s Asia. And so trade with the PRC, trade with China is critically important. It's vital for our economy. So I think trade and trade policies, especially with some of the work that Ambassador Tai is doing with trade policy and really pushing towards having—you know, raising standards for labor standards, and raising standards for environmental protections, and all of those, those should all are—those are all ways that we can engage with the PRC.
I think science is another way that we can engage, especially in healthcare. In particular, we just came out of a global pandemic. One of the problems we're having right now is the PRC is not allowing virologists from around the world to actually go in and try to trace the various variants of COVID—of the COVID virus. And so even in some cases—this was—this may be old information. Well, this is old information. It’s a couple—several months old. But I was being told that the only way they really were tracing was actually using—taking samples from airplane toilets. Flights that left China, in order to trace the growth of variants of COVID. So getting into places where we can look at health. You know, this affects all of us, right? If anything, COVID should have taught us that we're all human. We all face the same dangers. And we should be helping each other.
FADEL: I mean, tensions are at an all-time high, it feels like, with the PRC government. But is it possible to have a less acrimonious relationship with China?
DUCKWORTH: I think so. I think so. And I think, again, places where we're reliant on one another is important. I think trade is a great place, especially if you look at agriculture.
FADEL: Yeah. That was a very good question. You should come to Morning Edition maybe. (Laughter.) OK, so the next question. I think I see a hand all the way in the back there.
Q: Hi. Good evening. Thank you for joining us, Senator Duckworth. My name is Simone Williams. I'm a proud resident from Illinois. I live near DC now.
Q: Oak Park. Oak Park, Illinois.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, excellent. Yeah. (Laughter.) She’s a suburbanite like me, not a Chicagoan. (Laughter.)
Q: Exactly. The Chicagoland area.
Q: My question for you, speaking about home, hometown, and things like that. You've got a very biased crowd here. And you sit on two of the biggest national security and foreign policy committees. So how do you take that message from a biased group—everybody who's very invested in these issues—and how do you share that back at home? How do you share those values and get individuals who aren't thinking about these issues on a regular day to think about the importance of foreign policy and national security?
DUCKWORTH: Very good question. By engaging groups that we don't traditionally engage in, and showing the importance of that. So I recently have been taking CODELs where I brought business groups, not traditional Democratic voters, with me. For example, I brought the Farm Bureau and the corn growers with me as I went to Japan. And had lots of good conversations. And demonstrated what the engagement can do. And one of the things that happened was we were able to convince Japan to increase the percentage of ethanol that they're going to be using. And they're—the type of ethanol that they’re going to use. Basically, it's going to end up meaning that they're going to buy a lot of ethanol from the United States.
But demonstrating to a group of folks, you know, the corn growers. Listen, when I ran for this seat I was running against an incumbent who was a Republican. And I went to the corn growers in the red parts of my state and said: Give me a shot. Give me a shot. Let me come and tell you what I think is important. And I talked about the strength of America. And I gave the same speech about it's not about the machinery, it's about the people. And I said, and frankly, a nation that can't feed itself is not a nation that can lead the world. And this is why agriculture is important to me. Not because I—you know, am particularly steeped in the background of agriculture, but because you are an element of national strength.
And I need you to come with me when I go to Japan. I need you to come with me when I go to Taiwan. I need you to come with me when I go to Korea, and talk about that engagement. I'm going to go back to them and say, I just had a great conversation with the Vietnamese. And we can work on ag together. And this is an element of national strength. And so engaging them in ways where I define find strength in a new way, and explain to them why that's relevant, I think, is one of the—that's what works for me. Everybody has to do it differently, but this is my lexicon, my language.
People talk about a love language. I don't know what kind of—(laughter)—it’s not love language, but you know. (Laughs.) It's my—yeah.
FADEL: Because it is hard to sort of help people understand the way that things that are happening halfway across the world do impact us right here at home. That is a difficult message.
All right. Next question. I see this young man.
Q: OK, can you hear me?
Q: Hey, Senator.
Q: I have a quick question. It's kind of related to what you were talking about in terms of, like, recruitment in the military, but kind of a different spin on it. So I work for an organization called Global Kids. Yeah, woo. I'm the assistant director of college and career readiness. So one of the things that I try to do is try to bring just postsecondary opportunities to the young people that we serve. That's just not college. So of course, that also includes the military. So I have a lot of staff who, you know, they work with young people. And this conversation about the military comes up.
And they are very apprehensive in having those conversations with our young people, just because of, you know, maybe some of their ideals, some of their experiences when it comes to like family members, or just because, you know, they care about our young people, and they just don't want anything to happen to them. But I always encourage them, like, you know, even though you might have your own opinions about it, you kind of have to take yourself out of it because it’s the young people's choice, it's not ours, right? So I think that's very difficult.
So I think, you know, coming from you, who is very well decorated, what are some things that you would tell young people as they're making this decision to join the military? What are some things that we should be telling our young people to make sure that they are prepared and they’re making a sound decision before they make that decision?
DUCKWORTH: Well, this is a really tough conversation to have, because the military has not treated communities of color very well in our nation's history. Literally this, you know, I mean, I gave President Trump the nickname Cadet Bone Spurs—(laughter)—because he avoided, right? The wealthy avoided service in Vietnam, through any number of means, and who became cannon fodder, right? Poor kids or inner city kids, the people who couldn't get out of it became cannon fodder. So that is our history.
And we have to acknowledge that, that is part of our history. And when we have those conversations with the generation that remembers that, we have to have that real conversation. At the same time, we also have to acknowledge the fact that our military even today, the enlisted ranks, the lowest rank, are over-represented with people of color, and our top ranks are underrepresented by people of color. And the military has to change. The military has to have greater diversity, and inclusivity, and do all of those things as well. And you're starting to see more of that.
The military—all that said, the military is still one of those places where a young person can rise, can grow, that it will invest in you if you show up, and you work hard. And it's why I fell in love with the Army. I went off to basic training thinking that I was going to learn a little bit about the military and some ROTC classes, never imagining that I was going to serve. And in the middle of getting yelled at by drill sergeants, I fell in love with the Army. I also locked myself in the latrine and cried, like, every other day. (Laughter.) But the fact that they were challenging me as me, and they didn't care that I was a little Asian girl. And all they cared about was, was I willing to carry the rock? Was I willing to help my buddy? Was I willing to carry the load, and show up, and was I willing to stand up and fight for what I believed in?
They gave me a fair shot. And they invested in me. Every time that I stepped up and I said, I—you know, I can do this. Or, when they said, who wants to try to take the—who wants to take the test to become a helicopter pilot, I took the test. And so the military is still a way for those people from very little means to rise, and rise to the highest ranks, right? Colin Powell, you know, one of my heroes, is a great example of that. Somebody who came up poor, and went through ROTC, and became, you know, a commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
So that would be my conversation. I think you have to be real about acknowledging the discrimination, that has been—and exploitation of communities of color that has been part of our military's history. But also talk about the fact that it is a place where you can rise, you can grow, they will make those investments in you if you show up.
FADEL: I think we have time for maybe one or two more questions. Sorry, there's so many. I've seen your hand up a few times.
Q: Probably the most important question, outside of Andre’s question, Afghanistan. Senator, how are you? I'm Wida Amir. I'm also at Global Kids, but also GAP, ICAP, and an Afghan American.
So the question of the most recent refugees that have been evacuated here to the U.S. There are nearly eighty thousand of Afghans who are here in the U.S., without a full understanding of what their future is going to look like. And equally, this kind of dichotomy of what do we do—what is the foreign relations priorities right now with Afghanistan. General thoughts? Some priorities that you're thinking about, and the Senate is thinking about, both in terms of foreign policy as well as what's happening and what the fate of the current refugees are?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. So obviously, we have to take care of the refugees who are here, and we have to pass legislation to do something to make sure that people have their status. We should be able to—we should be granting work—you know, work visa, so that they can actually work. We should still be reuniting families. We are still working to get those who are still trapped in Afghanistan out of Afghanistan. I mean, literally, you know, we have just only a handful of flights a week leaving. And yet, we have hundreds and hundreds of people still on waiting lists to leave.
So we need to continue that effort, because we cannot leave those who worked with us and who supported us behind. That only harms in the United States in the long—I mean, number one, it’s immoral and inhumane. But number two, it also harms us in the long run, because who will work with us the next time? Who will work with us, if we don't keep our promises and we abandon people? So we cannot do that. So that is the on the humanity—the humane side.
I think, though, this goes back to maybe where we started with this conversation about the diversity in this room and engaging in in the world. This is where engaging in places like the Asia-Pacific can help us in Afghanistan. The current foreign minister for Indonesia is very interested in leading an effort, an international effort, to improve the conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan, in particular. I've had several conversations with her. And so engaging with a country like Indonesia, having that very personal connection, and really engaging with them, allows us to then find those allies who can be the people who lead that effort.
And so, where better than the most populous Muslim nation on Earth to have somebody who can engage with the folks who are in charge of Afghanistan now on behalf of women and girls? Because it's not going to be an American showing up that's going to make the best case. But America better have some experts on Indonesia and maybe even some Indonesian Americans who are part of—(laughs)—who are part of that effort to help lead that.
FADEL: So, I think we could sit here all day and ask questions. I can tell that from the audience and for myself. But we have to draw the line somewhere. So with that, thank you for joining today's session. And thank you Senator Duckworth for being here. (Applause.)
DUCKWORTH: Thank you.
ZAID: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Zaid Zaid. I’m the head of U.S. Public Policy at Cloudflare, a cybersecurity and internet infrastructure company.
And I’m joined on stage by Merve Hickok, the president and research director for the Center for AI and Digital Policy, and also the founder of AIethicist.org; Evanna Hu, who is the chief executive officer and partner of Omelas—is that right?
ZAID: She is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. And then we have Jeff Wong, by video, who is the global chief innovation officer for Ernst & Young, and he’s an advisory board member for AI4All.
So I’m honored to be here today at the Twelfth Annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. Diversity is very important and dear to me. I’ve been involved in diversity issues in international affairs for at least thirty years, since I was in college, an undergraduate at Georgetown. And so—and I’ve been at this conference for a number of years, and I’m glad to see the room full of folks here today as well as the people online we here for this—have we here—we have here for this session.
So the plenary session is entitled, “The Future of Artificial Intelligence—Risk and Reward,” and we’ll focus on recent developments in the field of artificial intelligence and assess the risks and the benefits of AI. We’ll talk about potential risks to U.S. national security, how AI can perpetuate inequality and discrimination, and the role of public and private sectors in tech regulation.
Just in the last few weeks, you know, we’ve had a White House meeting on AI with Microsoft, OpenAI, Google. Italy banned ChatGPT for a little while. Now I believe it’s available. China has announced that chatbots need to replicate Chinese Communist Party propaganda. We’ve had Senator Schumer talk about needing to regulate AI, so we’re probably going to see some work on the Hill.
We’ve seen state regulation of AI in the United States, the godfather of AI leaving Google. I won’t ask you about that, Evanna, but you are welcome to say something about it. The CEO of Zscaler talked about how there was a financial scam where somebody called him—or, no, I believe called one of the folks at Zscaler, and impersonated him, and tried to get him to transfer money. We’ve seen AI researchers call for a pause. The list goes on. It’s a big—a big topic, a lot of different issues to discuss, both risks and reward obviously.
Jeff, I want to start with you. Can you—can you tell us what AI means, and maybe also generally what generative AI is as well.
WONG: So starting with the easy question, huh, Zaid. (Laughter.)
So artificial intelligence—to me, AI—I think the broad definition is it’s any machine that can mimic sort of human behavior, so what we can do. We can see things, we can identify objects, we can hear language and interpret that language. We can translate between language, we can classify and predict things. And so artificial intelligence is, broadly speaking, the set of technologies that allow us to do all of these different things.
And so you’ve probably heard words like natural language processing, and machine learning, and supervised machine learning—all these things, and these are different approaches or technologies that allow different things to happen. It allows for your—you know, your home systems to hear and understand you when you say, play my favorite playlist, right? It allows computers to identify objects when you say, hey, show me the picture of the vase in the picture, right? And so it does a whole series of things.
I think that you’re right to talk about generative AI because that’s really something that has burst onto the scene in the last six months. That’s based on something called transformer technology, so it’s an approach that—in artificial intelligence, and that’s really what you see when you see ChatGPT, which of course is put out by OpenAI, or Bard, which is put out by Google—these chat systems. And I think that what it does is it allows you to create these really interesting outcomes off of a prompt, and the chat systems act like human answerers. And so that I think is really what has captured the imagination for all of us, is that it’s generative—so it’s generating original pictures or content, soon-to-be music and videos—short-form videos, often by a human prompt that it looks like it’s listening to you and answering. And I think that that’s really what’s fun, interesting, exciting about generative AI and why it has captured so much of the imagination right now.
ZAID: Great. So Evanna, we can come back to chatbots later, but what I’d love for you to talk about is discrimination in AI, inequality in AI, and how, you know, to work against some of those problems.
HU: Yeah, so there are a couple of ways where an AI can be seen as biased, right, so that could be sexist, racist, et cetera, but the most fundamental way that we always talk about is the training data set. So if you are training it on a set of data that is inherently already biased in some way or another, then what you are going to get out of it is going to be even worse in terms of the magnitude of the bias. And this is one of the reasons why, you know, we always want to encourage more diversity when it comes to engineers and people who are working with the data in the first place is to make that that doesn’t happen.
But I think AI sometimes gets a bad rep when it comes to biases because people are saying, oh, well, that’s because the algorithm is biased. I was like, well, yes, but really an AI algorithm right now is basically a mirror of our society where it just—we don’t like to see the ugly sides of it. And so, in a way, we can think of, OK, AI is actually a good way for us to be like, OK, we still have a structural problem here; we’ve got problems here that need to be tackled, and then start to think about now that we actually can start to look at the training data sets what is right and what is—you know, like, and have it as—have it as inclusive as possible. That’s like a—just slightly a different reframing of AI, instead of just saying that AI is bad all the time.
ZAID: Not bad.
HU: No, I mean—(laughter)—technologies, people. Like, you know, when you talk about some of the chatbots, right, some of them can hallucinate, and then so it’s like, OK, so now how do I actually get a grip on that as well, but that’s a different conversation.
Actually, I’m just curious. How many of you here have actually played with a chatbot? (Pause.) So, OK. So it’s like 60 to 70 percent of the room. How many of you are technical-ish? OK. (Laughter.)
HU: So that’s like, I don’t know, 5 to 10 percent of the room, right?
HU: And so it’s like, how do we bridge that gap? I’m not saying that everyone should learn how to code, but enough to be like a product manager-ish, right? Anyway—
ZAID: Yeah. No, I think it’s important. I mean, there have been a lot of proposals, and a lot of people talk about how, you know, the same way we learn math, and science, and English in high school, that we should, you know, be introduced to—kids should be introduced to coding at an early age, you know, across the board; not just people who are interesting in engineering.
So, Merve, you’ve testified in Congress on AI policy and what the United States could do to regulate. Can you tell us a little bit about your testimony and what you think the U.S. should be doing or could be doing?
HICKOK: No, absolutely. I mean, within the global AI regulatory and policy discussions right now, we see a little work happening in EU. In fact, this very morning, the European Parliament voted on the draft bill that they’ve been discussing for over two or three years now. So Europe is leading with some of these regulatory and policy conversations. Similarly, another big player, China, has been testing, experimenting with different regulations for a few years now.
In the U.S. we have been kind of lagging in the AI policy conversations and, you know, the usual “don’t regulate yet,” or corporate world will just manage it, that market would manage it. And now we see that it doesn’t, and corporate world, corporations, even Chamber of Commerce is calling out for regulation.
So when I was asked to testify, the question for the hearing was, is U.S. ready for technological revolution, is U.S. AI policy ready for that, and my answer was no because we’re not really doing anything yet, and one of the biggest things that we need to put guardrails in place—so we need, one, guardrails and accountability measures in place; second, expand the research space because right now it’s the compute power, the big data sets, et cetera, are held by only a few corporations and very few academic labs. And then the third was improving the regulations—existing civil right regulations, and then the enforcement agencies investigation and enforcement powers through that.
I was really happy to see that—obviously, I’m not going to take credit for it, but the same message repeated by the White House the very next week, and then I just—before we stepped into the meeting here, three new hearings were announced by both the House and the Senate side for next week. So the conversation was definitely gaining more attraction, and I think U.S. policymakers are also understanding that we have been lagging in AI policy.
ZAID: If there is one thing that you would say needs to be sort of in the first AI bill coming out of Congress, what should it be?
HICKOK: Guardrails on accountability, and what I mean by guardrails is corporations should have responsibility and accountability for not putting out products—deploying products that do not meet certain criteria. Right now it’s open; you can unleash any technology without any responsibility, liability, or accountability upon the society, and guardrails means that you have to stop, you have to make sure that you’re not going to harm anyone, you’re not going to undermine any civil rights, et cetera, and then deploy it. Other kinds of regulation come later, but guardrails is the first step.
ZAID: Uh-huh, so this would be something like an FDA but for AI where there’s an agency that you have to submit something to before you could introduce it; like how would you enforce something like that?
HICKOK: Because AI technologies impact every single domain, or sector, or industry, I think we need to think of, first, horizontal policies, and enforce horizontal policies and then vertical enforcement. And what I mean by that is horizontal safeguards that you have to do; for example, fundamental human rights impact assessments and risk assessments, and have certain controls in place. And then vertical, the sector regulations, so FDA would be for health and medical stuff; FCC would be for communications, for example; FTC has huge authority on anything that has to do with consumer products; EEOC has employment and labor, et cetera. But you still need that horizontal approach—regulatory approach to make sure that there is consistency across those agencies, as well.
ZAID: Right. So, Jeff, back to you. What are you hearing from your clients? What are you hearing from, you know, boardrooms? What are people worried about—the folks who you advise and talk to when it comes to AI?
WONG: Well, Zaid, great, great question, and first, just to reflect quickly on sort of what was said. I think there is very high concern about bias in the data, therefore bias in the output. I think there is also concern about who is writing the code, right—who is doing it because it tends to be from a certain specific demographic. And so we need to increase the diversity of people who are going into this field of AI to make it more diverse in terms of the output and outcome.
