At a ceremony earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented five American companies, large and small, with the department’s Award for Corporate Excellence. The awards recognize companies that reflect the administration’s focus areas when it comes to corporate diplomacy. To learn more about this year’s awards, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin Executive Producer Eric White spoke to Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the State Department, Sarah Morgenthau.
Sarah Morgenthau The award for Corporate Excellence is an exciting program now in its 24th year. This is the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, and it was actually started under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She had the brilliance and the wherewithal to understand the importance of the government working with the private sector and the business community in particular. And it honors U.S. companies demonstrating leadership in their overseas operations, specifically recognizing U.S. firms that uphold the highest standards of responsible business conduct and whose operational practices and decision making exemplify American values and international best practices. And having a U.S. presence with the business community in these countries is good diplomacy and good foreign policy. These companies are our country’s greatest ambassadors. They invest sustainably. They set high standards of corporate responsibility throughout their supply chains. Carrying the torch for American values overseas and implementing transparent practices that respect local communities.
Eric White This year, you had two categories. You can talk a little bit about that, but also tell us a little bit of how those categories are selected themselves as well.
Sarah Morgenthau Yeah, So we actually had three categories this year. One was innovation, which recognizes companies who offer solutions to solve today’s challenges, such as addressing climate change and food insecurity, as well as transforming the local community. The second one was Women’s Economic Security, which honors a company’s commitment to supporting women’s economic security and help elevating women to become more competitive in the job market. And the third is sustainable supply chains, which celebrates a company’s commitment to improve the environmental, social and nutritional impacts of their operations and supply chains. So these themes are American themes. They are initiatives that are reflected by our administration, by the Biden administration, and American values, which we are seeing reflected in these companies that are operating overseas.
Eric White All right. And so how do you take stock of, you know, companies that are doing work overseas but are also doing work to highlight those categories that you look at and how do you choose the winners?
Sarah Morgenthau Perfect question, what happens is we have our diplomats and our missions around the world who work with many of these U.S. companies, and when they come across a company or companies that are going above and beyond focusing not just on profit margin, but another good values, American values, they’re able to nominate these companies. And that’s essentially, you know, how they were selected. This year, we had five companies which were awarded. Three were from African countries. One was from Jordan and one was from Poland. We were very fortunate to have Ambassador Mark Brzezinski come from Poland to the ceremony, which was an added bonus because we had the company, Google Poland, that was selected by his post.
Eric White Then can you talk a little bit about how this award program really does exemplify how the path to foreign diplomacy and even sometimes in the intelligence community really does start with doing business in other countries? There is kind of a pathway there that many business leaders follow that, you know, find themselves in positions such as yourself.
Sarah Morgenthau I think that, you know, what you’re seeing is, again, these companies are really embodying the values that are promoted throughout all of our interactions with our partner countries, which is enormously important. You know, as I said before, these U.S. companies are some of our country’s greatest ambassadors. They invest sustainably. They set high standards of corporate responsibility throughout their supply chain. Carrying the torch for American values overseas and implementing transparent practices that respect our local communities, all the things that couldn’t be more important. You know, they reflect the American values and high standards transparency, adherence, the rule of law, sustainable development, economic empowerment, fair wages in the communities where they operate. They recognize they don’t have to choose between profit and doing what’s right. So these U.S. businesses are really stewards of our human rights, our economic empowerment in the global communities where they operate. And they lead the way in promoting growth with integrity and excellence. And they raised the bar, you know, everything from anti-corruption, ethical business practices to inclusive labor policies.
Eric White We’re speaking with Sarah Morgenthau. She is the special representative for commercial and business affairs with the U.S. State Department. And I guess we’ve held off. Long enough. We should probably sense the recognition towards those winners. What can you tell me about the winners of this year’s awards?
Sarah Morgenthau Thank you. And it was really exciting to be with these five companies yesterday with Secretary Blinken and others. We also had many of their families join as well. So I think this really was a very, very exciting moment. We had five winners yesterday. Three were from Africa, one from Jordan, one from Poland. These were all American companies working overseas, only one large and the others are small and medium sized. So the first company Avertra, is a medium sized Virginia based American software company with a branch in Amman, Jordan. And it’s dedicated to ensuring an equitable and equal workplace for women’s employment. So they won in the women’s economic security category. And, you know, that’s especially important in a very male dominated field. The second company also won in the women’s economic security category, Google Poland, which is dedicated to promoting gender equality in the workplace and supporting women in tech initiatives in Poland and in the Central and Eastern European region. So again, these are tools for diplomacy, for foreign policy. And you can sort of see the connection as I weave through, you know, how we selected. The third one is winner in innovation, and it’s Kentegra Biotechnology, which has pioneered Kenya’s revival as a global leader in farming pyrethrum, which is a climate change resistant crop and product use and sustainable organic biopesticides to grow healthier food and protect safe water worldwide. The next one is Parsyl, which won in the sustainable supply chain category, and they are supporting vaccine transport in Africa through cold chain data collection and analytics at the National district and local levels in Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. So another really exciting company. And then the last one, also one in the sustainable supply chain category. And it is called Ampersand U.S.A.. Ampersand is Africa’s first mobility energy company, providing electricity and vehicles to power thousands of electric motorcycle taxis across the continent. So Rwanda based Ampersand now serves over a thousand motor taxi drivers, including female drivers in Rwanda and Kenya, where the company expanded in 2022. So five really exciting companies in our countries around the world truly reflecting American values.
Eric White All right. And so as you went through those, it goes a lot in what the policy agenda is of the State Department. You know, you never really know what the world is going to dictate. When do you start, you know, for next year’s. I know I’m already jumping ahead for you.
Eric White Oh, tomorrow. So you start tomorrow looking for the next year’s winners?
Sarah Morgenthau Yeah. This is really an enormous effort by the State Department, by, you know, the Economic Bureau here at the State Department and at working with our posts, you know, all around the world to make sure that, you know, we’re really thinking through, you know, what are the great ambassadors and the great companies that are working. And it’s part of our, you know, larger effort at this office to work closely with the business community, work closely with American companies, not because I said, you know, they are really the tools that we need to do effective diplomacy and effective foreign policy.