The Hans “Tom” Tuch PDC Graduate Fellow, Marcela “Marci” Falck-Bados, interviewed our Rising Professional member Maritza T. Adonis, who was named U.S. 2021 National Security and Foreign Affairs Leader by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Marci: Thank you for joining me for an interview today and congratulations on your recent honor as a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 2021 U.S. National Security & Foreign Affairs Leader. We are also excited to welcome you to serve as a Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) contributor to PDC’s blog.
Maritza: Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me and for the congratulatory note. I am truly honored and still in awe of the recognition from CSIS and DINS. I learned on February 4 that I was a Nominee for the Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary University of London’s first Alumni “Community Impact” Award. I am also very excited about the opportunity to contribute to PDC’s blog and look forward to translating my professional lobbying skills as a member of PDC’s Advocacy Communications Envoys (ACE). Many thanks to Retired Career Diplomat Joe Johnson for the push and confidence to publish and Ambassador Brian Carlson for the introduction to ACE. I look forward to working alongside Mark Rebstock of Meridian International Center and Michael McCarry, former Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, to advance public diplomacy priorities in Congress, including most pressing to urge President Biden to appoint a strong Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Marci: Thanks for sharing all of these great developments. Speaking of professional skills, tell us more about what you do.
Maritza: I am currently the Chief Executive Officer of MTA Visions, a global corporate social responsibility and government relations firm based in Washington D.C that I founded in 2016 after canvassing every office on Capitol Hill and executing policy briefings and programming with the Obama White House, Cato Institute, E.U. Delegation to the United States, and at both 2016 Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee conventions. In this role, I work with businesses, universities, trade associations, governments, and entrepreneurs under three key portfolios: management consulting, government affairs, and corporate social responsibility. I am also developing the professional development arm of MTA Visions, which is MTA-CALE (or MTA Center for Advocacy, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship) where I curate innovative professional development, leadership training, and continuing education for change agents committed to pioneering the future for social good. Lastly, I also serve as the acting Executive Director for the firm’s nonprofit arm, “Powered by MTA Visions” where I am currently moving most of our CSR campaigns (such as “Youth Leading Now™”, “Police Social Responsibility™”, “Political Leadership Accountability™”, “Society of Global Impact Entrepreneurs™”, “City Diplomacies™”, “DEI Diplomacy™)” and many more through a robust internal merger and acquisition project. Ultimately, this consulting capacity allows me to be a Citizen Diplomat, U.S. Lobbyist, Global Advocate, Diplomacy, Diversity, and Political Thought Leader, Global Public Policy and CSR Executive, and International Arbitration professional, all-in-one. It’s a dream come true.
Marci: Wow, thanks so much for sharing. It sounds like your work is very fulfilling. What regions of the world would you consider yourself an expert of?
Maritza: Thanks Marci, it truly is. As for regional expertise, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, rather an evolving Thought Leader in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Eastern Europe, and China for different reasons. For example, I would say that my practice and thought leadership in Eastern Europe is mostly focused on rule of law, politics, and commercial and investment disputes. Whereas in LAC, my portfolio has mostly been on migration, international development, diaspora relations, and trade. Lastly, China is probably my most diverse portfolio consisting of trade, business, business and citizen diplomacy, and international law writ large.
Marci: How does your role as CEO of MTA Visions Global CSR & Government Relations intersect with Public Diplomacy specifically?
Maritza: Across all three portfolios: Management, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Government Relations, there is always some aspect of public diplomacy. Under Management, I mostly advise governments on diaspora relations, businesses, and entrepreneurs on market-entry; universities on building a culturally competent workforce, leveraging the talent of their international students, and creating international partnerships and MOUs between educational institutions. Under CSR, some examples of the programs and public-private partnerships that I have formed include a sports diplomacy project in my capacity as Assistant General Manager for the Haiti National Basketball team, Language Diplomacy with U.S. Embassies of Haiti, Mexico, Japan, and serving as a cultural diplomacy facilitator and trainer for Maryland International Education Consortium and attorneys at tier 1 law firms. Finally, Government Relations is the most colorful portfolio divided into local for economic and subnational diplomacy (basically serving as an outsourced international affairs department for cities across the globe), state for energy and tech diplomacy, and finally, for national and international areas of diplomacy mostly focused on curating public diplomacy programs on genuine youth participation, gender equity, social entrepreneurship and providing rule-making consultation to NAFTA (dispute resolution chapter), USMCA (agriculture chapter) and China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, Patent Law, and many more.
Marci: With your diverse experiences across both public and private sectors in public diplomacy, what does “public diplomacy” mean to you personally and/or professionally?
