Posted: 1:03 am ET
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If you’re taking a road trip, and are looking for something to listen to in the car, check out the DiploSport Podcast. FSO Morgan O’Brien spent the past year studying sports diplomacy as part of a fellowship sponsored by the Council of Foreign Relations and the NBA. For his research, he interviewed journalists, policy makers and athletes to discuss the interplay of sports and government.
The first episode features former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his inaugural guest (full transcript here). Others featured in the podcast include Norwegian speedskating legend and Olympic champion, Dr. Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play (bit.ly/JOKossRtP) an organization which uses sport to connect with youth around the globe who face some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable; 3x American skeleton Olympian Katie Uhlaender who is preparing for the next Winter Games in Pyeongchang 2018; Ruth Riley who served as a State Department Sports Envoy, and an NBA Cares Ambassador; and two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan who also did a stint as a State Department Sports Envoy. He told us that he started interviewing earlier this year and have about 20 podcasts in the can.
The podcast host is a Public Diplomacy officer who joined the Foreign Service in 2009 (146th A-100). He was Ambassador Holbrooke’s assistant for his first tour, and he did a consular tour in Brazzaville. When he came back to the State Department, he worked at the Sports Diplomacy Division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). For the past 12 months, he was attached to the National Basketball Association’s International Operations team and had the opportunity to study sports diplomacy. He is currently in language training in preparation for his next assignment to an East Asia post. We asked him a few questions about this project:
Q: How were you able to get a fun fellowship like this?
MO: This past year, I was on the International Affairs Fellowship through the Council on Foreign Relations, so this wasn’t a formalized “sports diplomacy/NBA Fellowship,” per se. I first pitched the idea to the NBA, with whom I had worked the previous two years when I was in ECA. When they agreed to the concept, I put together a written proposal for the CFR, which was then followed by a panel interview before ultimately being accepted. Since I applied, two things I think have changed: one of the stipulations was that applicants needed to be under 35, I think that’s no longer the case; and I think there is an extra level of State vetting now. Whereas I sent my proposal directly to the CFR, I think this year’s applicants need to be approved by HR before submitting to the CFR.
If one gets creative in canvassing the bid list, they’ll find that the Department can be fantastic about enabling/empowering officers to pursue opportunities outside State, including awesome fellowships (the Una Chapman Cox Fellowship is another incredible, self-paced opportunity). And while I don’t know how it was done, there are officers actually working on international affairs for a few mayor’s offices in a handful of major cities in the US.
Q: What was it like working with the NBA team?
MO: I was a fully-integrated member of the NBA team for the year, fulfilling a childhood dream of working in pro sports. I supported the All Star Game (held in Toronto) and the “Basketball Without Borders” elite youth camps held around the world this past summer. I learned a ton about the decision-making process of a multi-billion dollar organization, and was pretty blown away by their sincere commitment to social responsibility programming. At State, we should also be proud to know that the NBA really relies on us around the world as subject matter experts and partners. There are dozens of Posts with whom we worked throughout the year—whether it be for women/girls-centered programming in Latvia and Ethiopia or to help demystify the visa process for the families of our players in Serbia or Congo.
Q: What did you learn from this private sector experience?
MO: The private sector exposure was fantastic. I’m bringing back to State a wealth of knowledge in monitoring and evaluation and emphasizing efficiency. I do have to admit that the time away also reinforced my love for the Foreign Service, our mission and our wonderful colleagues. My private sector teammates always found it fascinating that we get to travel the world on behalf of the country, and were every bit as interested in what we do day-to-day as I was of their work.
Morgan O’Brien’s views/opinions expressed on the blog/podcasts are not necessarily those of the State Department.
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