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 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 Office.
This year, the selection committee chose two exceptional co-winners for the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award, Louiza “Nadia” Ouhenia and Felix Mbatalbaye. Nadia, who has worked with U.S. Embassy Algiers for 25 years, is the master of her portfolio covering the gamut of cultural and educational engagement with Algeria, single-handedly managing the Post’s entire professional exchange program. Even during the “Dark Decade,” when she faced real danger just coming to work, Nadia has been a trusted barometer for new initiatives and has proven that even seemingly impossible projects can be achieved through dedication and hard work. Her institutional memory and attention to each grantee and program partner have built bridges between embassy officials and program alumni who have opened doors and multiplied the entire Embassy’s effectiveness.
Felix, of U.S. Embassy N’Djamena, has utilized his interpersonal skills and judicious recruitment of program participants to build a powerful network of contacts in a variety of fields, and his procurement of essential resources and expertise has transformed the US Embassy into the partner of choice for Chadians over the course of his 29-year career. Always a steadfast and trusted leader, Felix ensured programs continued during the evacuation of American staff in 2008 and even drafted the Post’s first Public Diplomacy Implementation Plan during a gap between Public Affairs Officers. Felix, approaching mandatory retirement, leaves a profound legacy.
In addition to this year’s two co-winners, the selection committee also identified two outstanding Honorable Mentions, Marketa Kolarova and Carmen Urcuyo. An invaluable advisor to Political Affairs Officers and Ambassadors for 28 years, Marketa Kolarova revitalized US-Czech cultural relations after the Velvet Revolution. With her profound insight and managerial savvy, she mid-wifed the Fulbright Commission; right-sized American Spaces; and led nationwide teacher tech-training, literature engagement and English language programming, all resulting in a closer US-Czech relationship for decades to come.
In her 43 years of service to the U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa, Carmen Urcuyo has trained some fourteen, mostly entry level, Cultural Affairs Officers, many of whom have even requested her mentorship after moving on to new posts. Her legendary networks and extensive program files ensured the right local partners to make every program a success. Carmen’s ability and willingness to adapt in the face of countless challenges have mader her one of the Mission’s most valued and effective employees.
This award is named in honor of Gill Jacot-Guillarmod, who 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. 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).
For a complete list of winners of the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award, please see Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award Recipients.