But from the boardrooms I think you are seeing both the sense of opportunity, right—there’s a lot of possibility when it comes to artificial intelligence to either make your systems and people more efficient and effective at what they do. There is certainly a disruptive element, and there’s an opportunity with any disruption, so people are looking at how can they put this into their products and create a different type of product that attaches themselves to their customers in really different and interesting ways.
But with that sense of opportunity there is distinctly a set of—you can feel the apprehension, right, and I think it’s what we’ve heard on the stage already today. They are concerned about the legal responsibilities, so we’ve already seen, you know, are the training sets of data—who has the rights to that training set of data, and are you building on top of somebody else’s data, and they didn’t have the correct rights built into it, so therefore your product is tainted in some way—the brand responsibility.
We’ve seen plenty of public examples. Zaid, I think you listed a couple where the chatbot says something funny, right? It does something funny. Now just so the people who are non-technical in the room know, the chatbot doesn’t know what it’s saying, right? It’s basically a big mathematical problem, and it’s just doing predictive probability on what the next word should be. So the chatbot doesn’t really think. The famous one is telling a reporter they should leave their wife or something. It’s just—it’s more funny than anything.
But it doesn’t know what it’s saying, but it can end up saying something that’s funny, that’s out of alignment with the missions, values, and brands of your company—very concerned about the brand aspect of it. And then I think what was just commented on—the overall sense of responsibility, right? And that’s what I do appreciate that I hear more and more of from the corporate boardrooms in particular—boardrooms even more than the C-suites—is the sense of responsibility around this usage. Is it something that’s being used positively? Is it something that’s being used for good?
But much like, I think, the governments who are in these discussions and perhaps lagging some of the technological developments, I do think boardrooms are starting to recognize that they don’t perhaps have the expertise in the boardroom or around them in order to make the correct judgments when it comes to these technologies. So what I do think you will see more of are boards sort of expanding their sense of who should be on the board, do they need a technology committee, do they need a specific issue in the audit committee associated with this because I think they see, like this panel is telling us, how powerful this technology can be, how transformative, and how responsible we have—what a high sense of responsibility we have to society around the power of this technology.
ZAID: Great. Merve, I wanted to ask you, particularly given Evanna’s quick poll, somebody like you without a technical background, how would you say—what opportunities are there for people with a non-technical background to get involved in AI and AI policy?
HICKOK: So many opportunities because—to Evanna’s point—we want diverse conversations, and we want domain experts as well. So it shouldn’t be just up to data scientists and computer scientists to decide what problems to solve, how to go about solving it, and whose voices should be prioritized within those conversations.
We need legal backgrounds, we need sociologists, anthropologists, and domain specialists, for example. If you’re going to deploy something in human resources, in recruitments, you need practitioners in that sense, as well. So every background counts, and I literally mean every background because the applications are across every single industry, and we cannot be running this or deploying these products without understanding the context, without understanding—having an in-depth understanding of the issue, the history of it, and who is going to be ultimately impacted—benefitting from that technology, but also impacted from that technology.
To your point, I have a background with international relations and political science. I then moved into corporate world doing HR, technology, and D&I. In fact, I was a graduate recruiter for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. And the technologies that we used in that time, as well as the diverse D&I conversations that I was having, was my intro to going into AI, and social justice, and fundamental rights. And I’ve benefitted from those careers—from my personal, like, professional experience, as well as my majors, so—there is a tendency to shy away or be intimidated by the technology and all the terminology, et cetera. Trust me, it’s easy if you want it—it’s really easy to get over that hurdle and get the fundamentals of the terminology, but your voices count. Your personal experiences count. Your—(inaudible)—background counts, your professional background counts.
ZAID: Evanna, from your standpoint, who is missing in the conversations that you are a part of, and how do you—how do we bring those folks in?
HU: I think there’s a group that is—that we don’t really talk about and, you know, we still have more than 30 million of them in the U.S. alone, which is a pretty big, significant population, which is those who don’t really have access to the internet—or regular internet. That means they are left out of the training data sets, right? It also means that, you know, they are now going to be in a world where I think social services will be really hard for them to access. They can’t even have the conversation of around, like, hey, the algorithm that you are using to see who qualifies for this social services is flawed or biased somehow, or is simply not correct. And if you extrapolate that from just—you know, from the U.S. to the entire world, that’s more than, what, one to two billion people around the world. And so how do we actually have a conversation with them and help them leapfrog to the current 4G, 5G world, right? And so we’re also doing a lot of work around that, as well, in different countries.
I would also, you know, have to add on that we definitely need a lot of people who can actually bridge that gap between the technical engineers and especially the policymakers who unfortunately right now probably should understand a little bit more about emerging tech. (Laughter.) But, and so, you know, how can we actually translate something so that they don’t come up with overregulation that is also a burden for innovation or, you know, for other companies to basically, you know, get in the game in terms of being more—being able to fail more, right?
And we were just talking about this backstage, too, like unfortunately there are just not that many people who can speak the subject—the technical and then also being able to parlay it in the political or the policy space.
ZAID: Yeah. I really like that, you know, being able to fail more because when it comes to public money, you know, folks on the Hill, they don’t want to hear that something didn’t work. It’s like, why didn’t this work? You know, you waste all this money, you did all—you know, there are investigations, et cetera. But in the tech world, you know, sometimes you don’t know the answer. Sometimes you do fail, and that is seen as part of innovation and seen as part of getting better. It’s a very different mindset.
In about five minutes I’m going to turn to the audience, both in person and online, for questions. But I want to go to all three of you all and ask you—and we’ll start with Jeff first—what is the biggest risk of AI, and what’s the biggest reward of AI?
WONG: So the biggest risk for me—and I think we’ve already seen—or the early stages of this is the mental health of our youth. So we’ve seen already AI algorithms built—and this is not the generative AI stuff; this is from before—particularly through social media and how the algorithms are built to optimize for time spent, views, right, clicks, those types of things which is in alignment with the revenue model, and we’ve seen all the public studies come out saying how that has impacted the mental of particularly our youth. And so that’s a particular concern that I have about AI because I feel like it broadly impacts a generation—probably multiple generations—but in particular, the generation of our future—our future generation, and I think that that could be a big burden on society as we look going forward.
On the opportunity side—and I know we’ve talked a lot about regulation and sort of what are the responsibilities—the opportunity side is actually really remarkable, right? There are some really big questions we have as a human society, and this is a powerful tool that we can use to help us answer questions around ESG, or medical discoveries that we need to help us as a society be healthier.
There are ways that it impacts mental health negatively. There’s ways that we can look at how this can help. We don’t have enough mental health professionals in the world. How can we use this technology to be helpful to people to address sort of that need in the society on the positive side?
So this is a pretty remarkable technology that, yes, has some significant possible downsides, but it can help us answer some of the big, important questions we have as the human race, and I always look at that as more—much more important than a lot of the economic benefits that companies are receiving right now from being in this space to make their teams more efficient and whatnot.
ZAID: Great, thanks. Merve, how would you answer that question? Biggest risk? Biggest reward?
HICKOK: Well, because I’m presiding over a think tank that is—the mission is protection of fundamental rights, rule of law, and democratic values, so for us—and for me personally—the biggest concern is deployment and use of AI systems that impact fundamental rights, rule of law, and democratic institutions, and what that means for all of our access to resources and opportunities, whether you are someone, you know, applying for a job; whether you are trying to get credit, or housing, or government benefits; whether you are an asylum seeker or refugee, you know, looking for protection.
We have (over-predictive ?) policing and, you know, the uses of AI—similar uses of AI. Where does—where is that line where we should be using AI in a way that enhances opportunities and resources versus limiting for a certain population—for certain parts of the population who seems to be, again and again, marginalized and disadvantaged. So AI—I would like to see AI narrowing gaps of inequalities and injustices versus magnifying and deepening those gaps.
And in terms of—and not to be gloom—you know, doom and gloom—(laughter)—that’s a lot of my work here, but to focus on opportunities, I actually would like to repeat what Evanna said in terms of using AI for exploratory reasons and discovery reasons. How are things—what are the composition of, for example, your workforce? Let’s take an organization. Is there a gender gap, is there other different gaps in terms of who you are hiring, who you are promoting, who is leaving the company for, for example, toxic workplace reasons or other reasons? Are there pay gaps? Are there geographical gaps? So extrapolate that to, I don’t know, bigger organizations or national problems, use it for exploratory reasons, better use of data, but then, once you have some insights, bring people back in and try to figure out the possibilities and improvements as well.
ZAID: Great. Evanna, how would you say—what would you say?
HU: Well, Jeff took my original answer—(laughs)—of mental health, so I think my close second would be digital authoritarianism, right, so being—so dictators especially and bad guys using AI in innovative ways, but unfortunately for bad. And I think how that’s different from some of the other bad applications of AI is that it’s very, very creeping. It’s not like all of a sudden. A system is turned on, and it’s like dystopian system, right? It’s like really subtle so that you don’t really feel it. It has the time to sort of normalize in a way that we’re OK with it, but then—but then five years later you are like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe that would have let this happen.
So how do we actually combat against that? I am really excited actually about AI, like, finally finding the consumer base and getting people really excited. There have been many winters of AI—because AI has been around since like the ’60s and the ’70s. It’s just every single time, you know, we think that we’ll get to apex, something happens, and then it just goes dormant.
So this time I’m really excited about the possibility that it has basically encouraged so many, like, diverse people around the world to, you know, like, yeah, I want to learn more about this. I want to apply this in all these other ways that we have never thought about, and so, that create our economy that it has created is really exciting for me.
ZAID: Great. We didn’t even talk about AI and war, but I’ll leave that, you know—(laughter)—maybe we’ll get some questions from the audience.
So at this time I want to turn to the audience, both in person and online, and get your questions. A reminder that this session is on the record.
We’ll take our first question from here in D.C., and a reminder to please give your name as well as your affiliation. We’ll take our first question from over here.
Q: Good afternoon, Earl Carr, founder and CEO of CJPA Global Advisors, and thank you, Zaid, for a great— moderating an exceptional session.
My question is regarding when you look at AI and how it can impact—both serve as—you hear about all of these different students, both under—high school, college-level students who can use AI to essentially write papers, so like the dumbing down of education, or you can look at how AI—and it’s something that we haven’t talked about—how AI can essentially eliminate certain jobs.
Are there—do the risk outweigh the benefits, or do the benefits outweigh the risks? How should we think about that? Thank you.
ZAID: Who wants to take that? Merve, go ahead.
HICKOK: I’ll take it, and I’ll open it with I also teach data science ethics at University of Michigan, master’s program, and I speak as an educator who has been falsely cited or mis-cited by ChatGPT already, and—(laughter)—one of my students decided to submit a paper misciting me. I don’t know whether it was brave or, you know—(laughter)—unfortunate, but I would like to say that it is very context dependent, and domain dependent, and use case dependent. I don’t think there is a blanket answer that would, you know, answer your question, but really focus on what is the use case, what is it that you are trying to solve, and whether AI is the right answer to start with.
We have a tendency—because this technology sounds so promising, we have a tendency to hammer AI into every problem, and it might not be the solution that we are looking for, and especially if it comes to—for certain, you know, social justice issues. You are forgetting about years of work—civil society work, community work, grassroots work, all the effort that went into it and that went into a problem, and you are breaking in and saying, OK, we’re going to solve this with AI: everybody step aside.
It doesn’t work like that. I think the first question is, is AI the right solution, and then look at the benefits and risks, and in all the people who are impacted, who is going to be impacted by this. And understand if it is going to be beneficial for them as well, and meaningfully engage with them. And then if it’s still a good answer, the benefits still outweigh, and then put, you know, controls in place. But I don’t think there is a single answer that is going to answer that question.
ZAID: Jeff, Evanna, do one of you want to—yeah, Jeff.
WONG: —yeah, if I might—sorry, if I might jump in—so I’m the dad of twin seventeen-year-olds who are juniors in high school, so the idea of using ChatGPT for homework is, let’s just say, present in my home. (Laughter.) And so—no, the way—the way I think we look at it is it’s a tool that can be helpful at times, but boy, as was just described, it can make a lot of mistakes, so you have to be really careful about how you use a tool. And how do you use it as a tool to further your education, to further how you learn, to further how you think? And I think that—maybe I’m taking an overly positive view; I’m a pretty optimistic guy—but I do think it can be a powerful tool to be helpful.
I think your broader question, Earl, of the two, was around, you know, if this technology—and the question on jobs. What we have seen so far is actually contrary to a lot of that dialogue. What we have seen is that these are tools that help people become more efficient and more effective at what they do. And on the ground, the anecdotes that I see from my own firm from the teams of people who you would imagine are most—would be most concerned about some of this sort of negative view, they love it the most, right? They love these tools. They love us making them more powerful. They love the idea that they can use their brains—their humanness for much—a bigger part of the day.
But I do think that that means that we have a responsibility as a company, but also as governments, to allow for the upskilling, reskilling training, so as people’s jobs are impacted, we are making the investment into them so that they can get to the next stage, right, because I do think there will end up being more jobs. I mean, if you look through technology history, jobs can change, but in the end, people—there’s more things to do.
So I do—I do, again, have optimism around that, but I do think there is a significant responsibility that we have as a company. We’re making those investments, and I’d say, for those of you in government, that governments have that responsibility to its citizens as well.
ZAID: Evanna, did you want to add anything?
HU: Yeah, I think another way of thinking about it is, you know, comparing it to Wikipedia. When Wikipedia came out, a lot of school districts banned access to it, and teachers were saying, you can’t cite Wikipedia in your footnotes. And Wikipedia, as you guys know, it’s not a hundred percent right, right, like there are a lot of mistakes, it’s incomplete, and it’s very similar to what we’re going through with chatbots right now. But when we use Wikipedia, we understand, and we know, you know, in the back of our minds, like this is not a hundred percent verifiable, so I need to go and double-check on these things. But if you are doing a research project, it’s a great way to start learning about something, where I’d be, like, OK, I have five minutes to get some more about this thing before I have to go talk to, you know, this person. So great tool, so I a hundred percent agree with Jeff on that, too.
And then going back to Merve’s point, I really like the point about how AI is not the tool for everything. My company creates—we create AI products and, you know, what we have actually found is that sometimes a rule-based algorithm works way better than a neural network unsupervised, like put all the—(laughs)—buzzwords, you know, into the algorithm, and so sometimes it’s—you know, you just have to say, like, no, we’re going to just use the straight-up algorithm instead.
ZAID: Great. Before we—we’re going to go online for our next question. I’ll just add really quickly that—I mean, I think that technology is going to be, like, people—you can build the best, most well-intentioned product and people are going to find a way to exploit it, right? And so it’s not just about chatbots, it’s not just about social media, et cetera. People will find a way to do bad things with the technology.
And so what we need to do is make sure that we are iterating and, you know, making it harder for people to exploit. And then they’ll find another way, and then we’ll have to, you know, figure out a way that we can improve upon it again. But we’re never going to have this perfect anything—technology or otherwise—that can’t be exploited.
So we’ll go to our next question online.
OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Maryum Saifee.
Q: Hi, thank you so much for this panel. I’m Maryum Saifee. I’m a foreign service officer in the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, so this is incredibly relevant.
One of the challenges we’re facing is how do you, you know, increase cyber literacy across a generalist workforce, so that came up a lot—the need for diversity of thought in this space, but also sort of literacy and language, like having—this bilingual policy and tech, you know, capability.
So what are recommendations you would have of courses, or online tools, or things that are available for all of us—myself included, as a generalist who is new to this space—to be able to learn and—yeah. So what resources are out there? Thanks!
ZAID: Evanna, do you want to start?
HU: Yeah, I’ll give a plug to your center. (Laughter.)
HICKOK: I was just waiting for that pass. (Laughter.) So at Center for AI and Digital Policy, we actually provide semester-long AI policy clinics, and these are virtual trainings, educational opportunities. They go for a full semester, and then we have participants from sixty-plus countries. We want to make sure that the diversity of cultures, diversity of geography, experiences, as well as the backgrounds.
We talked about the importance of multi-disciplinarity here. We have students who are—I’m not going to say students—participants because they are, like, professionals in their own rights—from different governments trying to implement—either put together national AI strategies or implement those policies. We have lawyers, technical people. We have economic researchers from different backgrounds who are all coming together to learn about AI policy and regulatory frameworks, so we don’t do like AI technical training, but we talk about what is happening around the world, what are some of the emerging or most established AI policy frameworks, and how we should think about regulation and policy approaches, and try to make sure that we are not inventing—trying to invent the wheel again and again because none of the issues that we’ve discussed so far are new, and there has been a lot of work globally, a lot of work that goes into it, so we try to educate.
But I know, like, looking at what I also do at U of M, there are so many courses if you want to go deeper into the technical side. There are so many courses on Coursera, edX, et cetera, that are also free of charge or shorter.
But I want to underline again and again, do not be intimidated by the technology and the terms. You know if you are interested in this field, it is a very easy threshold to pass.
ZAID: OK, that’s good to hear. We’ll take another question.
WONG: I’ll just—I’ll just jump in really quick—just, we developed internally—we call it a badge system within our learning structure, which has gone through sort of all the different things that are available, and you can earn different levels of badges depending on what you complete. And it’s all different things, from technical, to policy, to ethics associated with different technologies, including AI. So if you wanted to reach out, we can—I’m sure we can share what we’ve done to try to brush through the different things that are out there.
But I would argue it allows people to learn alongside their current jobs, right, and I think that that—and be supplemental and helpful to them in a way—a bite-sized way that allows them to do it. We call it badge so they can earn a little badge they can put in their resume or LinkedIn. I think it’s just nice and helpful from that perspective. But we have literally hundreds of thousands of these badges that have been awarded across sort of innovation topics. So we’re happy to share what we’ve done if that’s helpful to you or anybody in the audience.
HU: Yeah, if you’re—and you work within the U.S. government, there are a couple of new courses that will be coming out. One will be within FSI for FSOs. There’s another one at NDU that will be coming out as well, and I think DAU—like, the Defense Acquisition University—they are also going to be putting out one specifically on policy and also procurement of emerging technologies.
ZAID: Great—super helpful to know. I know Maryum is an FSO, so she can take advantage of that.
Let’s take this one right here in the front of the room.
Q: Thank you. My name is Saadia Ali. I’m a JD/MBA candidate at BU.
