April Portrait – Monica Alcalde

Photo: Monica enjoying retirement with her family.

Monica enjoying retirement with her family.

Our April Portrait features Monica Alcalde, who won our Gill Jacot‐Guillarmod Award for Locally Engaged Staff in 2015. Monica, who has recently retired after forty years of service, writes: “My new life in the south of Chile is to work with my husband in an ecological adventure. We now live next to the Alerce Andino National Park in the Lake Region. I have changed my nice office clothing for jeans, boots and a warm jacket and look forward to new challenges and serving the community in this beautiful area of my country!”

One of three Roth Endowment awards honoring excellence in cultural diplomacy, our “Gill” Award was created in 2013 to recognize the invaluable contributions of locally engaged staff to US cultural diplomacy abroad.  It is named in honor of Gill Jacot‐Guillarmod, who served for thirty-five years at the U.S. Mission in South Africa in a career that spanned—and contributed to—an era of change, from the dark days of apartheid through the peaceful emergence of democracy. Gill’s many admirers, who gathered together to fund this award, remember her as a consummate cross‐cultural communicator and bridge builder, who served so many as a mentor, counselor and committed senior colleague. Spearheaded by US foreign service officers in gratitude for the work of exemplary local colleagues, the “Gill” Award consistently garners so many nominations that last year we formalized offering an Honorary Mention. Read more about Gill and this award here.

Photo: Monica and her colleagues celebrate upon learning that she has received LRE

Monica and her colleagues celebrate upon learning that she has received LRE’s “Gill” Award.

Monica Alcalde’s contributions as a cultural specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile, began in 1976, when she was hired to be a translator during the visit of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Chile. Monica soon turned to working on programs in the domains of education, culture and policy. She recruited Chilean high school students to participate in three-week Youth Ambassador exchanges to the United States; thanks to her mentoring, many of these young people later attended colleges and universities in the U.S. Another of her initiatives focused on secondary schools, with a project teaching intellectual property rights via video game design, and the implementation of the US-based civic education program “Project Citizen.” With a keen eye for up-and-coming young leaders, Monica nominated numerous people who have become important political figures—including Chilean congressmen and -women, ministers and members of the Supreme Court—to participate in the U.S. International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) and other exchanges.

Perhaps the most profoundly influential domain of Monica’s work began in the early 1990s, as Chile transitioned to democracy after seventeen years under the Pinochet military dictatorship. As the country began to reform its judicial system, Monica worked tirelessly to provide helpful models and contacts from the U.S., approaching legal reform from all angles: as a human rights issue, as essential for strong democratic structures and civic engagement, as a means to address international organized crime and as a tool for both security and investment. In the 1990s, she sent over fifty Chilean judges and others to the U.S. on IVLP and other cultural exchange programs; from 1997 to 2002 alone, she hosted over twenty US speakers on justice.

In her last years at the Embassy, Monica focused her energies on women’s issues, working on: developing a Women Leading in Security and Justice Week in Santiago; creating the Women Entrepreneurs (WE) from the Americas Organization; and creating a series of fifteen nation-wide seminars entitled “Enterprising Women, Flourishing Societies,” with the Chilean Small Business Development Network.

Over two hundred alumni, friends and colleagues—including the Minister of the Interior, former Chilean Ambassadors to the U.S., legislators, judges, think tank directors and NGO leaders—were present at Monica’s retirement ceremony on December 15, 2016. Others sent warm greetings, including many US foreign service personnel who served in Chile. U.S. Ambassador Carol Perez closed her remarks at the ceremony by saying that Monica is someone that “one dreams of working with in an Embassy. In fact,” she continued, “Monica received the Lois Roth Endowment’s Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award [at] the Department of State in Washington, DC. This is the highest award given to a locally employed staff member working in cultural diplomacy in any embassy or consulate in the entire world.  She is simply the best.”

We agree! In closing, Monica writes: “I encourage all your readers to give generously to the Lois Roth Endowment and help support its work on behalf of international cultural dialogue on a human scale.”

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 This profile, compiled by Board Secretary Anne Barbaro, draws heavily from the remarks of Ambassador Carol Perez at the Embassy’s retirement ceremony for Monica Alcalde.