Maritza: At its core, public diplomacy is simply good people using their formal and informal position in society across all settings to exchange capital (economic, social, etc.) and advance mutual cooperation and agreement on local, national, and global affairs. As you break it down, you can of course maintain the traditional definition using some of the portfolio items in a Public Diplomacy Officer/Foreign Service Officer. I usually look at public diplomacy from a citizen diplomacy lens. I believe if we can understand our role as citizens, we will make it easier for our Diplomats to do their great work. When I started a professional development series in December 2020 designed to equip aspiring women of color diplomats with the knowledge, tools, and ecosystem requisite for entering into the American Foreign Service, I consistently kept reminding attendees that public diplomacy begins with them as citizens first and it wasn’t something that became a thing once they became a U.S. Diplomat. I have a few other perspectives on how I define Public Diplomacy which I will share in future PDC blog entries.
Marci: What do you consider are the most pressing issues in Public Diplomacy?
Maritza: To understand the issues, we must look at the roots of Public Diplomacy (i.e., defense #Guillon, war, information, etc.) To consider what’s most pressing we need to have a pulse on United States priorities domestically and abroad which are slowly being heavily influenced by the populace rather than traditional stakeholders that have direct access to other respective key stakeholders. There are many pressing issues, but I name my top 3. First issue is the lack of intergenerational transfer of power and wisdom. What I mean by this is that we have about four generations alive today, which is literally a think tank for global success. However, you don’t see many opportunities for young professionals (under 39) taking senior/influential roles in diplomatic affairs. This is necessary to address for legacy purposes. The second issue is the United States’ domestic messaging to its citizens. While we have done an outstanding job advancing American values across the globe, there’s a brand identity gap amongst Americans. This is necessary to imminently address for patriotic purposes (plus, we will have a stronger moral code that could dispel any ‘disinformation’ campaign that an adversary would deploy.) And finally, another pressing issue is balancing the interests of small island developing states. This is necessary to imminently address because we need to diversify the weight of loyalty across our allies. There’s so much more to each point that I will eventually outline in future blog entries.
Marci: What would you say is your greatest contribution to Public Diplomacy to date?
Maritza: Certainly the December 2020 professional development program I curated, with the support and counsel of Diplomat Victoria Durgana Latortue, as the Founder and Chair of the Global Advocacy and Diplomacy group of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) a nonprofit organization established by current Under Secretary of Arms Control and International Security Affairs Bonnie Jenkins. This series was in partnership with three Diplomats-In-Residence — Yolonda Kerney, CB Toney, and George Sibley — that highlighted all the career tracks in the Foreign Service, including an overview of the FSOT and insights into Foreign Service Specialists. The program was highlighted by State and later replicated in a separate partnership with the American Academy of Diplomacy. Besides the nod from the professional community, this was a highlight for me because I really pride myself in investing in others and most importantly sowing seeds so that others can benefit from the shade. During one of the programs, a participant shared her appreciation, and that alone was enough. I think anyone’s contribution to the advancement of others and/or working on pipeline programs is one of the greatest contributions because you’re sowing into a future that you probably won’t get to see and often won’t get any recognition for. To me, that is true service and speaks to who I am at my core.
Marci: What is your favorite Public Diplomacy experience or memory?
Maritza: My favorite Public Diplomacy experience is Shenzhen, China. In 2017, I was selected to serve as a U.S. Delegate for the first “people-to-people” diplomatic U.S.-China mission. This was serendipity for so many reasons, primarily because I was checking off a childhood bucket list followed by a recovery of what I felt at the time was a previously missed professional opportunity. To provide context, my first affinity to China was in elementary school, via my favorite character on Mortal Kombat–Kitana. I was (and still am if I get my hands on a console) a serious gamer. From this exposure, I committed myself to studying (and sometimes emulating) Chinese culture. By high school, I had dived into Chinese history, politics, and foreign affairs. I also made a pact to myself that I would work in China on behalf of the United States and work towards strengthening positive relations between the two countries. I thought that time came when I received a Spring offer to work at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center (HKIAC); however, I ended up making a moral (“I need to work for my country, for such a time as this”) decision and pivoted to Capitol Hill instead.
I must note that this decision was also tied to a promise I made in an international interview, during my time in Vilnius, Lithuania at Valiunas Ellex serving as an International Commercial and Investment Law Associate. Specifically, in the interview with Lietuvos Rytas, I shared that I would pivot my international business law career plans to the United States if Capitol Hill or the White House called.
Capitol Hill did call, so I went to work as a Legal Fellow in the 114th Congress. My Capitol Hill work portfolio included: 1) constituent engagement on Medicare, Social Security, Foreign Affairs, and Financial Services issues; 2) research and analysis on the Child Tax Credit provision of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act; 3) construction of traditional media strategy through sourcing over 70 media contacts across print, radio, and television; and 4) stakeholder engagement with House Majority and Minority staff of the Small Business, Budget, Appropriations, and Oversight and Government Reform committees.