And I’m wondering who should own the output of the AI, because it’s one thing when your kid tries to use it for a school paper but it’s another thing if I try to sell it. So should it be the AI company? Should it be me because I prompted it or because I paid their subscription fee? Or should it be the people whose works contributed to the training set? Thanks.
ZAID: A very, very popular question right now. Who wants to—who wants to jump at that? It’s even part of the screenwriters’ negotiations right now, I believe. Anybody? (Laughter.)
HU: I mean, I can talk about like my company’s policy, which is that the output essentially belongs to the users. So once you use our system, you can keep the results, but we own the actual algorithms and the training data sets as well.
HICKOK: As it stands, like, if you are reading, for example, OpenAI’s policies, it will say whatever the output is from your prompt, it’s yours to sell, share, do whatever you want to do with it, but it doesn’t—you know, they are not talking to your question. They are not talking about who, you know, contributes towards those data sets, and whether it’s text, language corpus, videos, or imagery, et cetera, in the first place, it’s all—you know, they have already concluded that scraping the internet, and the front, you know, sources is OK and should be accepted as is. It’s just like the output that should be answered.
To Zaid’s point, there is already protests going or strikes going with the Writers Guild. There are multiple lawsuits that are happening on the corporate rights—with the corporate rights issues. And I think we need to, as a society as well, demand more protections around who are the creators and how to protect. Just coming in as disrupters is not helpful to anyone in this society if you want the creative work to continue because there will be a point where people are going to either start protecting their own creative work so it doesn’t become—it’s not in the internet—it doesn’t become a part of the training sets. Then you are not able to reach wider—you know, wider society, wider populations. So you are becoming more protectionist just because that you don’t want to be part of it.
It’s a question, a great question, but I think it’s a question that won’t—you know, courts as well as the society will need to answer.
WONG: Yeah. A slightly different spin on that, sort of taking the question to a different spot because I think the fundamental question was answered well. Just something for everyone to know—the data that you put into the prompts, at least originally, can be taken into the system as—the learning and the data you put in isn’t necessarily private so there are companies, and ways, and methods to make sure that your data stays private if you do not want it to become a part of the training set, which is particularly important for government officials and companies that are out there with proprietary data. Just be a little thoughtful about that, and I think company leaders need—and government leaders need to make sure there’s specific guardrails, guidelines about how you use these systems because sometimes the output is yours, but what you put in becomes theirs, right, so just be careful about that depending on which system you are using.
ZAID: Another question in the room—go to the back, right on the side. Speak to the mic.
Q: Hello, my name is Justin Lee. I’m a Ph.D. student at Pardee-RAND Graduate School.
I’m very interested in science and technology, and how power plays a role in it. And so my question is, I guess, given that technological innovation processes tend to serve people with power over the means of perpetuating that innovation, and, I mean, we’re sitting in a room a people who have historically been systemically excluded from the structures of power, both in the private and public sector.
How do we make sure that AI serves the people, whether that’s the American people or the people of the world, rather than the people who are just particularly holding structural positions of power within our society, especially given that, as the senator mentioned yesterday in the U.S. Senate, which makes American regulations, there are just as many people named John as there are people of color.
ZAID: Evanna, can I try you this time since you talked about sort of structure and discrimination?
HU: Yeah. I think a big part of it is making sure that we have diversity, you know, as an engineer, data science, PM, going all the way up. But I also think that this is a really great moment for entrepreneurs to get in the game because it is a very nascent space, and so if this is a field that you want to disrupt, you can start something tomorrow if you want, right, and then start being able to get that in front of us—many users—because that’s something that people are going to look at, which is, OK, I created this new generative AI app or company—whatever it is, and it has a consumer base of half a billion people; like, that still speaks volume, and so it’s really about how can I actually look at the metrics or power or the metrics that people in power like to look at, and then be able to reach that point so that I can have a conversation with them. And at the same time, you are trailblazing, you know, a road for other people behind you to be, like, OK, well, if he can do it, then I can do it. And so that is sort of the—you know, the movement that you want to start.
I do think, though, like, it’s not going to be a very happy, like, yeah, I’m going to go and conquer the world, and everything is going to work out, you know, in my power because that’s like—that’s just not going to happen. And it’s a very, very steep mountain to climb essentially.
But I do—I mean, like, the entire time you were asking that question, I was thinking about DuBois and the propaganda of history—(laughs)—right, and now like going through, in my mind, because that’s fundamentally the same thing with any sort of new technology. But when something is new, right, you can just go and disrupt it before the power kind of takes control of it.
ZAID: Here in the room—question right here. We have about ten minutes left, so we’re going to try to get as many questions as possible.
Q: Hi. I’m a former intern here at the Africa Studies Program and I’m an incoming Program Outreach intern for TechSoup.
And I guess kind of as we were talking kind of about bridging that gap for AI—and I think I kind of want to look at it from more of an international security kind of standpoint—I think that we’ve seen how AI can be used to generate any type of content. I saw the other week a TikTok video of Trump and Obama singing like Whitney Houston—like, you can do anything with it, really.
And so I think that as we’re kind of thinking about that, what are the different considerations for security and making sure that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands, kind of? I mean, we’ve seen in Burkina Faso how it can be used for propaganda and kind of to reach these different ideas and spread it out to society, and I think that, in an international standpoint when you are talking about those who don’t have technology and aren’t really in the hands of being able to generate that content—they’re just more so consuming it—how are we going to kind of look at, either from policy or from the tech standpoint, how to kind of curb that in a sense?
ZAID: Merve, do you want to take that so you can—your focus on democracy?
HICKOK: Absolutely, I’ll tackle that because I feel you might want to—(laughs)—tackle it from the propaganda or authoritarian. And so I want to tackle it from, one, cybersecurity and then the other piece is lethal autonomous weapons.
So as in a lot of the kind of technological innovation, the most innovative parts and most investment goes into military applications, and we see a lot of billions and billions going into AI and AI technologies in the military right now. And looking at lethal autonomous weapons as totally autonomous weapons that do not include any human control, human oversight, human decision, so you can use it, for example, in the battlefield—or even if there is—maybe there is no battlefield in the future when these are deployed—to just make decisions. You put objectives in and they just go in and make the decisions, regardless of what the impacts—human impact is.
Or you might be looking at asymmetrical actors who have access to drones—you know, smaller, cheaper drones that can also be used for lethal purposes, whether that is assassinations, or surveillance and assassinations, or just like oppressing certain parts of the society. So that’s one. And there is a lot of conversations that are happening in NATO, in United Nations whether that should be a prohibited development, and whether that should be an international convention just like biological weapons and chemical weapons.
Put that aside—there are a lot of cybersecurity implications and risks that come with AI technologies, especially with GPT-like technologies now because it can also—it also makes it very easy to create use code, create code for malicious purposes, or give you step-by-step instructions on how to do malicious practices.
So we need to be thinking of that as well. And interestingly enough, CISA’s director, Jen Easterly, I think a couple of weeks ago considered this as like the issue of the century—the cybersecurity of the century that we need to tackle because of the malicious actors as well as the ability to manipulate AI technologies as well. We can, for example, poison an AI system, deploy AI system by different techniques and make it look like it’s still performing, but it’s not performing correctly. You may or may not notice that. Or it might turn around and do something that you didn’t intend to, and some of these are really, really hard to notice and avoid.
So I’m going to just touch on the lethal autonomous weapon and cybersecurity pieces, and that’s all.
ZAID: Great. I mean—no questions online? Great, right over here.
Q: Good afternoon. My name is Divjot Bawa. I work within the Office of the National Cyber Director at the White House.
And I had a question about looking at the federal AI landscape. There have been several significant developments in the last few years relating to responsible development and regulation, looking at the AI Bill of Rights out of OSTP, the NAIIO focused on R&D, regulation, talent, and workforce development. And then also the National Security Commission on AI established in the 2019 NDAA.
Given these actions, what would you all say is the biggest next step that needs to be taken? What AI issue area of concern is not receiving adequate attention at the national level? Thank you.
ZAID: Jeff, do you want to start?
WONG: Yeah, I’ll start for that. It’s great—there is a lot of action, activity, discussion. I’ll be honest, though. I don’t feel like there is this cohesive push, right, so when I look at the different AI companies we visit out here, I think that they’re either confused or they don’t feel like they are highly regulated, right, like I don’t think that they look at a whole list of regulations when they think about their product, they think about the output.
So I think even with all of those efforts, there isn’t a strong sense of guidance, or guidelines, or guardrails I think was the word that was used before about what they can and cannot do. And I think that that’s fundamentally the overarching risk that we have as a society, is that in the end, they don’t think they are being regulated, so they aren’t really doing much about it.
The second thing I would reflect on is a lot of these discussions we are talking about—so the government is discussing sort of something for a few years, or—et cetera, et cetera. The people who are developing the—sort of the generative AI or the large language models, or building on top of transformers, right, the consistent thing I at least hear from is their next version is going to be more powerful than the current version—no matter who you talk to—and they also have no idea what it will do, right, like that it’s going to be so powerful—much more powerful—that they no longer are in control of what the feature set is.
And the example I’ll give is when they launched GPT platforms, they realized after the fact that it could translate languages. (Laughs.) That wasn’t an intention of what it would do, it just did it as a feature set.
So I think the challenge really for governments to be involved is you’re talking about a technology that’s beyond—that can do things beyond the imagination of the inventors. And I think that that sense of how does regulatory frameworks get ahead of something that’s going to be invented that even the inventors can’t describe the output, I think is an incredibly difficult spot for the government to be in. So while government clearly has a role to play, and everyone wants them to play a higher and higher role, I would argue that, additionally, the companies around the world need to take on some responsibility associated with the guardrails and the guidelines—self-imposed, self-directed guidelines and guardrails about how this technology should be used within the context of their entities because I’m not sure any government system in the world can really catch up to what’s going on given how fast this is changing and how powerful the systems are becoming.
ZAID: Great. So we will—we will have to end there. Thank you for joining today’s hybrid session, and thank you to our speakers. (Applause.)
So we note that the video and transcript of today’s session will be posted on CFR’s website, and the in-person concurrent sessions will start in fifteen minutes. Thank you.
THOMAS: Good afternoon, everyone. Hello. Good afternoon. My name is Jessica Thomas, and I am director of strategic initiatives and diversity equity of inclusion business partner here at the Council on Foreign Relations. I’m also a 2017 fellow of the International Career Advancement Program, ICAP, and so pleased to have each of you here joining us for the Eleventh Conference on Diversity and International Affairs.
This annual conference brings together speakers and participants from a wide range of backgrounds, and groups that have been historically underrepresented in the foreign policy field. So, the conference aims to increase access to, and preparedness for, a career in foreign policy. We started off yesterday afternoon with insightful breakout sessions, including the myths of de-dollarization, including African democratic changes; and we closed out with an energizing conversation with keynote speaker, Senator Tammy Duckworth.
And just think: we’re just over halfway, so we still have more to go. And I’m so excited. I know I’m not the only one excited for the rest of this afternoon’s conference.
I want to, again, thank two terrific organizations with whom we’ve been collaborating to put this conference together. So, of course, ICAP, as I’ve mentioned before, and GAP, the Global Access Pipeline. Both have remained dedicated to creating pathways to increasing diversity in the field of foreign policy and international affairs, and they reach individuals from elementary school all the way through senior leadership roles in foreign policy.
I also want to once more thank the Ford Foundation, whose generous support made this conference possible.
Here at CFR, we also value diversity and the field of foreign policy. We’re committing to fostering a foreign policy community in the United States that’s more representative of American society. We recognize that diverse backgrounds and perspectives continue—contribute to a more broader, more informed participation in the foreign policy debate, and also lead to an enhanced understanding of the world and the United States’ role therein.
We are dedicated to producing and dispensing thoughtful and authoritative analysis, and practical policy recommendations on a broad range of foreign policy issues, as well as investing in building the pipeline of the next generation of foreign policy professionals through our wide-reaching programs.
For example, our paid internship program draws students from across the country from diverse backgrounds into opportunities that are hybrid here from our D.C. office of CFR, or our New York office. We also have opportunities for interns that are fully remote. Our education program seeks to equip students from middle school through graduate school with fundamentals of foreign policy and international relations to help them develop—to help them to develop their global literacy, and also make sense of the world around them.
Our outreach programs convene religious and congregational leaders into a forum of interfaith discourse with policy experts, and also foster dialogue on international issues affecting their congregations.
CFR’s international affairs fellowship focuses on equipping scholar practitioners, by providing opportunities for those in government to step into scholarly roles for about a year, and also vice-versa. Our term membership program helps to cultivate the next generation of foreign policy leaders. Whether it’s our internships, our fellowships, our term membership program, or even career opportunities here at CFR, we aim to actively expand diversity within our candidate pools, and we work together with HBCUs, with HSIs, with other minority-serving associations, and institutions, and professional networks, all toward that end.
CFR also aims to ensure that our resources, from cfr.org, to our Foreign Affairs magazine and website, to thinkglobalhealth.org, as well as our events, our conferences, our symposiums, meetings like this—we aim to feature intelligent, experienced, and diverse voices, speaking on a range of foreign policy topics.
We recognize that there’s more to be done in advancing DEI in the work that we do, and we remain dedicated to these ongoing efforts. To learn more about our work and what we do, please feel free to visit cfr.org; you can come and speak with me; you can come and speak with any of our colleagues here in attendance at today’s conference.
So, we’re about to begin our second plenary, entitled “International cooperation, loss and damage, liability, and compensation.” We have a quick coffee break after this, and we’ll reconvene for our final session of the conference, which will be a conversation with Juan Zarate, who is the former U.S. deputy assistant to the president, and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. The conference will conclude with an in-person networking reception, and I hope that many of you can stay and connect, and continue the conversation.
Now, before I turn it over to our presider for this afternoon’s session, I want to share one last thing. So, last night, I met two incredible women during the networking reception. One is completing an internship at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and she’s preparing to graduate summa cum laude from Howard this Saturday. And soon after, we’ll head over to—yeah, clap for her. Clap for her. (Laughs.) Soon after, she’ll head to UT Austin to pursue a dual degree in global policy studies and law.
The second individual that I met recently graduated from—(laughs)—University of Pittsburgh, and she’s gearing up to pursue a J.D. Ph.D. from Cornell. Also to note, she is a youth—a Youth Poet Laureate, right here in the front—in the front row.
So, both of these women have plans and aspirations to continue in the foreign policy field, and I just couldn’t be more proud of them, and more excited about the future of the field of foreign policy, because I know that these women—and, in fact, each of us—we are that future of foreign policy.
I encourage you all, as we close out today, I encourage you to continue to lean into the remaining sessions, to go deep in your conversations with your fellow participants and with the speakers of the conference. I encourage you to be intentional in your interactions. For all you know, you could be an inspiration to someone here at this conference, just like these women were an inspiration to me.
So now, I’d like to introduce the presider for today’s plenary. We have Justin Worland, who is senior correspondent for Time. He covers climate change and the intersection of policy, politics, and society.
So, thank you so much to Justin, and to all of our panelists for being here today. And again, thank you for being here, both here in person, and also online. (Applause.)
WORLAND: OK. Everybody’s really quiet. (Laughter.) We’ve been introduced.
SUAREZ: This is not like Miami. (Laughter.) So disciplined. Everybody’s so well-behaved. (Laughter.)
WORLAND: OK. Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to today’s Conference on Diversity in International Affairs plenary session on “The Future of International Climate Cooperation.” I’m Justin Worland. I’m a senior correspondent at Time, where I write about climate, and I’m presiding over this session.
And I’m thrilled to be here with this very distinguished panel. We have Mayor Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami, who’s championed climate adaptation policies, among other things. We have Leela Ramnath, who is the senior vice president and head of environmental, social, and governance at Warburg Pincus, the private equity firm. And then joining us on Zoom, we have Sundaa Bridgett-Jones, who is the chief partnership and advocacy officer for the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, which is a new enterprise to accelerate and scale equitable energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries.
Just to start us off, I’d love to just ask each of the panelists to maybe give a two-minute overview of your sense of the state of play in international climate cooperation in these really dynamic times. Maybe start with Mayor Suarez, and then we’ll just wrap our way around.
SUAREZ: Thank you. It’s a—it’s an honor to be with you, and—since we last saw each other in New York.
And I would say, the state of play is that municipalities across the world are becoming very active in this space. For—as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the former chair of the environment committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, we led an effort to declare a climate emergency in the country. And we are one of a thousand—approximately a thousand cities that has pledged carbon neutrality through C40.
You know, in addition to that, we have passed a resiliency bond, which was voter-approved. It’s not often that Miamians vote to tax themselves, so—(laughter)—you know, it’s shocking. But it did come on the heels of a big hurricane, which was Hurricane Irma, which produced five- to seven-foot of storm surge. And I think you know, for a lot of people, this climate conversation is theoretical, right, theoretical threats. For Miami, it’s real. We don't have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand, debating—(laughs)—as often happens, in a city like this. And we have to act.
And so we passed a resiliency bond, $200 million, and we began the process of transitioning from a city that was arguably the most wind-resilient city on the planet post-Hurricane Andrew in 1992, that devastated Florida City and destroyed Florida City with 200-mile-per-hour winds, to a city that, hopefully, will be the most water-resilient city, certainly in the country.
And that requires investment. That requires intentionality. And I think it is why, in part, you know, I’m a member of the Global Council on Adaptation, right? I’m the only U.S. mayor that’s—that was asked to join that council, and only one of two mayors in the world. The other mayor is the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
So, I do think that municipalities are leading the way in a conversation that we oftentimes do not have the luxury of debating excessively, or ad nauseum about.
WORLAND: Yeah, very interesting to see the role that municipalities are playing at the global—on the global level.
Leela, what are—what are your opening thoughts?
RAMNATH: Yeah, sure.
So, I lead environment, social, and governance at a private equity firm. And the way that we think about it is, we just see environmental issues, social issues, as a lens on how we invest. It’s not an asset class; it’s not exclusion criteria. It’s just another way of thinking about investments.
And I think what’s been interesting is climate has come to the top of the agenda for the entire finance industry. And this is global. So, it’s been driven by three main things.
