The Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award recognizes Locally Engaged Staff (LES) members who have made outstanding contributions in educational and cultural diplomacy to objectives shared by the U.S. and the host country. With deep institutional memory and knowledge of local culture, society and politics, as well as their relation to US priorities, such staff members maintain continuity at U.S. embassies and missions around the world, as Foreign Service Officers rotate in and out every few years, and play an important role as mentors to new colleagues and supervisors alike. As Then-Acting Under Secretary for Public Affairs Bruce Wharton confirmed, in reference to 2015 “Gill” recipient Monica Alcalde: “The things she taught me—from process, to substance, to style—have guided me as I moved from job to job across Latin America, the U.S. and Africa. Without Monica’s patient teaching and friendship, I don’t think I would ever have made it beyond Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer. (For more about Gill Jacot-Guillarmod, including a 2009 interview, please see below.)
The 2020 Gill Jacot-Guillarmod award went to Esti Durahsanti. Through interpersonal skills and leadership, Esti, Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya, Indonesia, provides the foundation for public diplomacy programming and an example of excellence for all Consulate employees. Her extensive experience—with women’s empowerment, disability rights, LGBTQ issues, human trafficking and STEAM (add Arts to STEM)—has driven cutting-edge programming with broad impact.
In 2020, the Lois Roth Endowment and the ECA Awards Committee introduced the Lois Roth Endowment’s Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Career Achievement Award to honor the most accomplished and longest-serving locally engaged staff members. This award highlights individuals who are nearing the end of their careers, to recognize their long-standing dedication to their work and their success in honoring Gill’s spirit of “helping the United States while helping your own country.”
This year, the selection committee chose to recognize the following four exceptional long-serving locally engaged staff members with the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Career Achievement Award.
In over 35 years as a Cultural Assistant at the Consulate General in Jeddah, Ali Al Ghadban’s stellar work in exchange and alumni programs has supported the entire U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia. He has successfully leveraged his vast network to strengthen U.S.-Saudi ties through education and cultural exchange, while deepening relations with the next generation of Saudi leaders.
Over 40 years, Felicity Aziz, the Deputy Director of the American Center in Jerusalem, has served as the liaison to 35 grantee organizations, while managing operations and staff. The Mission relies on her skilled approach to public diplomacy and advice on women’s empowerment and economic development, religious affairs, innovation and entrepreneurship, climate and environment, rule of law, good governance and peripheral communities.
For almost 30 years, Education and Professional Exchanges Specialist Ivanka Ponikvar has been the most respected exchanges interlocutor at the U.S. Embassy in Slovenia. She has steadily increased the Embassy’s network of policy and opinion-makers and deftly navigated the changing political and economic landscape to recruit the nation’s most promising educational and professional exchange participants.
Helena Vagnerova, Senior Member of the Established Opinion Leader Team at the U.S. Embassy Prague, has mentored generations of FSOs and local staff. From drafting memos and remarks for the Ambassador, to managing logistical, budgetary and bureaucratic issues, she personifies the critical role that cultural outreach plays in strengthening international bonds.
For a complete list of winners of these awards, please see our Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award Recipients.
Gill Jacot-Guillarmod, whom this award honors, served for thirty-five years in South Africa, spanning a period from the dark days of apartheid through to the peaceful emergence of democracy. Although it ran counter to the American democratic mission, in the 1960s and 70s the U.S. was under intense pressure from the South African government to support its state-sponsored racial segregation. Within this tense environment, Gill programmed hundreds of Fulbright and other grantees; later, with great political sensitivity, she worked to assist in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Lois Roth considered Gill to be one of the most remarkable locally-employed staff she had ever encountered. This is also true of the dozen of Gill’s colleagues at USIS Pretoria, many of whom worked with the Roth Endowment to get this prize instituted. This award in Gill’s name thus represents the respect and admiration of a great number of people. She is remembered as a consummate cross-cultural communicator and bridge-builder, serving on behalf of all as a mentor, counselor and committed senior colleague. Read an Interview with Gill Jacot-Guillarmod, conducted by Foreign Service Officer Dan Whitman and published in his book Outsmarting Apartheid (SUNY Press, 2014).