State Dept office director recognized for promoting economic growth in developing nations

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Much of the State Department’s work doesn’t make the nightly news, so to the general public, the behind the scenes players and their missions are often out of view. But there is no shortage of individuals and entities within State that are doing important work.

Take the Office of Global Partnerships, for example. The managing director of the office, Thomas Debass, is a finalist in this year’s Service to America Medals program for the work his organization is doing globally.

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The program works alongside hundreds of non-government partners “to advance the Department of State’s top foreign policy priorities through private sector engagement,” the office’s mission states. U.S. economic global engagement was once driven by the government, but now the private sector — philanthropy, academia, etc. — make up the overwhelming majority of engagement.

“Our office was set up to essentially actively engage these different communities, these different practices, how we can work together to advance our foreign policy and advance American leadership around the world,” Debass said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

The Office of Global Partnerships finds these partners by identifying opportunities where goals are similar and then vetting organizations to ensure they are working in good faith.

One example of such a partnership is the Women in Science and Innovation (WiSci) initiative to bridge the STEM gender disparity globally. The office reached out to industry leaders like Google that have a stake in ensuring their industry improves the gap, to see where they can work together. Through the initiative they developed summer school camps for girls to train in the field. The camps began successfully in Africa and have now expanded to countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

(Video: Amelia Brust/FNN)

Because of the international nature of the office’s work, one major challenge for these kinds of initiatives are the cultural differences. In many countries where their work is taking place, some of the norms of that society can be at odds with their goals. Several other areas of the State Department, like the Global Women Issues Office, do focus primarily around those issues.

Debass is no newcomer to international work or government service. Debass has worked on agricultural research projects in Bangladesh and East Africa — and prior to his current, nearly decade long career at State, Debass spent significant time with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, now the  U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“My interest is seeing the nexus between the private and the public sector working together to address global challenges … so that’s the reason I got into this, and it’s been an amazing ride,” he said.