One is the urgency of the issue, as Mayor Suarez very, you know—talking about all the things that you’ve done, it’s pretty incredible. And it really shows the urgency that we see in portfolios, as well, as investors.
The second is the impact that we see across our portfolio, not only physical risk from climate change, but also from the energy transition. And I can get into some of that later.
And the third is opportunity. This is a massive opportunity when we think about investing. I think this past year, Bloomberg came out with a study that showed $1.1 trillion was invested around the low carbon energy transition. That’s—for the first time, that’s the first time that is equivalent to investors in fossil fuels, globally. So, this is a massive investment opportunity for the financial industry. And if we do it right, I think we can—and continue to collaborate, I think it’s—I think we can have some great wins across the economy, globally.
And then, Sundaa.
BRIDGETT-JONES: Hi Justin, it’s “sun-day,” like the day, and—
WORLAND: Oh, I’m sorry—(changes pronunciation)—Sundaa.
BRIDGETT-JONES: Mayor Suarez and Leela, I am so sorry that I am not there today. I am going to blame it on infrastructure here on the East Coast, with the Amtrak delays. But I am so excited that I have the chance to join you this way.
So, I see a mosaic, I think, very much echoing what the mayor and what Leela said. But I want to start with—as the mayor had mentioned, the impact on people, what we’re seeing out here. And from my perch, coming from a philanthropic institution organization, looking out at the global world, and seeing that we have half the world that actually lives in energy poverty, that are facing many of the issues that we’re—of the urgency that we’re looking at right now, in terms of storms, and other kinds of disasters coming in.
And so, I see in that landscape, those people who need our support today, who needed it yesterday, who are really looking to find that help moving forward. I also see very much an interest, if I can speak specifically—I mean, Leela talked about Bloomberg and the—and the opportunity there, and the investments. I also see a really strong interest on the part of philanthropic community worldwide, in thinking differently about how to be supportive of addressing some of these urgent needs that we have on climate. I think the numbers are growing, in terms of philanthropic investments in this area, from 2 percent to going up to 8 percent, which I think is really important, for all of us in this context.
I also see lots of really interesting dialogue and engagement. And let’s thank Prime Minister Mia Mottley in Barbados, for helping to generate that conversation in the Bridgetown Initiative, around what the Bretton Woods system would be able to contribute to this.
So, I want to say, there is real—a real opportunity for us to be supportive of those people who are on the frontlines of climate, and of the energy crisis that we have, and an ecosystem of actors around the world that are trying to figure it out. But I’m—I would love to talk more about what that actually looks like, in terms of that cooperation.
Well, maybe—Sundaa, maybe we’ll come back to you, just to start and to follow up on that question. Your organization is relatively new; it’s sort of unique in the way it’s trying to bridge the divide, and bridge some of the sort of gaps in this new international ecosystem dynamic.
Maybe you could just talk a little bit about how you’re doing that, how you empower people on the ground, and the role that philanthropy plays in all of that.
BRIDGETT-JONES: Yeah, so, colleagues, just to say, I represent the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet. It was launched maybe fifteen months ago now, in Glasgow at COP-26. And it’s essentially the brainchild of a couple of philanthropic institutions. The Rockefeller Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund is part of this, in supporting the effort.
And essentially—the main question on the table was, in conversations with many of the NDBs, and DFIs, and international organizations looking at, how do we get more people access to electricity, to viable renewable energy technologies, than we currently have today? I mean, amongst that half of the world population that I spoke of, that’s dealing with energy poverty, there are actually 760 million people around the world who don’t have any electricity at all. And so, how do we think about that in context of the transitions taking place, do that in a very clean way moving forward?
And there were some—a number of really important things that took place. The biggest investments in their history, for both Rockefeller and IKEA Foundation, of a half-million dollars, coming together for over a billion-dollar commitment in this area. And really, what we’re trying to do, colleagues, is three things. One is, reduce GHG commission—emissions by four gigatons. We want to help support getting a billion more people access to electricity, who don’t have it. And I think the third thing is really enabling jobs. And I think this is a point that I am hoping to hear a little bit more from the mayor about, in these efforts of how we actually focus on the livelihoods of people living in our communities, and how, looking at the clean energy revolution, or the renewable energy revolution, as a way to be able to do that.
WORLAND: Well, I don’t know, Mayor Suarez, if you want to pick up that—on that question about—
SUAREZ: Sure. It’s a big segue.
WORLAND: —big segue. Yeah, go for it. (Laughter.)
SUAREZ: Well, first of all, a few things. One is, in Miami, we like to say that the environment is the economy, right? There is this presumption that you have to choose one or the other, that they’re juxtaposed, or that it’s a binary choice. We don’t—we don’t believe that. We think that—(laughs)—they are holistic, right, that we—you know, I think we’re eighth in the nation in green jobs. So, it’s part of our economic ecosystem, number one.
Number two, I think when you—when you—when you look at ecological assets, a part of the problem is, we don’t price them properly, right? So, what do I mean by that? So, the—you know, the Everglades have infinite value, right? So, if you start from the proposition that an environmental asset has infinite value, then when you start getting to ROI analysis, you can—you can really value things properly, right?
And it’s not just infinite as in ecotourism, or it’s not just infinite in terms of our quality of life, enjoyment of the outdoors. It is existential, right? It is our drinking water. And when you go on the other side, in the bay—you know we have a beautiful coral reef system, right? I learned how to snorkel and scuba dive in that system, and I enjoyed it. And I feel like I am a steward of that system for my children, who are nine and five, and I want them to enjoy it, and have similar experiences.
And I think, you know, as was mentioned, in sort of the ESG concept, you know, we believe that there is a real and tangible climate tech opportunity, that no one has really taken advantage of, that’s ripe for the taking, if you will. And when you—when you consider that statistic that you just shared, which was that, you know, funding for ESG has approximated, or eclipsed, or is on par with funding for fossil fuels, then you look at, for example, the Middle East, right? And the Middle East is the—obviously, one of the largest producers of fossil fuels. But if you look at their investments, almost the entirety of their investments are in clean energy, right? Because they see the transition. They don’t know when it’s going to happen—we don’t know when it’s going to happen, obviously—but they see it happening. And certainly, the investment mix demonstrates that, right, that people are not investing on capital in extracting the fossil fuels, because they think that it’s something that has a limited lifespan, and they’re starting to invest a lot more. What they understand is—and I think Sundaa mentioned this—is this is about energy, right, but it’s also about clean energy. But it’s about energy; and the purveying and the distribution of energy to all peoples; and doing it as a cost-effective, clean way so that everyone can focus on other things, all right?
We take for granted the fact—and let me tell you, as someone who deals with hurricanes, when you don’t have electricity, it gets apocalyptic real fast. (Laughter.) OK, when you get a mom that calls you and tells you that, you know, the baby milk went bad, that’s not a happy camper, OK? And we take for granted, you flip that switch, and those lights go on, right? So, I mean, this is something that in the first world, we take for granted. Only when there are shocks in the system do we experience it, but this is not the everyday reality for everyone in the world.
And so, we have an obligation—a moral obligation as well, as citizens of the Earth—to try to find ways to leverage our technology and our intellect, to provide this energy at a—at a global scale, in an effective way that creates prosperity for the maximum number of people.
WORLAND: I’m just curious to pick up on one thing you said. You mentioned climate tech, and of course, I mean, you’re known for your work with Web3, and you know, making Miami an ecosystem for that. I mean, is there—what is the, sort of, overlap between opportunities in tech, and for innovation in climate, that you’re trying to bring into Miami?
SUAREZ: It’s a nascent ecosystem, and that’s what makes it a great opportunity, right, in the sense that nobody has really captivated it. Like, for example, if you think of biotech, you think of Boston, right? If you think of VC, you think of California right now. Obviously, we want to disrupt those sort of classic areas, either through quantum on the biotech side, or through just generally being more—a bit pro-business on the VC side, and we’re seeing some great progress on that. But I don’t think anybody’s known for being sort of the hub of climate tech.
And so, the University of Miami has done a tremendous amount in ecological education. So there’s—there are fundamentals there—and we’re obviously in the epicenter of a variety of climatic phenomenon. So there’s a lot there that—building blocks to build a sustainable ecosystem, and as was said, the investment is flowing into that area. So, it’s just logical, right?
WORLAND: Well, Leela, I want to come to you. You sort of started—you talked a bit about what ESG means for your work. I’m curious where you’re seeing opportunities for investment, and climate, and renewable and clean tech, particularly in, you know, in emerging markets and around the world.
So, I think we’re at a really interesting time right now. I talked about the urgency in the financial market, but a lot of that is really driven by regulations around the world.
So, for any investment manager that’s managing assets globally, you have to deal with, you know, addressing European sustainable finance disclosure regulation, which basically mandates anyone who’s marketing a security into Europe, to disclose how you’re looking at any do-no-harm principles around, you know, what could be the impacts of your portfolio on things like climate, but also, how you’re managing those risks. And so, it’s happening in Europe. It’s happening—I just came back from the U.K. last night. It’s happening economy-wide in the U.K. It’s happening in Asia. You know, there—I was speaking with a colleague this morning in China, who was talking about green building codes, and how they’re required—requirements around buildings in certain parts of China.
This is—this is a global phenomenon. So I think that’s—it’s a really interesting time, because it’s really impacting—when we talk to our portfolio companies, and other investors like us talk to other businesses as they’re being assessed, how they’re managing climate risk is a huge point of potential risk, but also potential opportunity. There are opportunities to decarbonize every industry, and we need all the tools that we can, from addressing fossil fuels and methane issues in that sector, to emerging new tech around thinking about, you know, sustainable aviation fuel, and how we can repurpose existing infrastructure into decarbonizing—probably—one of the hardest to decarbonize is just the airline industry—to, you know, think about other financial innovations. And we can talk about carbon markets in a moment. But I think there are—there are a lot of different ways that the financial industry is trying to innovate.
And it’s because of, you know—part of it is regulations around the world, but part of it is this opportunity. And when you think about the Inflation Reduction Act here, you think about the EU Green Deal, you think about other industry, you know, directed—kind of—marriage of industrial policy with climate policy in various parts of the world, this is actually just creating more tailwinds for investment.
I think what’s—what helps, you know, a lot of these policies is it really—it starts to de-risk, a little bit, how some investors, that are purely financial investors, can get involved in these areas.
As it relates to the emerging markets, though, it’s—you know, it gets complicated, because, you know, as we discussed, you know, this is—this is not just about clean energy. It’s about affordable energy; it’s about energy security. And so balancing the three issues is really—is an important part of this. And adding onto that adaptation, and making sure that the populations of these countries are actually being able to thrive and grow, as they should, and not be beholden to, kind of, looking at what the developed world lives, because they may not have the access as we—as we are so blessed to have with energy security here.
WORLAND: Is there something—I mean, there’s a lot of capital that says it’s interested—or, you know, capital managers who say they’re interested in investing in emerging markets and, you know, climate solutions. And yet, there are issues of risk. There are all sorts of challenges.
Is there something that—and I should say, there are lots of, sort of, efforts that are going on right now, to try to break through that dam—what—is there anything that’s most promising? You mentioned carbon markets; there’s, you know, the MBB reform.
Sundaa, I’ll come to you in just a second. But Leela, I don’t know if you have thoughts on what might break that down.
So, I think they are twofold. One is this concept of blended finance, where you can get—take the first loss of capital from, you know, from organizations like the IFC, or other IFIs that—they’re actually—they’re mission-driven to be able to de-risk capital, so that financial investors can come in and actually invest in the areas that would not have been investable before.
The other is carbon markets. And this is something that’s been interesting. It’s been under a lot of scrutiny, a lot of newspaper articles about the validity of carbon credits, which I think is the right conversation to have, but there’s a lot of different types of carbon credits out there. So, I think quality and transparency is important.
But I think—this is just one example of how financing can be really innovative and thoughtful around how we can deploy investment into areas of the world, that may not be experiencing that, that actually have a lot of the natural capital that the mayor was discussing.
One example is, I sit on the board of a portfolio company of ours called ClimeCo, which is in the carbon project, carbon market space. And what’s interesting is that they worked—they’re working on a project right now in Indonesia, where a large amount of mangroves—I think it’s 20 percent of global mangroves, are in Indonesia—a lot—there’s been a lot of erosion of mangroves, however, in that area, because of the tsunami in 2004, and also just unsustainable fishing practices. And there’s been a real economic issue among certain parts of Indonesia, because of that issue.
And so, what we’ve done is—what the company has done, is basically brought together different stakeholders. They’ve brought together indigenous populations in the area, brought together, you know, investors, scientists, to understand, how can we restore these mangroves, so that we can actually bring financing into this area.
And actually, by the way, mangroves sequester carbon three- to five-times more than tropical forests. So, this is a great benefit for the—for the environment, but importantly, it’s a great mechanism for adaptation. It can help support and protect coastal regions, but at the same time, importantly, bring important employment opportunities for women in that area.
So, this is—this is a collaborative effort that we’ve done. And it’s been—as a—as an organization, as a community around carbon markets, it’s been an interesting example of how we can actually channel money into areas that, maybe, traditionally overlooked, because of this focus on carbon.
WORLAND: Sundaa, do you have—do you have thoughts that you’d want to add on that question?
BRIDGETT-JONES: Well, I mean, a think a couple of thoughts I’ll add, colleagues. One is that, you know, a lot of the new technologies, and the investments that we’ve been talking about, I want to say that a lot of it has been taking place in the Global North. But when we look at the low- to middle-income countries that are looking to have that additional finance because of the challenges, Justin, that you mentioned, the risks that investors might see, et cetera—it’s really—it’s really challenging. And so, you have the same kinds of procurement that might be, you know, twenty-five times, or, you know—you know, more expensive than it might be in other markets, right?
And so, to Leela’s point, I think the idea of this energy alliance that we’ve pulled together, with this philanthropic capital, is to actually put a bit of risk capital on the—on the table, to allow for international finance, and those institutions and others, to come in, but most importantly, the private sector to come in, and be supportive of these efforts. I think that’s the pivot, the switch that we’re trying to change a little bit, with this—with this effort.
Just another technology that we are really excited about—and it lends itself to being able to partner with a number of different organizations and companies—is battery energy storage, and looking at replacing diesel that people are using, and other kinds of fossil fuels that people are using, to put this forward, and finding the opportunity to use the technology around battery energy storage, and combine procurement around that in a manner which will lower the price of that technology for markets across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
But the one thing I wanted to also mention is this constellation of new partners that are coming together. The mayor talked about his representation as—you know, of the city of Miami, having other, kind of, cities coming together. I think we also have, not only in the MDBs and the DFI world coming together, but there are a lot of companies, you know, including Warburg Pincus, as mentioned, who are very much interested in coming together, and figuring out how to move things forward. And if we do look ahead at those companies, and where they’re investing around the world, they’re investing in the green hydrogens. They’re investing in offshore wind. They’re investing in these other kinds of renewable energy technologies that are going to be important for not only those of us—those in the Global South, but here in the United States, as well. And that makes for a different kind of international cooperation, I think, across our work, and one that I spend my days, actually, trying to figure out.
So, I mean, I say this to my colleagues, I’d actually like to partner with Formula One and Formula E racing, because they—those companies are at the forefront of trying to figure out how to make that shift to the clean energy. And so, it would be fantastic to understand, you know, that development, and learn from them, and figure out how to leverage their investments in that area for the people who really—who really need it most.
WORLAND: Just one follow-up there. Where do you see the nexus of this conversation? I mean, is it—is it happening, you know, in the UNFCCC process? Probably not. Is it happening, you know—is it—are you leading that? And where do you see that conversation happening?
BRIDGETT-JONES: I think there are offshoots from the UNFCCC processing COP-20—and the COP process. The example that Leela had mentioned, in terms of carbon markets, now, there’s a really robust conversation around having African carbon markets initiative, and what that might look like for the continent. And there are—there are companies and organizations coming around to figure out how that works.
Basically, I think people are seeking the trajectory of the next ten years, and recognizing that we have to do business differently. We have to collaborate, and organize ourselves differently to be able to—to be able to drive this forward.
And so, you have the GFANZ Initiative, where—that—and several banks and other companies coming together, to see how they might be able to invest. We have the big conversations around energy transition; how do we decommission coal-fired plants at an earlier pace, so that we can undo it in a just manner, thinking about some of the labor concerns, and being able to reskill workers in that—who have been working there.
And, so it’s drawing a different—different sets of constellations of people, I think, which I think is really promising.
WORLAND: Great. Great.
So, Mayor Suarez, I want to—I want to come to you. I mean, we’ve been talking about finance in an international context. But I wonder if there are any lessons that you might apply from, you know, your work in Miami. A lot of your adaptation work needs to be financed.
WORLAND: It’s tricky and complicated, and any lessons?
SUAREZ: Yeah, I mean, put—if you’re going to have a bond offering, it’d be great if it was right after a hurricane. (Laughter.) Which is exactly how ours was. We had Hurricane Irma, which produced five- to seven-foot storm surge in September, and we had—(laughs)—the vote in November. So that certainly helped.
And by the way, it may not have passed, had that not happened. I think having a stark example of why you can’t put your head in the sand, and pretend like things are not happening, is the most, sort of, visceral way for a voter to be reminded—it’s better than any political ad that you can come with, that’s for sure. So, I think—I think that helps.
But then, you also understand, when you look at the scale of the problem, right, that that’s not enough, right? And so there’s a few things. Number one is, you got to use the money efficiently, and quickly, and intelligently. You have to produce results. So, we were downgraded—and this may seem crazy to everybody in the audience—but FEMA actually downgraded our risk flood profile, right? And that’s because we’ve used the money well, right? So, when you prove—(laughs)—that it’s working, you actually get reevaluated, just like you get reevaluated for bonds and creditworthiness, et cetera. And actually, we got downgraded, which has a savings for every single Miamian that lives in a flood zone, right? So their flood premiums go down.
So, that builds the case for the investment, right? There’s an ROI there. Every voter, every person can feel it. They can touch it. And it makes sense for them.
Then you look for other leverage opportunities with other governments, right? You know, people often remind me that this, oftentimes, is a partisan issue. But the truth is, you know, we’re getting money from our state government. Our state government is run by a Republican governor, Republican House, and a Republican Senate. I mean, I have more money right now from the state government than I have from the federal government, and the federal government has a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Now, I’m not saying that’s the way it’s always going to be. I’m not certain that’s the way I want it to be. I would love for that not to be the case, right? And I hope that isn’t the case. And I suspect that it won’t be the case, and I hope it won’t be.