Beyond getting the opportunity to say these words, “on behalf of the United States of America,” the diplomatic mission to Shenzhen, China is my favorite public diplomacy experience for many reasons. First, I had the opportunity to officially present the United States’ position on economic opportunities related to co-sharing alongside Airbnb Co-Founder Nathan Blecharczyk and shared the stage with other diplomats such as Andy Rabens, White House National Security and Economic Council Director for Global Engagement and Multilateral Diplomacy and former U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad. Second, I provided advice to American and Chinese entrepreneurs on the viability of their products in the United States market alongside SharkTank casting directors. Finally, and most notably, I planted the Asoka tree in Shenzhen City alongside American and Chinese Diplomats. This act served as the first symbol of United States-China unity and renewed agreement to engage in fair trade. There’s so much more to share about this experience but I know you have a few more questions to wrap up.
Marci: What leaders are you most inspired by?
Maritza: Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, President Eisenhower, and Angela Davis to name a few. I have a strong affinity for leaders and the study of leadership generally. I am currently focusing my doctoral studies in Organizational Leadership on diplomatic, political, and corporate leaders in the U.S., China, LAC, and EU from a servant, authentic, transactional, and transformational leadership context.
Ultimately, I am designing a new leadership theory called “Compromised Leadership.” The purpose of this theory is to introduce “grace” as an attribute that followers should consider when assessing what makes a good leader. This theory will also attempt to eliminate competing interests that often serve as negative barriers to “good” leadership.
Marci: If you could speak to a former Diplomat, whom would it be and why?
Maritza: This is a hard one because there are so many Diplomats that I would like to speak with and many on my list are currently deceased. But given the current times and foreign policy issues concerning Russia and Ukraine, I would prioritize speaking with former Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Acheson was a private citizen when he counseled a sitting U.S. President. I would love to do this one day. Acheson was also the architect of the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. What’s most relevant for me today is that Acheson was successful with peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea, which is something that I would like to see between U.S.China, and Russia today. I would also add former Diplomats Ralph Bunche, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, John Kennan, Condoleeza Rice, George Kennan, and Pocahontas if she is credited as a United States Diplomat in American history.
Marci: What are you working on these days?
Maritza: I am working on prioritizing writing, publishing, teaching, and lobbying for more socially responsible causes on Capitol Hill.
Marci: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Maritza: Working in the intersections of nation-building, leadership development, global cooperation, mutual understanding, prosperity, and world peace. That’s my long answer for, I’m not sure, wherever God sends me on assignment.
I say this because, twenty years ago I saw myself becoming a pediatrician, juvenile court judge, and high school principal. My career ambitions were based on my desire to work in the areas that I believe children were most impacted by: education, health, and law. Specifically, I I wanted to discover, develop, and implement practices that would narrow the
achievement gap, eradicate barriers impeding access to health care for medically underserved
children and increase rehabilitation, prevention, and retention for juveniles in the juvenile
justice system, eliminating retributive practices. While I have worked in some form or fashion on a micro level to fulfill these goals, I continue to get pulled into the macro aspect (systematic, political, and theoretical) of society writ large rather than working as a practitioner in a given sector. As a result, I am truly letting go and letting God.
Marci: How did you learn about the PDC?
Maritza: Once I realized that many of my consulting engagements were directly impacting Diplomacy, National Security, and Foreign Affairs, I immediately began seeking organizations where I could meet other like-minded professionals, continue to build my competency, and exchange thought leadership. I learned about the PDC through Sherry’s bio. In 2018, I was preparing to teach a professional certificate course at John Hopkins that I adapted from MTA-CALE entitled, “The Evolution and Changing Role of Corporate Social Responsibility: Through the Eyes of Public Policy.” As I was building my syllabus and narrowing down on required readings, I stumbled across Sherry’s 2013 publication on “The Art of Advocacy.” I wanted to include the scholarship in my syllabus, made a note to reach out, and the rest is history. Here I am, a rising professional member of the PDC and an Advocacy Envoy.
Prior to finding the PDC in 2020, I first came across WCAPS in 2019. I joined the organization primarily due to Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins’ warm disposition and genuine eagerness to position rising professionals to take on substantive leadership roles. Within a few months under her wings, she had entrusted me to represent WCAPS on expert panels at John Hopkins SAIS, Girl Security, Center for Global Development Center, WCAPS Pipeline Program, Washington Center for Internships alongside newly appointed President and CEO of the United States African Development Foundation and many more. In under six months, Under Secretary Jenkins had encouraged me to create my own space within the organization. I merged my professional interests into one to create the Global Advocacy and Diplomacy Working Group—the fourth working group of the organization after Illicit Trafficking, Cybersecurity, and Climate Change. The organization has since then expanded to over fifteen working groups, several chapters, and initiatives. I also served as one of the founding Co-Chairs of the Intersectionality of National Security (INS) Sub-Working Group of the Redefining National Security Working Group that Under Secretary Jenkins personally managed.