But, you know, you take the money—(laughs)—where you can, right? And I don’t care whether somebody wants to call it flooding, versus whatever, you know, I’ll take the money. I’ll implement the solution. And then I’ll move onto the next funding opportunity.
And I do think—you know, what you want to do is you want to take your 200 million—and you’d love for it to become 250, 500, 600 million, because you know the scale of the problem is probably in the billions, right?
So, we have—our taxable value has gone up significantly. We grew 12 percent last year. And that’s a recognition from the private sector that they believe Miami will be here forever. We have a brand that’s called Miami Forever, right? Our whole entire campaign was, we want Miami to be here for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. That’s the campaign, right? And so when you have big bets on your city from the private sector, that need insurance and that need, you know, financing, that is a recognition of the work, and that’s—and that is part of the work.
And by the way, they also do their part, right? When people come and tell me, your city is clean, it’s not so much that on the public sector side, we do such a great job—which I think we do—but it’s—a lot of it is owned and maintained by the private sector itself. So, what happens when a private sector product is built, they are building with a view of having urban reservoirs. They’re building with a view of being resilient. They’re building it with a view of a thirty- to fifty-year horizon, and what is the city going to look like.
So, that is something you have to create legislation to support, right, and to encourage. And that doesn’t cost you anything to do that. It just creates conditions under which a product is more easily financeable, and it creates a situation where you’re incorporating these concepts in a private sector way, into projects, and making them more viable.
Jeremy likes that, in the back, there.
WORLAND: (Laughs.) I’m going to come to audience questions in just five minutes, so just be thinking of those.
But I want to just ask you one follow-up, Mayor Suarez. Just, you know, when you are thinking about, you know, the money that’s coming to pay for these adaptation projects, particularly with this private sector engagement, how do you ensure that the projects are equitable, that you serve, you know, the diverse communities of Miami, some of which are quite wealthy, and some of which—which are not?
So, we did something different, and I think, radical. We created an anti-gentrification climate fund. I don’t know that it’s ever happened in the history of this country. And we identified some areas that were higher in elevation, right, where there was a theory that there would be some retreat—which I don’t think is going to happen, but that it could happen. Or certainly, that people thought that was going to happen, that they would act on that feeling. And then, people would be forced to—or because of economic reasons—would be compelled to, or would desire to, sell their properties. We’ve seen gentrification, right?
SUAREZ: That’s a—that’s a phenomenon that we know exists.
So, what we did was, we said, look. We want to take away the barrier, right, like, in the sense that, we want to make sure that climate is not the reason why they’re selling, right? If they want to sell their house because it’s up 300 percent, I mean, I can’t tell them not to do that. But I don’t want them to sell it because they need a new roof, or they need impact windows, and they don’t feel like they can capitalize, or finance those investments. And therefore, they want to sell, so there’s a desperation factor there.
So, we created these grants that are forgivable, right, we set up a fund. And if you keep your house for a certain period of time—I believe it’s ten years or more—without flipping it, you don’t have to pay it back, right? We don’t—what we don’t want somebody to do is to improve their house, and turn around and flip it, and make money off of our grant, and not pay it back, right? We—if you do that, you have to—you just have to pay it back, right? But if you don’t—by the way, you’re not—you’re not prohibited from doing that, you just have to pay it back. If—and if you hold it for ten years, and you live in it and you’re not using it to flip the property, then you—it basically becomes extinguished, right? You basically don’t owe the money. So it becomes a forgivable grant.
And that’s something that I think was unique, but it’s reflective of the possibility that that phenomenon could happen, and giving our residents tools to prevent it from happening. We don’t want to—we don’t want it to be too late. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, right—(laughs)—after it has happened, and the neighborhood’s been decimated, we can’t say, oh, wow. I wish we would have had some resources to allocate, just, it’s too late.
WORLAND: Very, very interesting.
I guess—yeah, if there are audience questions, maybe we’ll open it up now. If someone in the front—and I guess we’ll alternate between in the room and online, if we have online questions.
And I—and I—just one more reminder, which is that it’s—this conversation is on the record, so just be aware of that, as you’re asking.
I just had a really quick question: How, exactly, do you reskill workers? Like, it’s a provision of every climate proposal. But how do you actually reskill workers? You have, you know, people who are coal miners; what are they doing next? How do you actually make sure they get that training, so that they’re able to earn a living for themselves?
WORLAND: Sundaa, that seems like maybe a question for you?
BRIDGETT-JONES: Yeah, no, this is a live question that we’re dealing with—thank you. This is a live question that we’re dealing with in places like South Africa, where we’re working closely with members of the Alliance to, you know, advance an early decommissioning of a coal-fired power plant called Komati. And there have been a number of—are a number of workers there, who have—who have, you know, gained their livelihoods for many, many years.
And I think there’s a combination of things. The government, along with our support, very much convening, not only the ministry that oversees that potential plant but also engaging other ministries across finance, the labor ministry, labor communities to start to think through, by replacing that, what is going to be put in instead?
And I think folks know—I was on a call last night with colleagues of mine who are living in South Africa, and they had significant load-shedding where it went dark at a certain hour, they knew that it would, and we were on a Zoom trying to figure out how to—how to address that and how to think about that in the context of what we were doing.
But a lot of it is also projecting, in terms of—for that renewable technology that might be in place of what’s been produced, in terms of energy, from that coal plant, you know, what are the jobs related to that? Being able to manage that, being able to see the economics around that.
And that is the basis for understanding the kind of skill sets that one might want to help, in terms of reskilling programs, et cetera, for those laborers who are—who are there.
I think the livelihoods that could be derived from those green energy or clean energy efforts. Also, thinking through, how do you transition people from working at coal mines, to actually looking at, you know, small, medium enterprises that might be able to help to support the management of those—of those new technologies, and being engaged more in the community.
So, that’s the kinds of conversations we’ve been having with important, you know, stakeholders in the process, including labor leaders and others, who are quite critical in that.
The mayor has a thought, too?
SUAREZ: Yeah, yeah. I’ll just say, obviously, that’s a really great question, in terms of sort of the disruptive nature of the world, and how do we adapt, right? Like, now we see this new iteration of ChatGPT, and how is that going to disrupt workplaces generally.
But I’m going to use an example that, in this audience, could be a little controversial, right—whoa, OK—(laughter)—to make a point. There’s a bitcoin mining facility in a city called Marble, North Carolina, OK? And this city, Marble, North Carolina, used to have a population of fifty thousand. The main factory that propelled the local economy produced textiles for Levi’s jeans. When those jobs were lost to China, that city went from fifty thousand to, I think, five thousand, or five hundred population. I mean, it was decimated. It was completely imploded, right?
Now, it’s a bitcoin mining facility, or at least it was, last time I went to see it. And it was—it’s one of the largest bitcoin miners in the country. Completely carbon-neutral, OK? Seventy percent hydro, 30 percent offsets, OK? So—and it has revived the town, right? And so, the point is that you had next-generation jobs, that were in the digital economy versus the industrial economy, that came back to our country, thankfully, right, and done in a carbon-neutral fashion, which I think is the way that all of that activity should be done.
WORLAND: I think we want to go online? No? No, OK. Maybe we’ll go, I don’t know, in the—in the back, behind—yeah—(inaudible)—turned around. (Laughs.) Yes, you.
Q: Thank you. Earl Carr, founder of CJPA Global Advisors.
We work in a number of different projects with renewable energy, where we’re raising funds for a project—solar project in Jamaica. One of the things we’ve been finding is that there’s not enough capacity for solar production here in the United States.
How should Americans, different cities, think about solar production, to be able to provide more solar production here in the United States? Because right now, one of the companies that we were working with, first of all, they said, they don’t have enough capacity until 2026 to be—to be able to provide solar panels.
SUAREZ: Do you mean supply chain capacity?
WORLAND: Leela, do you—
SUAREZ: To the investor first.
RAMNATH: All right. (Laughs.)
I was—I was going to say—I mean, there are—there’s a lot of—I’m not a solar expert, so I’m not—I’m going to maybe table that.
But I think it brings a broader question. I think the commercial viability—there’s a lot of really great emerging technology, but I think from an investor perspective, it’s a little bit—there a lot of very nascent, new energy-type of initiatives, and then there’s, you know, renewable and solar, which is now, at, I think, at a—at a—at a competitive price point, right, if you take out the supply chain aspects of it.
But—and then there’s everything in between. There’s a—there’s an investing, kind of, what they call valley of death, where you have some, like, emerging technologies in the startup phase, then you have a space where not many investors are willing to take on the risk, because it’s not a—
SUAREZ: Valley of death.
RAMNATH: —valley of death, thank you. (Laughs.) Where it’s not, you know, commercially viable yet, and then—and then all of a sudden, you have—every single investor wants to invest in it.
And so, I think right now, that’s been a barrier for a lot of different clean tech—clean technologies. That’s one thing.
The other thing, I think the supply—just on the broader supply chain issue, I think this is an interesting place where developing markets are—potentially, done in the right way, can be well-placed. Because if you think about the EV value chain, a lot of the rare minerals, lithium, et cetera, are being sourced from a lot of parts of the world that are now becoming included into the conversation around the clean energy transition. I think how it’s done and how that’s being executed in the developing countries, where there are sources making sure that the supply chains are clean, and socially responsible, et cetera, is incredibly important. But I think you raise an important issue.
SUAREZ: I’d be happy to jump in.
SUAREZ: So, I sit on the board of a rooftop solar company in one of my private-sector iterations. And I’ll tell you that there have been massive economies of scale improvements in cost for rooftop solar over, you know, the last couple of decades. I think that there are still probably a 10X improvement that’s needed for it to be completely ubiquitous, right?
So, I think, you know, you—from my perspective, humble perspective, I think you have to be at, you know, $2,000 for solar panels, right? It’s got to be, like, essentially, what it costs to have an appliance at your house for the average person to be able to afford it, and not to just have to make that whole, like, forty-year cost—or whatever it is, twenty-year cost evaluation, where you’re—it’s paid back over ten, or fifteen, or—a lot of people can’t take that chance, right? Or they’re afraid of that payback period, right? It’s got to get to a place where—but I will say this. Florida Power and Light, which is a purveyor of nuclear power—but it’s also one of the largest utilities in the southern part of the United States, probably one of the largest in the United States—is the largest purveyor of solar power in the U.S., right? So, they realized that if you can’t beat ‘em, you got to join ‘em, right? And so, they went from fighting solar, which they did at multiple legislative sessions and through ballot initiatives, to becoming the largest purveyor of solar.
And I think that goes to sort of the point I was making on the Middle East, right? You go from the largest, or one of the largest purveyors of fossil fuels, to potentially one of the largest purveyors of clean energy, right? Because you know how to—how to deliver energy at scale, and that is essentially the asset. How you create that energy, how you harness that energy, that’s a function of a variety of technologies that you’re going to invest in, right? But how you deliver it at scale, that’s really the secret sauce.
WORLAND: Great. We’ll maybe go up front here. Yeah.
Q: Thank you so much. My name is Danielle Obisie-Orlu and I am a Ph.D. student at Cornell.
I have a question—my bad. I have a question regarding the impact of divesting, and the conversation of safeguarding communities. The conversation about—with local stakeholders—I’m from South Africa, so I love that you mentioned load-shedding, because we feel it really, really hard.
When it comes to this conversation about the impact of the energy transition, how are the conversations being had with local stakeholders regarding this impact of prices going up, access being limited, you know, the longer timeline in both Global North and Global South countries who are facing the difficulty of transition—what would happen if we’re coal-powered—without it being a lecture from the West or a lecture from the people who are only interested in climate, but a conversation that encompasses all of us? Thank you.
WORLAND: Do you want, maybe—
WORLAND: Sundaa, do you want to start there?
BRIDGETT-JONES: Yeah, I’ll start there.
I mean, I think it’s a—it’s a really important question, and one that—we all have to continue to be mindful to engage communities in a respectful, meaningful, and productive way.
I’m not—we haven’t figured that out yet. I think—I loved the example that the mayor gave, in terms of the anti-gentrification climate fund, other kinds of ways in which we have community leaders who are offering their voices around this.
But let me offer just three thoughts, and have colleagues build on it. I think—so, one is that we are all—I mean, the education processes, socialization process of what’s happening in our communities, is one where we have to take that journey together, right? And so for many of the people in communities to understand, what is not only the problem definition, and going through that analysis of how it shows up in different ways in their communities, but also really engaging them to be at the table in the conversations around the solutions. And as opposed to coming to these tables with pocketed solutions, where you’re pulling out, it should be an iterative process. It should be one where we’re learning together about what should be those solutions for particular communities, moving forward.
And I guess I have to say that there are too many things that are already boxed before they come into communities. And I think we all need to learn how to—how to be better stewards of those kinds of relationships, to have a much more co-creative process around what the solutions might be. I mean, that—I mean, one can say that’s textbook 101 in terms of development issues, whether you’re talking about it, you know, in Mpumalanga or you’re talking about it in the corners of Miami, right? But the fact is, is that we’re not doing it. And we’re not doing it because of the incentives aren’t there to do so in terms of the way that the money—the money flows for many of the financing around this.
And I guess I just (went ?) through the same things that the mayor had been describing that helped to set up things in Miami: the regulatory environment, the policy environment, having the right kind of financing, having private-sector companies engaged and be prepared to put investments in. Have those, whatever you’re calling it, subsidies, whether it’s government or private-related subsidies like, you know, risk capital coming from philanthropic community. Those things need to be in place in a number of different countries and cities for that to happen.
And so I guess my charge is, you know, let them be part—be part of both the problem definition, and the solution. Start to be more co-creative about that process, and have a line of sight, really, to the kinds of pockets in the communities. It’s not—it’s not just the labor community, but others, as part of the communities that will be involved in this.
RAMNATH: Yeah, if I may add, I think an interesting statistic I read the other day is, 90 percent of global GDP is now under a net-zero commitment. So, that’s countries, companies, et cetera.
SUAREZ: I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.
RAMNATH: It’s amazing. When you think about it, only 4 percent of global GDP is—(laughs)—from the continent of Africa. So, you think about, you know, all of the focus around, you know, net-zero, et cetera, but there’s real issues, as we’ve been saying, around energy security.
I think what’s interesting with—there was a project called Project Drawdown, that was—it was a book written a few years back. One of the top ways to combat climate change is actually educating women and girls. And I think that’s a really powerful message, because, you know, you’re educating women and girls, not only to—you know, it reduces child marriage, early child marriage, you know, and allows them to kind of grow up and think through a lot of the issues, but also things like clean cook stoves, which is something that is a huge emitter, but it’s a—it’s a survival—you know, this is what people know.
And so, I think that education piece that Sundaa mentioned is so critical in how, you know—unfortunately, this is impacting people’s day-to-day lives in a—you know, in a way that had nothing to do with any of their activities to date. But I think it’s something that, you know, communities are needing to adapt, but I think the input from each of the communities about what’s feasible and actionable within their own communities is the only way to really solve that.
SUAREZ: First of all, I think those both are great statistics, so if you could share them with me—
SUAREZ: —like, the site from that, I’d love to incorporate them into my talking points, because they’re—(laughter)—no, I’m—like, I—no, I mean it. I mean, they’re really, like—I had never heard them before. And I think that they’re—when you hear those statistics, they’re astonishing, right? I mean, they’re sort of conversation-defining, in many ways.
I would say a couple of things. One is, I think we underappreciate sometimes—and I don’t think young people do, but I think generally, we underappreciate how disruptive the world is, and the rate of disruption, and how fast it spreads change, right?
So, I’ll point to a couple of things. One is, you know, the fact that Tesla just recently reduced its prices—slashed its prices on cars significantly. Why is that so important? There’s always been discussion that if the electric vehicle is at or below the median car price, it’s over. Why is it over? Because the cost of maintenance is significantly less. How do I know that? I think the electric vehicle has fifteen moving parts; the internal combustion engine has twenty-three hundred, OK? So just talk about simple maintenance, you’re talking about a massive delta in complexity, which creates, you know, creates a lower cost. And also, the cost of fuel, if you will, is also significantly less. So, you have two deltas that make it almost irrational for you not to buy an electric vehicle. If that happens, it’s the end, right? That’s why every single manufacturer—in fact, there are so many manufacturers already saying, they’re not going to be building internal combustion engine cars. So, that will benefit the, sort of, developing world, right?
So, what I’m getting at is disruption in the developing world at scale benefits the underdeveloped world, right?
And I think the second thing is, we’re going into an era where energy is going to be one of the predominant commodities, right? And I believe—and you know, I have—let’s see how I say this without getting in trouble—(laughter)—I think many of you have seen my pronouncements on currencies, and fiats, and crypto, and all that stuff, right? I think we’re going into a world where energy is a predominant commodity. I’m not saying it’s not one now; it’s a huge commodity now. It is a predominant commodity now. But I think it’s going to be even more important, if that could actually happen, it would actually be even more important. And I think that bodes well for the world, because I think that means that countries will have a strategic imperative to share energy production, energy harnessing and energy delivery resources with other countries as a strategic imperative, and as a way to create alliances, if that makes any sense. And I think that does also bode well for the developing nations.
WORLAND: Very interesting.
OK, maybe we’ll go back here. Yes.
SUAREZ: How much more time? Just because I have to go to the bathroom, so. (Laughter.)
WORLAND: We have about fifteen minutes.
SUAREZ: Oh my God, then I have to go to the bathroom. (Laughter.) I’ll come back, don’t worry about it. I’ll be back, guys. Fifteen minutes, it’s a long time to hold it.
Q: I should probably pass my question, then. (Laughs.)
RAMNATH: Better hold your question.
SUAREZ: What’s that?
Q: I should probably pass my question, then.
WORLAND: Was it—was it for him? OK.
Q: It is, actually. It’s actually a question—
SUAREZ: OK. (Laughter.)
Q: I’m sorry.
SUAREZ: I can hold it for one question.
Q: But a really quick—it’s a quick question.
SUAREZ: It’s not—it’s not critical.
Q: It’s not a critical—(laughter)—well, it’s an interesting question.
SUAREZ: (Inaudible)—long time.
Q: Hello. I’m Dr. Jasmine Noelle Yarish. I am a professor at the University of the District Columbia, the only public university in our nation’s capital.
Q: Which is also an HBCU.
SUAREZ: Awesome. I went to a public university.
Q: Woohoo. (Laughter.)
Anyway, my question is actually—Sundaa mentioned earlier that she wants to partner with F1 and Formula E.
SUAREZ: Oh, we just had a race.
Q: And I want to ask a question about how did the city of Miami, which is the newest race on the calendar for Formula One—
SUAREZ: Yeah. Yeah.
Q: —how is it is that you’re leveraging your commitment to climate justice with a company that has a legacy, right, and a concern with producing, like, large-scale fossil fuel exploitation?
SUAREZ: You mean—you mean burning fossil fuels.
SUAREZ: Got it. I don’t think they produce fossil fuels.
SUAREZ: But they certainly burn it.
This is year two. And I’m happy to help facilitate, you know, a connection between Sundaa and her desire to want to get connected to Formula One. I know the CEO. I find him to be extremely dynamic, and probably welcoming of the conversation.
Ironically, one of the biggest sponsors is Aramco, which has, again, given 8 percent of its net worth to the public investment fund of Saudi Arabia, which is also, I think, one of the major investors in clean energy, right? So, they’re also seeing the writing on the wall, if you will. So I think there’s a—there’s a great opportunity here. We also used to have a Formula E race. I don’t know why we don’t have it anymore. It certainly isn’t because I don’t want it. I think it’s just the economics of the race, or whatever, would love to have a Formula E race in Miami, and certainly love having a Formula One race.
And I think, at some point, I suspect, that as this transition happens for all vehicles, it will eventually happen for those vehicles. And the reason why I know that is because, you know, there are station wagon Teslas that have a thousand horsepower and do zero to sixty at 1.9 seconds. And they’re electric, right? And they beat Lamborghinis. So, they’re faster.
So, can I go to the bathroom now? (Laughter.)
BRIDGETT-JONES: I’ve never been to a CFR event when a panelist went to the bathroom, so this is exciting. (Laughter.)
WORLAND: Let him—
SUAREZ: It’s a long time.
WORLAND: Let him go. Let him go. (Laughter.)
Do we—do we have an online? No. OK. We’ll take another question, then. OK, up here.
Q: Yeah. (Off mic.)
WORLAND: Yes, yes, yes. We have a mic coming, yeah?
Q: Thank you. Is it on? Yes. Hi. I’m Alvin Bradbury, a Ph.D. student at University of Maryland. I’m from Jamaica, so this question is pertaining to the Caribbean region.
I know that Sundaa, you had referenced Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who is at the forefront of this. But my question is pertaining to investment initiatives in the Caribbean region, and also Asia-Pacific, especially insofar as the Solomon Islands is concerned, and the Maldives, because they are literally sinking underwater. And so, I’m wondering, sort of, what kinds of investment initiatives do you guys have—perhaps Leela or Sundaa—that’s bolstering, sort of, climate resilience, you know, may it be, you know, the building-up of levees, et cetera, and all of that? Thank you.
RAMNATH: Sundaa, do you want to—
WORLAND: Yeah, Sundaa, do you want to start there?
BRIDGETT-JONES: Yeah, I want to start.
So, thank you for that question. I think it’s so critical to be focused on island nations, really. We have—as part of our alliance in our organization called the International Solar Alliance, that has a very specific focus around island nations in developing countries. And I think it’s one that we need to pay more attention to.
There are a few things that I think the alliance is investing in that I think could be really interesting. A lot of it is off-grid—we call it mesogrids and off-grid kind of electricity support for gaining more affordable, reliable, and access to electricity. That’s taking place in Haiti right now. It’s a model for us that’s, I think, quite promising in a very challenging environment, as we—as we all know, in terms of what’s happening in Haiti.
But I also think, you know, one where—there seems to be a good example there, in terms of how off-grid, you know, where you have these kinds of connections, and you don’t have grid systems that function well, where you—where you can provide services, energy services through off-grid kinds of technology, and get communities more engaged in understanding how to care for those—that infrastructure, how to actually have economics around that infrastructure, with smart metering of systems and all that—and all of that.
And what we’re finding is that even the risk capital of investment there is unlocking capital that’s coming from the Inter-American Development Bank, and a few others. And so I think—I think that’s really—that’s really promising.
And I think we’re going to see more of that offshore wind technology, with companies like Ørsted coming out of Norway, et cetera, who are also working in the States. We’re seeing a lot more investments in those kinds of renewable energy opportunities, as well, in addition to the solar pieces. So, I think—I appreciate the point around the Caribbean. And I think that there’s more uptick in that area.
And I don’t know if Leela has other specific examples where she knows of investments, as well.
RAMNATH: Yeah, I think—
WORLAND: Can I—can I throw in one just additional question here?
I guess, the question touched on, I think, adaptation, as well as mitigation. And of course, it’s been—while there’s still a big gap, it’s been easier to finance mitigation than adaptation. So I—just to throw that additional thing in there, if you have thoughts about specifically, adaptation as well, and opportunities to finance those kinds of projects.
WORLAND: You can answer the first part too.
RAMNATH: Yeah, no, no, no. I think—I was going to take a little different angle to it, because I think one limitation that is in the market right now is data, and especially around island nations and other parts of the world where, as I think someone had mentioned earlier, a lot of the focus has been on the Global North, and less on the Global South. So, when you think about data sets that the finance industry has access to, if you want to look at Miami’s, you know, like, grid by—you know, like, block by block, you can probably get some sort of data set that a data company is saying, OK, here, this is a flood risk for each ZIP code, right?
But if you—if you’re trying to do that same analysis on, you know, the Solomon Islands, or, you know, a different specific island in Indonesia or whatnot, the data set isn’t—just isn’t as robust.
Similarly, on the other side, when you’re doing carbon emissions data, like, if you—if anyone’s done the fun exercise of calculating a carbon emissions of, you know, any company in the U.S. or Europe, you have, OK, based on the city, this is what the grid looks like. And you know, this is your carbon emissions, for, you know, entire countries, albeit one number that’s the emissions factor that tells you about, like, the carbon—like, how carbon-intensive your grid is.
So, the data sets are lacking, and I think that’s a big limitation. And there are some parts that might have very, you know, high-carbon parts of the grid. And there might be others that are purely on microgrids that are powered by solar panels, but they’re kind of treated the same. And so, I think that’s one big limitation.
I think the—and when you think about it from an investor perspective, more investors are using data sets like this to understand what is the risk, and how is it being mitigated? And so, I think this is something that the industry needs to spend more time thinking about, is how to—how to adapt that information, so that investors are making informed decisions, and if need be, kind of downgrade—the example around FEMA. That was a really great example—
RAMNATH: —because it’s not just the risk, it’s about how the—how the city or municipality is managing that.
SUAREZ: Yeah. Well, at least you guys know I’m well-hydrated. (Laughter.) My comms director thought it was, like, a stunt. She’s like, are they going to—who’s going to remember you? I was like—
WORLAND: We’ve all been there. It’s fine. It’s understandable.
SUAREZ: This is not, like, a Marco Rubio, trying to get the water during the State of the Union—(laughter)—speech. So I—(laughs)—so I would just say two things.
One, on the—on the adaptation side, oftentimes, adaptation is correlated with infrastructure, right, and that is a government—a more involved government function, right? So, in the financing context, it’s not so much about particularly financing adaptation, as it is leveraging other resources to adapt, right?
On the mitigation side, there’s usually a business case, right? And certainly, the market, as you mentioned, has priced that in as a value. Why has the market priced it in? Well, because consumers care about it, right? If you think about Gen Z and millennials, and you’ve—and you were to poll them, I think you would find that it’s probably their number-one issue, if not the top three for sure, right? So, there—you know, the market is reacting to consumers. And so, if there is a consumer basis for it, if the market is pricing stock prices on the basis of your—you know, your quarterly disclosures, and how you conform with ESG practices, then there’s a business case for it. There’s a reason why companies want to do it. And I think that’s also—that also informs the differential, a little bit.
WORLAND: Yeah, I would love to get one more question, but Sundaa, I do think the adaptation point is so important. I don’t know if you have a thirty-second thought on financing adaptation. Or not. That’s OK.
BRIDGETT-JONES: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I—I mean I—I mean, you know, at the end of the day, I find these differentiations, like, I don’t know, they seem to be a false choice, right? Because we need—(laughs)—we need it all.
BRIDGETT-JONES: Maybe that’s just my intervention, which is, we need it all. So let’s find opportunities to do—to do both, why not.
SUAREZ: And just to—just to layer on that point, like she said, we talk about, sort of, adaptation, mitigation, we get all caught up in these—in these categories. But nobody ever talks about reversal, right? Which is, like, hey, how do we undo some of the damages soon? Or, how do we get back to a better homeostasis? Or, how do we get temperatures—to the extent that we can control them, right, because it’s—this is a massive system that’s chaoplectic (sp), right, in nature, in terms of the number of variables that go into how you control temperature. So, to the extent that we can, how do we make things better, right? I think that that’s a shortchanged conversation. I call it the reversal conversation, right? I just think that doesn’t get enough—doesn’t get enough play.
WORLAND: OK. One more question, and I’ll—actually, OK. We’ll do—these two have both been—so let’s just do both, and then we’ll answer—maybe get one answer on each. If you can be quick, that would make us end on time.
Q: Hi, Kelly Finn—
SUAREZ: Now I can be here all day, so I’m good. (Laughter.)
Q: —consultant at McKinsey.
So, love the example you gave about, hey, in Miami, climate isn’t a partisan issue.
Q: The example about FEMA makes a lot of sense. What about in the private sector? How do you approach conversations about ESG and kind of depoliticize it?
WORLAND: OK. And then let’s just go one—this question.
Q: Yes. Thank you.
Mayor Suarez, I’m a prior graduate of Miami Dade College and also a Miami native, so thank you.
SUAREZ: Love it. Sharks.
Q: Yes, go MDC Sharks. And also currently studying at Northeastern University.
I just wanted to ask, specifically about—we’ve talked a lot about the involvement of the private sector. And one of the things that I wanted to ask about was the role, specifically, of the international community in conjunction with the private sector, in order to tackle climate change worldwide, how that would affect—whether that is through education investment, divestment, or whichever the case may be. Thank you.
SUAREZ: So I’ll try—I’ll try to take both questions quickly.
In the private sector side, I would say, what I’ve noticed on the—on the real estate development side is a very high-level of conscientiousness on this issue, because it involves insurance; it involves long-term resiliency. I mean, these are—people are building things to last fifty or a hundred years, right? So they have to take into account what they’re seeing, right? It’s—there’s no way around it. Plus, there’s a—there is a marketability component to it, I think. I think it’s part of the reason why they’re doing it too.
In terms of the international forces, I think, you know—and I’d love to see some more of these statistics that you—that you came up with. We cannot do it alone, right? Like, a city can’t do it alone; a country can’t do it alone. This has to be a collaborative, worldwide effort. And if there isn’t enough international cooperation, then it does become politicized, because what happens is, then people will say, well, we’re operating at a disadvantage. Why should we disadvantage ourselves economically when someone else isn’t doing it and they’re getting an advantage? So that does create a problem.
WORLAND: Do you want to come in?
RAMNATH: Yeah, I would just say that climate is a huge topic that the financial industries are focused on. Some, you know, small part of it might be because they have—they’re focused on a double bottom line, or a triple bottom line, you know, outcomes-based of thing. But majority right now has become crucial from a risk and opportunity perspective. So, it’s part—to be part of, you know, evaluating the marketability of your products, as mentioned, to source talent from the market, millennial talent, the next generation of talent, that’s always more interested in this topic, to adhere to regulations in all these different markets, this is a need-to-do in the industry. And so, how that impacts your business, the resiliency of your business model around how you can grow your investment, that is kind of the orientation that I think we’re looking at.
And so, I think from the collaboration perspective, this is—this needs—this needs every tool. This is a—this is something that is hitting companies in different ways, and I think the more innovation that we can have that is with that just-transition lens, that we can apply to that, collaboration is the only way to achieve that—those goals.
WORLAND: Well, that is just about all the time we have. But I want to thank the panelists for a very interesting discussion, and just note that the transcript and the video will be available on CFR’s website, and then invite everyone to join a conversation with Juan Zarate at 5:15 here, and on Zoom.
Thank you to the panelists. (Applause.)
ALLIBHOY: Good evening and welcome. Thank you for joining us for this closing session of this year's Conference on Diversity in International Affairs.
My name is Faheen Allibhoy, and I'm the managing director and head of the J.P. Morgan Development Finance Institution. And I'm delighted to be here with Juan Zarate, who is the global co-managing partner and chief strategy at K2 Integrity. He is also the former U.S. deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, among many other distinguished roles and positions in government and the private sector.
So I think, Juan, we had such an engaging catch-up yesterday.
ZARATE: I loved it.
ALLIBHOY: And I know today's discussion will be equally rich. But if I may, I'd like to start a little bit with your origin story. You grew up in California, and then came out east for college. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that journey and what motivated you—the early motivations to come to international policy and affairs?
ZARATE: Perfect. First of all, thank you for moderating. I'm honored to be up here on stage with you. If you’ve seen Faheen’s biography, it's remarkable. And it's really an honor for me to be on stage with Faheen. So I hope we get a chance to talk about you too, to be honest.
ALLIBHOY: (Laughs.) He’s turning the tables around. (Laughter.)
ZARATE: But it's great to be with you all. And thank you for joining us for this last session.
I was really lucky in life. I grew up in a remarkable family. I had two parents who came to this country in the 1950s. One, my father, from Mexico seeking economic opportunity. He was a doctor but wanting to kind of seek his own life from his family in Mexico. My mother from Cuba, fleeing the beginnings of the Castro revolution. And she and most of her family eventually fled to the U.S. And so I grew up in a very loving home, first of all, and a home that was very much sort of committed to the idea of the American dream, and of fulfilling that promise and seeing that promise come to life through the family's life and service and work.
And so, you know, I grew up in a home where we had lots of newspapers—four or five subscriptions to newspapers. Lots of—
ALLIBHOY: On paper.
ZARATE: Yeah, on paper form. I still like them in paper form, as a result. (Laughter.) Lots of magazines. Lots of emphasis on education. And very much a spirit of we're here in this country as a privilege. And you have to make the most of the opportunities in front of you. And, frankly, any obstacles put in front of you are meant to be overcome. And any, you know, discrimination or anything that you face is somebody else's problem. It's not yours, right? And so it was—it was a home that was very much empowering and that gave us a sense of service and commitment to learning and to the country itself.
ALLIBHOY: Now, that that resonates a lot with me. But when you got to college, you actually became very academically focused on international affairs and Latin America. What did you do? I know you had a such an interesting senior thesis, and then you carried that on in some of your writing and other endeavors.
ZARATE: Yeah. And again, this, I think, stems from—especially my mother, who was fixated on U.S.-Cuba policy. And so there was no dinner conversation that didn't have foreign policy sort of attached to it in some way. And we had a very conservative view of the Castro revolution, obviously, because of the way it treated our family and others that we knew. But so I grew up appreciating international relations, fundamentally, reading about it. I remember even in grade school, you know, writing about Cuban troops in Africa, and what they were doing in East Africa and Southwest Africa. You know, writing reports about Namibia and other things, learning all the capitals of Africa. You know, I just—I loved geography and things.
And so I got to college and I was really enamored with the East Coast. You know, we had—I had taken some student trips and other things to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, New York. And so I just love the sense of history and grandeur, and certainly in D.C., the majesty of everything. And that's why I wanted to come back east for school. And so when I got to college, I really very much wanted to focus on international affairs. I concentrated on something called social studies, which at Harvard is the mix of economics, history, poli sci, a blend of whatever you kind of wanted, sociology. It’s a great major.
And then I wrote my senior thesis on the role of American foreign policy in Latin America, in particular on Central American democratization, comparing two different periods of time, three different countries. And that eventually became my first book, Forging Democracy. And so all of that really drew back to my childhood, which was a family and a and homelife that was very much attuned to what American power was, what it meant, for good and for bad, what—you know, what American power could do around the world and how it affected people's lives.
ALLIBHOY: Now, that's super interesting, in that kind of where the impetus came from, I mean, I very much again, identify. I grew up in six different countries. And I think that's clearly led me to a career in international business. So—
ALLIBHOY: So then—I think you then went to law school. And you stayed in Boston. But after that, you decided not to go directly into private practice. I know you did a clerkship. And you went into government service right away. I think that's very interesting. And for many people in the audience who kind of are at that cusp after graduate school, thinking of do I, you know, go get some experience in the private sector or follow my passion into government. Kind of, what led you to government?
ZARATE: There had always been this sense of service, or the need to serve, in the family. And I didn't join the military. My father had served actually as a naval surgeon as an immigrant. He had joined the Navy and been a naval surgeon. My brother joined the Army. You know, there was a sense of service in the family. My sister, who’s a few years older than I, had gone on to be a public prosecutor in California. And I had—we had family members who were judges, and lawyers, and such. And so there was a sense of, like, real purpose in the law and in serving through, you know, either being a prosecutor, or a lawyer generally, in public service.
I didn't really know I wanted to be a lawyer, though, in college. I was kind of exploring. And, you know, the thing I tell my daughter, who's about to go to college, and any young person is: Go in with an open mind, because what you study may not be what you do, and what you study should enable what you do, right? And to keep a very open mind about especially different fields that are emerging. You know, the age of technology is opening up all sorts of new fields.
So in any event, I went to law school with a sense of purpose, still with an interest in international affairs. I wrote my third-year paper, which is kind of like a J.D. thesis, on the growing use of private military companies by nation states, and what that meant for international law and what that meant for the laws of mercenary. So I was still trying to capture that interest in international relations through the lens of international law.
ALLIBHOY: So I think what's very interesting is that in government you've done different things as well. You were in the DOJ, in Treasury, and then in the White House. Would you tell us a little bit about those roles? What's kind of the common thread amongst what you did, and kind of the differences in these different, you know, agencies and departments?
ZARATE: Yeah. And I would be lying if I said I knew the difference before I started that journey, because I really didn't. (Laughter.)