Marci: It sounds like your role with WCAPS was very rewarding. Can you talk more about your contributions as WCAPS GAD Founder and Chair and WCAPS INS Co-Chair?
Maritza: As GAD Founder and Chair, and INS Co-Chair, Under Secretary Jenkins empowered me to initiate, execute and contribute to all the following:
- WCAPS administrative and external enhancements (creation of emails, webpages, and distribution of press releases)
- Creation of the Asia and Pacific Working Group
- Latin-America and the Caribbean Global Advocacy and Diplomacy Summit
- Cultural Diplomacy Program, GAD Lingo Haitian-Creole, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese
- Mentor and Speaker at WCAPS Pipeline Fellows Program
- Liaised with House Foreign Affairs Committee, Women, Peace, and Security Congressional Task Force, and U.S. House of Representatives Public Diplomacy Caucus
- Advocated for Diversity at the Dept. of State, Peace Corps Evacuees
- Author and/or served as Editor to Publications on Biden-Harris First 100 Days Memo; Redefining National Security Policy Publication
- Programs on Vaccine Diplomacy, Language Diplomacy, Embassies Using Ethnic Diversity as a Diplomacy Tool, The 3Ds (Development, Diplomacy, Defense) Approach to Foreign Policy, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security; and the 2020 Debunking the Myths of the Foreign Service series that was created to serve as a pipeline program removes barriers for diverse candidates through programming and mentorship; and many more.
Serving as Global Advocacy and Diplomacy Founder and Chair for Women of Color Advancing, Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation for the past three years has been one of the most rewarding leadership experiences to date. I learned almost two years later (in a Penn Kemble Democracy Forum Fellows recommendation letter that Under Secretary Jenkins wrote on my behalf) that GAD set the standard for the organization and the working groups that later followed. I felt like I won an Academy Award reading that line in the recommendation letter and have gone as far as framing it.
Marci: What made you join the PDC?
Maritza: At first glance, I wasn’t sure if I was eligible to join, so I began attending the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group led by Paul Lachelier of Learning Life. After a few months of attending, Paul encouraged attendees to join. Thankfully, it was also the same time that the Rising Professional membership category was created and so I joined in November 2020. I ultimately joined the PDC because it was one of the very few professional associations that did not require you to be a diplomat to engage and interact with diplomats. Additionally, it provided a holistic insight into Public Diplomacy from the practice, study, and advocacy aspects which are the key areas that my professional practice is centered around. It’s been an honor to continue my membership, attend First Monday Forum programs and other related events. I also look forward to working with my other Rising Professional colleagues to establish the PDC mentorship program.
Marci: What issues will you be covering as a recurring contribution to the PDC blog?
Maritza: I will mostly be covering untapped potential or outdated aspects of diplomacy to include but not limited to citizen diplomacy, international education, business diplomacy, diversity in diplomacy, small island nation-states, centering young people as stakeholders in diplomacy, and many more. Each article will begin with a question, followed by my brief professional perspective, closing with practical steps/tools to consider and a quote by one of the leaders that I am most inspired by.
Marci: So why don’t you close us out with a couple of quotes.
Maritza: My favorite quotes are influenced by some of the leaders I admire. Here is a quote from each one:
- Great powers can’t get tired because the international order is not self-governing-Condoleezza Rice
- Part of diplomacy is to open different definitions of self-interest– Hillary Clinton
- Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person– Mother Teresa
- I don’t go by the rule book– Princess Diana and,
- You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time- Angela Davis.
Marci: Thanks so much for your time today, Maritza. It was truly a pleasure to speak with you. I can’t wait to read your PDC blog entries.
Marci has been living in the Washington, DC, area since about 2004. She graduated from Texas A&M University in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a double minor in Mandarin and Psychology. She returned to the DC area to pursue a Master’s in Teaching and earned her degree in 2020. During this time period, Marci worked as a teacher specializing in Early Childhood Education and Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (ESOL). She is currently a Graduate Student at American University where she is earning a Master’s degree in International and Intercultural Communication. She is also the PDC Fellow for the 2021-2022 school year, renamed Hans “Tom” Tuch PDC Fellow. Her interests lie in understanding the connection between international education, exchange, and public diplomacy which she believes is important to develop to be able to create peace and understanding in our world.