ALLIBHOY: You're going to make people here feel good—
ZARATE: I’m trying to make them feel better. You know, so I entered the Department of Justice through the honor program. To your point, I jumped straight from a judicial clerkship into being a junior prosecutor, baby prosecutors they would call us. And the honor programs throughout the government are a really interesting program, because they're intended to bring young graduate students or young professionals into the government. And so I was very lucky the DOJ honor program was there. I was selected. I was—I wanted to go into the terrorism and violent crime section, as it was called then in the ’90s. They picked me as well. So it was a happy marriage.
And I very much loved that because it blended my interest in international security affairs with the law. And that, in many ways, was the throughput through all of the jobs I had. It was very much a focus on international security, whether as a terrorism prosecutor, as a Treasury official, or as the, you know, counterterrorism adviser to the president. All of that was about international security, American power, and how it manifests. And I think each agency is different. In the U.S. government, you have different agencies, different authorities, different silos. They all serve different purposes. Department of Justice serves to effectuate the law. And to as a prosecutor, you try to prosecute the law and hold people to account.
At the Department of the Treasury, the role I had—and I had no idea, really, what the Treasury did—was to, especially in the post-9/11 period—make it harder, costlier, and riskier for America's enemies to raise and move money around the world. That's kind of the shorthand of it, and to try to unplug them. And that's all sanctions and anti-money laundering issues. And then at the White House, it was about trying to coordinate from a strategic level all of our counterterrorism and transnational threat policies and issues. And all throughout, you get to see the landscape of the federal government, which is immense, and the different agencies that have different roles. The intelligence community, Department of Defense, the State Department, etc. Not to mention non-classically national security agencies—USAID, trade rep, what was then OPIC, which is now DFC. These are all important agencies in the government.
ALLIBHOY: That's absolutely right. Yeah, no, I deal with a lot of those in my day-to-day work.
ZARATE: I know you do.
ALLIBHOY: So, you're now leading a private firm. You've also started a company, I've seen, which is really interesting, and built businesses. What prompted that move? And how did you get involved with K2, and kind of what drove that decision-making process to come into the private sector?
ZARATE: I'll be very honest with the audience and with you. Faheen. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing in government. I had more gas in the tank, so to speak, and I was—I thought I was getting good at my job. By the end of four years at the White House, four years—I thought I was finally learning the tricks of the trade. But, you know, in Washington if you reach a certain level politically, you have a change of administrations, you leave. And so I left.
And so you start to ask yourself, what next? And eventually what I figured out is, I love building teams. I love doing things that are innovative, or creative, or about design. And I want to actually continue to impact the world in a way that's parallel to sort of the mission focus of what we were doing in government. Because I think one of one of the common traits of the agencies in my career was also there was a very clear mission to what you're doing. And that's powerful. Powerful because others around you are aligned to that mission, you have faith and confidence and trust in what everyone's trying to do in furtherance of that mission.
ALLIBHOY: You're all rowing in the same—
ZARATE: Rowing in the same direction. And you assume good faith on everyone's part in furtherance of that mission. So I wanted to do what, in essence, we were trying to do on the government side, on the private sector side. Can we make people's lives better? Can we make them more secure? Can we make the financial system safer and more secure? And so that's what led me to starting the consulting firm, which is now K2 Integrity. It's what led me to start Consillient, which is the fintech company we now run and own. And to get involved in a whole range of things that I think are really important and interesting and, in many ways, can only be driven from the private sector lens, as opposed to viewing the world simply through the lens of what government can do and what you can do through government.
There's often much you can do, as you're doing, frankly, in a powerful position to affect where capital goes, how investment is done, the course of events where the private sector holds a lot of power. And especially when you're talking about high-finance major banks or you're talking about interesting technologies, and the rest. And so that became my mindset. And I became committed to trying to be as constructive and creative as possible on the outside, as we would say.
ALLIBHOY: Now, that's incredible. And I think that being able to shift that talent and maintain that sense of purpose, I think, is really important. Because you have to be happy doing what you're doing every day, right?
ALLIBHOY: I think what's so interesting about your career and path is that beyond such an interesting career in government and now what you do professionally, you've also done multiple collaborations with think tanks, with the media. You've written books, right? So what was the impetus between those—behind those kinds of engagements and—I like to do things outside of work as well, but this is kind of a different tack to it. So for those in the audience, especially who are interested in research and writing in think tanks, you know, your take on some of your engagements would be great.
ZARATE: Absolutely. And some of this, it feels like it's by design. Some of this happened organically in a sense.
ALLIBHOY: You meet someone—
ZARATE: Yeah, you meet someone, or you're starting a conversation here and you say, oh, these people are doing interesting things. But what you quickly find is there are all sorts of avenues and opportunities to do important, creative work. Research writing, academic work, working in the tech and innovation space. And there's different vehicles. In D.C.—what's great about D.C. is you've got this sort of industry of think tanks, kind of a plethora of these groups, that are charged with looking at, and studying, and issuing reports, and engaging in thought leadership around key issues. And they're usually on the cutting edge because they've got donors and others that want to explore cutting edge issues.
And so, you know, think tanks like CFR, like CSIS, like others that I'm associated with, FDD, all have different areas of focus, areas of expertise. And they're fascinating places to work because there's so much knowledge in those buildings. Often unbeknownst even within that building. Like we've got a great expert on this, and a great expert on that. And they're usually doing really interesting work. So it's a great place to get an entree into the policy world, especially in Washington, because there are a lot of opportunities.
And the media, of course, has a lot of influence. Influence in terms of how the country views events, what the narrative is. And I was attracted to doing that, less to get my face on TV—because I think I have a face made for radio—(laughter)—I was on the radio, by the way, a lot. (Laughter.) But because it's an interesting way of engaging in dialogue. And if you do it, I think, constructively, and you're not there to kind of, you know, take shots at people or whatever and be overly political, it's actually interesting to engage on some of these programs that are very thoughtful.
I'll give you one example that I’ve been doing for a long time. I worked for CBS and NBC, but I've been doing a show for al-Hurra for a long time with Rob Satloff from the Washington Institute, who hosts it. And it's called Dakhill Washington. And the other guest is—it's a little talk show. And the other guests is Dennis Ross. So imagine that. I get to sit there once a month with the great Dennis Ross—you know, someone when I was a student I would look up to. And we get to debate and talk about interesting foreign policy issues that, then goes out into Iraq and into the rest of the Arabic-speaking world. And that's—you know, that's cool. That's really neat stuff. And you learn, inevitably, from that.
ALLIBHOY: No, that's quite incredible. I mean, I think something that you touched upon when speaking about your engagement with think tanks is networks, right? I think we're both members of CFR, you’re a member of The Federalist Society, many other—maybe alumni associations. And many of us are part of that. What has really stood out to you about engaging in some of those networks? Over time has it changed?
ZARATE: Yeah, once you start getting some gray on your beard you start to realize certain things. And one of them, Faheen, is what you're saying, which is the importance of these networks. And, again, these are—networks are things that emerge organically, right? I don't think you can kind of go into college thinking: Oh, I'm going to create a network for this, and I'm going to create a network for that, right? It is a much more organic way of engaging that just stems from your friendships, and your interests, and your avocations, right? And I think that, in retrospect, what's so fascinating is how important those networks are, because the people you go to school with, the people you interact with, the people you work with, are people you get to know as people and as professionals.
And, frankly, those are the people you'll turn to and will need to turn to when you want to build something, when you want to fix something, if you get in trouble, right? These are the people that will surround you, that ultimately you trust. And what's essential about any network to work is trust, right, and building that trust. And Admiral McRaven, from the special operations community, has a phrase. He says, you can't surge trust, right? You have to build trust over time. And if trust is fragile. You can lose it quickly. So tending to trust, tending to your friends, and also not viewing your friends as a means to an end. You know, friends as your friends really deepens that trust.
And I will tell you, you know, the old saying in Washington is nobody in Washington is a friend. If you want a friend, get a dog, right? (Laughter.) Woodrow Wilson said that. But I'm not so sure that's true. I think if you have deep networks coming into Washington for different roles, or New York, or internationally, those are friendships that are very deep and rich. And they cut across political divides, at least historically they have. And they've served me incredibly well.
ALLIBHOY: Yeah, no, I mean, just yesterday—and you can also leverage other people's networks. Yesterday he says to me: You went to Wellesley? And I'm like, yeah. And he's like, my wife did. (Laughter.) So that's another connection, right?
ZARATE: Yeah, and we're going no doubt have friends in common.
ALLIBHOY: Yeah, exactly. So I think maybe just to kind of looking back on your career, any particular challenges you'd focus on? I'm not going to talk about the good stuff but, you know, just things that you came across that you didn't expect?
ZARATE: Yeah. You know, I think a couple things. One is, you know, this whole sort of mantra of “lean in.” You know, and it's—and that discussion sort of couched in the context of women and the balance for women in the workplace. And I think that's really an important discussion. That also affects men, right, in different ways. And so, you know, there's two elements to that. One is, there was a moment in my career when I didn't lean in. And I think back, and I think back, maybe I should have. And I didn't lean in because I thought I was too young. Now, I was really lucky because I was super young in terms of all the jobs I had. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have had those jobs. (Laughs.) But I was too young.
You know, I was a thirty-one-year-old deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury, thirty-three-year-old assistant secretary, thirty-four-year-old, you know, DNSA, sitting with these legends of foreign policy that I had only read about. But there are a couple of moments in that trajectory where I didn't lean in because I doubted myself and I doubted, you know, how I would be perceived. And so—
ALLIBHOY: Or whether it was the right time, yeah.
ZARATE: Yeah, the right time. And I wouldn't change anything in terms of my trajectory. So I look back, and, like, that wasn't a mistake, necessarily. But I do reflect that that was a moment where I didn't lean in, and I could have. I could have leaned in aggressively.
That also then relates to being on the outside of being a father. Because any parent, any professional, like yourself, like myself, has to deal with the balance of how aggressively you're pursuing something—an innovation, a profession, whatever—and what that means then for your personal life, and what that means for time with your family. And I—you know, I'm glad I left government when I did, because I was becoming absent to the family, to be honest, because the hours were ridiculous, the weekends were ridiculous, the travel was crazy.
And I remember one story—and I'm conveying it not to make you feel sorry for me, but it is a reflection of this point, where my daughter was in preschool. I can't remember if it was kindergarten yet. But she drew a picture of the family, and I wasn't in it.
ALLIBHOY: (Laughs.) That's not good.
ZARATE: Yeah, not good. I didn't mean to get emotional. I typically don't. And I—you know, and the teacher asked her why. Because they knew I was, you know, the father, and I was present, and things. And she said: Daddy's at work. Daddy’s at work.
ZARATE: And so that's hard. It’s hard. Anyway, so I was very deliberate when I left to kind of repair. So I took—I was deliberate. I took a year where I wasn't going to travel. I was going to figure out what I wanted to do, but I was going to be present. And that's animated what I've done since. And I very much, even though I'm super busy with my resume and bio, like, oh, he's doing lots of things, the family is paramount. And especially as the kids get older and you realize you don't have that much time left. Mary Louise Kelly has written a great book called It. Goes. So. Fast. And it’s about this point, which is you realize there's a moment at which the family unit won't be a unit quite the same anymore. And you won't have a next time to plan for. And so you've got to really take advantage.
ALLIBHOY: Well, I mean, I really appreciate you sharing that. And I know you're such a good dad. And your daughter is off to college soon.
ZARATE: She is. She is. We're excited.
ALLIBHOY: So you’ve gone through that process. And I'm going to seek your counsel as I have that coming up.
ZARATE: Yeah. You got it. You got it. (Laughter.) It's not so fun sometimes. The trips are fun, though. (Laughter.)
ALLIBHOY: So I pawn those off to my husband. (Laughter.) So I think the last—the last piece that I'm going to ask of you is advice, especially potentially for some of the younger professionals in the crowd. Anything you want to impart on working in international affairs and government?
Maybe three points. I'm a lawyer, so I go by threes. Follow your passion. Like be—whatever you're passionate about, interested in, that's probably going to lead you into something, a career. It may not be exactly what you imagine or exactly what you try to forecast or create for yourself, you know, at this age. But figure out what really makes you excited, what makes you tick in the morning, and go for it. And go for it. And don't be afraid to ask people for help or advice, to use your networks. Something I've had to teach even my daughter to say, look, it's okay to ask for help. And, you know, I'm always happy to mentor people or to, you know, write recommendations, or the rest. And so go forth and don't be afraid to ask for help.
The other thing I—the second point I would make is: Don't dismiss the substance and the work. Substance matters. I think at every point in my career, what mattered most was I knew a lot.
ALLIBHOY: The expertise.
ZARATE: The expertise. Expertise actually matters at the end of the day. And so don't dismiss that. It's not just about who you know, and—you know, those things kind of matter, and the right time on things, yes. But what will open the most doors for you is you actually know what you're talking about, you're actually expert—you're actually needed in the room for meetings, not just because people like you or because you scream because you want to be included. Guess what? People want you there because they need you, they know you know a lot. They know you're going to help. They know you're going to give good advice. That drives the doors opening, right?
And related to that, and this happens a lot with young people, is I would not worry so much about the next stage. I think you always have to plan forward. Like, where do you imagine yourself in five years, 10 years, what's ideal? But I think that's a little bit of a trap sometimes because you get captured in the future while not appreciating the present. And I will tell you my career I never imagined going to Treasury. It was a hard decision moving from—training to be a lawyer, I loved being a prosecutor. I was hungry for it. You know, but I changed careers. And it was because a door opened. And then that door opened five other doors.
And so you don't quite know how your life's going to sort of emerge, but take advantage of what's in front of you. And if you’re doing what you're doing now well and with passion, with respect for others, with trust in the people you're working with, all sorts of doors start to open. And they may not be the same doors or pathways that you would have envisioned, or you could have even planned for. So focus on the now first and fundamentally, while you also envision where you're going.
ALLIBHOY: So well said. And, I mean, I could go on and on, especially about what you may do in the future. But maybe some of our audience members will go there. So at this time, I'd like to invite participants in the room and those online to join our conversation with their questions. And maybe we'll start with a question from the room. And just a reminder that this session is on the record.
Q: Hi. My name is Jessica. I'm a consultant at Deloitte.
I appreciate how you both talked about the importance of building networks and mentoring others, but I wanted to ask you a question about the mentors you've had in your career and what role they played when it came to making big career shifts.
ZARATE: I want you to answer these questions too. (Laughter.) It's a great question. I can think back to sort of key moments, whether it was in college or law school or even professionally, where it was either a teacher, or a colleague, in essence, put their arm around me. And I remember in college a couple of professors in particular, one of whom has recently passed away, Martin Feldstein, who was this famous economist, God rest his soul. You know, showed interest in me. And I remember, it wasn't Martin Feldstein but it was somebody else who said to me: I can feel your voice through this paper that I read, and it's powerful. It's important. And just saying that to me as a as a freshman or sophomore in college was, like, that was—that was it, because it was very empowering. It was like, someone sees me. They're reading what I'm writing. They see promise in what I'm doing.
So there's those little moments of encouragement. And I think that's really important for each of us. And you don't have to be in an old person or a professor at Harvard or something for this to have an impact. It's a colleague or a friend to say, look, what you just did was really good. Or that was really empathetic of you. Or that—you know, just those moments of, you know, the metaphorical arm around the shoulder, really powerful. And it doesn't require like, you know, I meet with my mentor once a week kind of thing. It’s, I think, the way you treat others and encourage them if they're doing the right thing.
ALLIBHOY: No, I would just echo that, if I’m going to answer. Is that, you know, sometimes people do think it's these long-term relationships. And some of them may be across your career. But it's that—I remember someone at the Wellesley recruiting team, when I went into investment banking, who was like: You're really good. Or someone—a managing director said, come with me to the board meeting, because I want you there. You know, and then you're propelled to go, and you meet interesting people and build those networks when you're given those opportunities.
So maybe we'll take another one from, from D.C., please.
Q: Thank you. Aidan Arasasingham from CSIS.
ZARATE: Hi, Aidan.
Q: Nice to see you.
One of the questions that I was thinking through as you were talking about that inflection point when you were going from Justice to Treasury, like a decision that was a very tough one and one that you were really grappling with. And it could be a question to both of you. But during those inflection points where maybe an opportunity comes up that you didn't foresee, or some really, really tough decision that you're grappling with, how do you think through that to find clarity? And then who do you turn to, to help you find clarity?
ZARATE: Do you want to take a first crack at it and I’ll follow you?
ALLIBHOY: Oh, my goodness. Let me—well, I think, for me, it was really—I worked at the International Finance Corporation for a long time. And I knew that one thing that that afforded me was a career overseas and a stint overseas. But that's not an easy thing to do, especially when you have two people who are pursuing their careers, and when's the right time to move your whole family? And I was given the opportunity to go run IFC’s operations in West Africa and to be based in Dakar. And that was an incredible opportunity. It was an office of 100 people to manage, to learn, you know, five new countries, et cetera. But what would that mean for my, you know, personal life, you know, family?
And then would that be sidetracking? Because I didn't do as much on Africa, but had a super interest in it and done stuff in business school. Would that be taking away from the renewables stream that I had been covering? And I think you ask people who've done it before. I take a lot of counsel from my spouse, actually. And I think that you have to finally just take a leap, and know that there's so much to learn. And if it doesn't work out, there are always other things to do. And if you have that passion, to kind of jump for it sometimes is important.
ZARATE: Yeah. And, Aiden, it’s great seeing you, by the way. You're doing great work at CSIS. A couple of things. The leap from Justice to Treasury was a big deal, because it was a shift in career. The lead from Treasury to the White House to the NSC, was actually a big deal for me too, because we had built the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, finally, and we'd gotten it sort of on its feet. And we were now doing all the things we wanted to do with it. And it was, in a sense, my baby. And you get—very rare in government to get to build something like that. And so that, for me, was a tough moment because I was going to be leaving behind in—in trusted hands—but I was going to be leaving behind the thing that I loved most.
And so that that, for me, was just as difficult a decision, even though, you know, in rank it was higher, and all these things. I just loved what I was doing and the people I was doing it with. So that was really hard. But I turned to those people, actually, to get advice. And the people that I trusted most and, frankly, who are now my partners in business on the outside, gave me the advice and said: You need to go. This will be important for you. You can help us from where you're going to be. And we're going to be okay. We're okay now, right? And we've got other leaders coming on board, et cetera. So I trusted the people I was working with to help me think through that. And that was helpful. And I think, of course, family that you trust. My wife too is a great counselor. So people that know you, and love you, and want the best for you, I think, are a good source of unvarnished counsel at times.
ALLIBHOY: (Laughs.) And knowing the bench is in place, I think, is also an interesting—that people are going to carry on the good work that you may have been doing.
ZARATE: Exactly, right.
ALLIBHOY: OK, so we'll continue in the back, please.
Q: Hi, I'm Negin, from the National Academy of Sciences.
So a true test of leadership is knowing when to course correct or when to learn from mistakes. A lot has been learned in the last twenty-plus years in the war on terror, especially the impact of blanket sanctions on humanitarian aid and helping people in the countries that, you know, even they want their own leadership gone. So what are some examples that have carried you forward, as you continued your career, as well as some people around you that you've learned those leadership lessons from?
ZARATE: It’s a great question. I think about this a lot. And part of this is wishing you could go back into your former roles with all the knowledge and wisdom you now have, and think, wow, I would have done that differently or pushed harder on this. You know, just to take your examples, I think on sanctions one of the things we failed to do, and we continue to fail to do, I think, as a government, is to have sanctions policy that is then met with the flip side of aid, and assistance, and investment that counters the negative externalities of sanctions. Because there are going to be negative externalities to sanctions, regardless of how finely tuned they are. And they are more finely tuned than they used to be. But I think that hasn't happened yet in the way that it should, from a U.S. government perspective. So I think that's a real failing.
And we tried to do things on it, but we didn't succeed. So it wasn't good enough. (Laughs.) So I think often about that. You know, I think back, you know, I wasn't at the White House in the first term of the Bush administration, but there was certainly plenty of mistakes made in the aggressive pursuit of the war on terror. There's no question about that. And, you know, even the—you know, the invasion of Iraq, I think there's lots of debate about that. I wasn't a part of those debates, but in some ways I wish I had been a part of those debates because, you know, maybe I could have informed it or something would have been different. But I think in your professional life, you go through—even on a daily basis, thinking, you know, why did I send that email that way? Or maybe I should have just been a little bit more quiet or thoughtful about it, slept on it, right?
There are these moments that you constantly kind of try to refine the way that you operate, to be as effective and as good a professional as you can be. But there's all sorts of—in the national security space, there's all sorts of negative externalities. And I think one of the challenges for the U.S. government is how do you make sure that you're dealing with those and you're not creating unintended consequences that are undermining U.S. interests? And I think we don't do a good enough job of that across the board.
ALLIBHOY: In the aisle, another question.
Q: Thank you. Hi, my name is Juliana Heritage. I go to school at UCSB, and I also work as the director of youth engagement for Gravity Water.
And so what's really important to us is the development space and the Bretton Woods institutions. And what comes with infrastructure development oftentimes comes development-induced displacement, which is an issue that's not going away anytime soon. How do you all feel like the private and public sector can come together to make sure that independent accountability mechanisms are used to help project affected persons? Thank you.
ZARATE: I think you're better suited to answer this question than I am.
ALLIBHOY: I was supposed to be the monitor.
ZARATE: No, no, yeah. (Laughter.) I agreed to do this, because I knew Faheen was going to be up here with me. (Laughter.)
ALLIBHOY: I mean, I think that's another, you know, difficult situation. How do you balance, you know, economic development and, you know, people's livelihoods, habitats, the environment? And having worked at the World Bank Group for many years, that's something that at every project that's thought about, you know, intently. I think there are international norms and standards. There are—IFC has its performance standards and other matters.
But I think you also have to be informed and trust the people that you're working with, right? The governments, wherever they are, are essentially working for the betterment of their citizens, right? And many foreign countries don't get it right, just the way the U.S. doesn't get it right. And I think having that consultation, that collaboration, and also due process and some time to consult when—especially with large infrastructure projects. And then doing the best to kind of implement and then report out on the impacts on the long term. So I think it's that engagement between, if it is a private-sector entity building out that project, and making sure that government norms, national norms, and then international norms are followed as well, is something that happens. Not perfectly, but it's getting better, I feel.
ZARATE: She's the expert. I'm going to leave it at that. (Laughter.)
ALLIBHOY: So, in the front.
Q: Hi, I'm Kelly. I'm a consultant at McKinsey.
Question for you both. You stressed the importance of having expertise in your organizations. What does expertise look like for junior on your team or someone who's a little bit younger?
ZARATE: It's a great, great question. It's sort of two principles. One is, I think, to be a great organization you have to surround the leadership and the leadership itself has to be talented, challenging to each other, and complementary, right? So a good leader isn't afraid of people that are smarter than him or her or, frankly, elevating people that are smarter, and frankly, maybe more important to elevating for an organization. For junior-level people that we recruit and that we look at, if it's not a particular job, let's say coding or, you know, the company that we started called Consillient, is a federated machine learning company. So, you know, there's specific data science skills that you would need.
But if you're talking about generally consulting, or McKinsey, or K2 Integrity, or Deloitte, you're looking for somebody that has demonstrated breadth and ability to go deep. So that's tricky to gauge when somebody is coming out of college or graduate school. But you can generally tell this from resume recommendations. And I'm insistent on talking to people that have either worked with or taught that person, because you get a sense of is this a person really willing to dig in and ultimately willing to own their work? And I think that's something that managers look for, do you have people that are—they may make mistakes. They may not have all the degrees they need. But are they willing to learn, and work, and own their work product?
The most satisfying thing to a boss is to know that there's somebody there that's competent, willing to jump in, who says: Sure, and actually follows up. And, you know, sort of the two best words, there's “sure” and “done”—(laughter)—you know, kind of thing, right? And trying to figure out who at a junior level can do that is tricky. But I think you look with people with ambition and maybe with a track record of having some ambition.
ALLIBHOY: I mean, the two things I would just say very quickly is I think there's technical expertise for like, you know, for—in my case, in banking, you know, modeling, you know, financial forecasting, being able to, you know, tie together the three statements in a balance sheet, cash flow, and income statements. But then after that, it became industry expertise, right? Because you're going to work in an industry. Can you actually—do you actually know the trends in that industry, the cost curves? And then can you bring value to your clients, right? Because a lot of us do work in a service-focused industry. And then finally, it's business development. Do you bring business to the firm beyond just execution? Because I think we all get good at execution. But after that, it's like can you develop new business? And then can you develop new products as well?
I think I'll take—yes, please.
Q: Hi, I'm Sandra Rivera from the U.S. International Trade Commission. I don't know if I need this, but anyway. (Laughter.)
I'm interested in hearing—I appreciate hearing about your reflections on your son and the drawing and what it meant to you at your job. I would like to hear two questions: How was it like for you to coach your kids to applying to college and that whole process? And do you think you got the balance right, between letting them figure it out themselves and not? (Laughter.) And the second question—second question I have is: Can you tell me something about something that—somebody you mentored, how you learned from them?
ZARATE: That's great.
ALLIBHOY: I'm taking notes on the first one.
ZARATE: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter.) You've hit a raw nerve on that one. (Laughter.) Couple of messages that I gave to my daughter as she was applying. One was: Go for it. You know, apply to places that you're interested in and that seem interesting to you. So don't mute yourself, right? If you want to apply to an Ivy League school or wherever, just go for it. And rely then on your college counselors. Mom and dad will help too, if we can, to think through the options. But it's really up to you.
And so that was the second message, was it's really up to you. And ultimately, it's going to be where you're happy, where you meet your interests. The other kind of footnote message, and this is hard in the in the application process. You'll see this. There's this great drive to have people committing to a school or a concentration. So I get very irritated at these college visit events where like, they would ask my daughter—the first question they asked her is: What are you interested in? Or, what do you what do you want to study? And her answer was, like, everything. Which I loved.
Which is—you know, some people know what they want to do. They want to be pre-med, or they want to be an engineer. And so some schools require you to commit to a particular concentration. Others don't. So anyway, I think we got the balance right. You know, there are probably a couple moments where I should have pushed a little bit more here or there. But in general, I think we ended up in the right spot. And she feels good about herself and the way she went about the process, which ultimately is the key, right? It's less about if I'm happy, it's if she’s satisfied.
On the, what have I learned? You know, I've developed a very close relationship with Congressman Mike Gallagher. I actually met him because we went to the same high school, talking about networks, right? But I was much older. I met him at an event, he was student body president, and he was graduating. He gave a speech, sort of introductory speech, and then I gave a big speech to the kind of the school community. And we became friends after that. And mutual teachers said: He reminds us of you, and other things, and you should really keep an eye on this kid. And I did.
So he went on to Princeton. I had trouble with that. I wanted him to go to Harvard. (Laughter.) But anyways, he went to Princeton. You know, he entered the Marines. Got his graduate degree at Georgetown. We kept in touch. And he’s somebody who was always helpful to me. He helped me with my book, Treasury's War, which is my second book. And I've always learned from him. And now he's, you know, the preeminent figure on the Hill in terms of China policy, right? He's the chair of the China Commission. And so I'm now learning a lot from him. And I think we've probably switched roles. So now he's my mentor. (Laughter.) But in any event, that's a good example of, you know, you have these long-term relationships. And the end of the day, you start learning from each other and relying on each other. And, you know, I have deep respect for Mike Gallagher in that regard.
ALLIBHOY: Can I tell a little story on that, just now I'm jumping in? There was someone who was a young Wellesley grad that I was—often met with for coffee and mentored. And she asked me, what do you want to do next? And then I was like, I would love to do this, and this, and this, and this. And she's like, well, have you done anything about it? Have you told anyone? (Laughter.) It was, like, speaking truth, you know? (Laughter.) And so I had this aha moment that, you know, when I would meet senior people, you know, in my organization, and they'd say, how are you doing? And I'm doing great. And I'm doing this and this and this. And that was kind of keeping me where I was because I was showing that I was very interested. And I was never articulating all the different stuff that I wanted to do. And that set me on my trajectory to moving to West Africa and having this fabulous experience living in Senegal, and an incredible family experience there, and this deep appreciation for everything Africa thereafter. So that was a funny story.
ZARATE: That's amazing, yeah.
ZARATE: No, but just to riff on this. Now as, you know, you create a company and you have employees. Having employees tell you what they want to do more of is really important. A, it shows that the person's interested, right? But automatically now you're calculating where they could fit. And so it's funny you should mention that, because it's those moments that then open other doors. To say, OK, let's put them on this project, or do you want to travel to this? You said you want to travel more. And so it starts to open up doors. That's a really good story.
ALLIBHOY: Yeah. OK, so I think we can still take some more in the room since the online crowd is being shy. In the front.
Q: Hi. My name is Jessica Thomas, and I work here at the Council.
And first off, I wanted to thank you, Juan, for being so vulnerable and sharing about your experience really dealing with that balance between work, and life, and choosing to be present. I think that's a really bold decision to make that's sometimes hard for many of us. But I have a question for Faheen. (Laughter.)
ZARATE: Let’s get to the interesting part. (Laughter.)
Q: So my question actually—
ALLIBHOY: They’re never going let me moderate again. (Laughter.)
ZARATE: I love it. I love it.
Q: Yeah! We all do. (Laughs.)
So you mentioned that you grew up in six different countries. First off, can you share which countries those were? And also how that kind of impacted your career trajectory. And it sounds like—maybe I'm assuming—but it sounds like maybe it helped you be a little bit more flexible to an opportunity to bring your whole family to Dakar. So if you could share a little bit about your—about that career trajectory, and how that also informs the decisions that you've continued to make throughout your career.
ALLIBHOY: So I was born in Pakistan. My family is Pakistani. And then at age one, I moved to Dubai, and was there for several years. Then most of my elementary schooling was in Cyprus. And then we moved to the U.K. for just a year, and then I went to high school in the Philippines and graduated from there. And then came to our fair Boston for undergrad. So if you think that's a lot, my husband grew up in ten countries. (Laughter.) And so I think that we always wanted our family to experience, you know, going abroad and living, and having our children experience that. But it's much harder with two careers.
And in both his case and mine, our mothers did not work. And so, you know, it was maybe a little bit easier, or couldn't pursue their careers because if you have a certain degree or training you can't transfer them to countries. And so we were kind of very—it was always an objective, but kind of not always easy to execute upon. (Laughs.) And I think but when the time was right, you know, we were, like, let's go for it. And let's make this happen. And for me, what was also really important is that I wanted my children to experience living in a developing country, because, to your point, growing up and going to high school in the Philippines—I mean, we were also incredibly privileged, my father worked for a large American company, we had a very nice setup.
But the country had no power my junior and senior year of high school. So we had no power for eight hours a day, and until we got generators and things. And I took my AP French exam with the tape recorder—there were tape recorders—(laughs)—you know, going dead because there was no power, and studying for IB exams. And it was—you'd come back to this beautiful house and a pool. But, you know, and for me that drew me to a career in infrastructure and investing in, you know, in emerging markets. So absolutely did inform that, I think. I took the route of working with insurance companies in New Jersey and Texas before that. But I think it's just finding that right timing and, to the earlier question, just kind of just taking the plunge and making the best of every opportunity you have.
ZARATE: How lucky are your kids, by the way? Unbelievable. That’s awesome, awesome.
Q: Hi. I'm Ashley Stipek from IIE.
I think, compared to many countries, the U.S., we can all agree, has a burnout culture built into our career culture. As leaders, what do you do in your companies, or what do you think needs to be done, to kind of combat that burnout culture to keep employees engaged and retained?
ZARATE: It's a great question. We've reflected a lot on this through the COVID period. And then what coming back to work means now that the situation has gotten much better. And I think—you know, I think about it a couple different ways. One is, we need people to be energetic, right? We need—we don't want burnt-out people coming to the office, or traveling on our behalf, or being in front of clients. That's not good for anybody. Certainly not good for them, and it's not good for the company. So we try to stress some degree of work-life balance.
Now, the challenge, of course, is—and those of you in the consulting world know, or in any profession, know—you have moments where you need to surge. You know, when I was a young law clerk or worked at DOJ, you know, there are all-nighters. You know, you just had to pull because something was due, or you had to file something. But you try to avoid that, and you try to make sure that if you've got people surging for a couple of months, they've got a couple more months to recover, you know? And really thinking of this more like athletes. You know, you've got to kind of train and execute, but then recover and then get back in the game. And so we very much try to do that.
And in terms of coming back to work, we've been very flexible because we recognize that COVID has somewhat accelerated the reality that there isn't much of a divide between home and work life. And that what people did during the COVID period, certainly I did was, in some ways to adapt to that to take advantage of the home life as well. And so you can't suddenly return back to work and not recognize that people are—have adjusted the way that they do business and the way they interact, and the way that they deal with their families, and such. And so we try to be really flexible. We don't—we have a three and two hybrid model. So three days in the office, two days home. But we don't really track it. We asked people to be, you know, responsible about it. And we allow the teams and the managers to kind of determine when people need to be in for team purposes.
But I think it's hard. It's hard because you need folks to work hard. And you need to surge for projects. And you need to meet deadlines. And you got to travel halfway around the world on a moment's notice. But you've got to have a sense of balance and treating people, you know, humanely, and making sure that they—you know, they're excited to come to work the next day.
ALLIBHOY: OK, we'll take one more because we at CFR have to close on time, please.
Q: Hi. Francisco Bencosme. I worked at the Department of State. Thank you so much for your remarks.
My question is about the moment we find ourselves. This is a conference for diversity in international affairs. And I'm seeing in Congress many national security leaders oftentimes are getting attacked for diversity inclusion projects. The phrase “equity” is constantly being politicized. And so my question is, how can we work to build alliances, particularly on the conservative circles, to make sure that equity, inclusion, accessibility remain nonpartisan or bipartisan issues? Thank you.
ZARATE: It's a great question. And I think there's—you know, there’s a broader, longer social question attached to all that. But first of all, we need and want everyone to have opportunity, right, in this country. That’s sort of the essence of this country. We want everyone have the means by which to achieve their goals and to achieve the American dream. And when you're talking about foreign policy, and international relations, and, you know, national security issues, one of our great strengths as a country is our diversity. It's actually strange. And in some ways, I almost get confused as to why we have the discussion in the context of foreign policy, because, you know, Faheen is a powerful woman. Who else would you want doing international development work than Faheen, who's lived in six different countries, has the worldview? Who else would you want working on LatAm issues, you know, somebody who’s come from Central America and understands the travails of people who are, you know, coming north to the U.S.? Who else would you want, who understands the cultures of South Asia or Central Asia as we're dealing with problems there? Like, it mystifies me that we would even question the need for diversity and inclusion, especially in this field.
And so I think the way forward, and both in the corporate domain and in this context is, we have to both celebrate and accentuate diversity that's in furtherance of our goals. The reason you have diversity and inclusion is not just because it's good citizenship, and it is, but because it's important to the endeavor. It's important to the mission. It's important to the goals of a business, to be able to reach different markets, to relate to it, to have salespeople that look like the markets you're serving. In foreign policy, our diaspora is enormously powerful. You know, it's one of our great powers as a country.
You know, you look—by the way, you look at some of the leaders of the TFG in Somalia, you look at some of the leaders in other parts of the world. When I went to Afghanistan 2002, when we sat around with then-Finance Minister Ghani, you know, half of his staff was from California. You know, they were the Afghans that had returned to Kabul to serve. How powerful is that? You know, and so we've got to leverage that. We've got to take full advantage. We have to celebrate it. And we have to promote the diversity in furtherance of the mission. And if we make it about that, I think there's a lot of common ground, because then we're talking about meeting common goals and not just either virtue signaling on one side or bashing diversity for the sake of political gain on the other side.
So that's the way I view it. And, you know, I'm privileged to be here with you all talking about these issues. But in my worldview, this is asked and answered. This is a given. We need diversity in this space. We need everyone in this room and anybody else who's diverse to be engaged in foreign policy in furtherance of America's goals.
ALLIBHOY: So, what an apt way to end this session, this conference. Thank you for your incredible engagement and story.
ZARATE: Thank you, Faheen. Thank you.
ALLIBHOY: And thank you for everyone's great questions. (Applause.)