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Townsend Pledges $1 Million for Diplomacy Center in DM

The National Institute Would Promote the Idea of One-on-One Relationships Between Nations

Jane Norman

Des Moines Register

July 12, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]


Washington, D.C. Iowa businessman Ted Townsend will contribute $1 million to kick off fundraising for a new U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy that would be headquartered in Des Moines, it is expected to be announced here today.

The center, regarded as a bookend for the World Food Prize Foundation, also in Des Moines, would promote the concept of citizen diplomacy one-on-one, dinner table relationships between people of different nations and cultures.

In an environment of war, terrorism and nuclear threats, governments can only go so far in establishing international relations, the center's backers say. Just as important are student exchanges, sister city projects, organizations that send volunteers worldwide, tourists and business travelers.

"I think that the role of citizen diplomacy is undervalued and generally not understood," said John Menzies, chairman of the center's board, president of Graceland University in Lamoni, and a former U.S. ambassador.

"Especially today, where the U.S. is facing some uphill struggles with foreign populations and the understanding of the U.S., it's terribly important more people be engaged in the effort to tell the story of America abroad," he said.

Townsend's gift and the center's launch will be announced at a reception here tonight opening the National Summit on Citizen Diplomacy.

Townsend, the former owner of Townsend Engineering in Des Moines, is already widely known in Iowa as the spark behind the push for two major community projects. He is the founder of Great Ape Trust in Des Moines and a main private contributor to a proposed $180 million rain forest and education center still searching for a location.

Townsend said it took him five minutes to decide to contribute to the diplomatic venture after he was approached by Ann Schodde, a former executive director of the Iowa Council for International Understanding who now runs an international consulting firm.

"It seemed like an opportunity for Iowa that was too good to pass up," Townsend said. "Iowans need, and our state needs, unique distinctions. This is a chance to put one in our capital city that really has a global view."

Schodde said the idea for the center came about after leaders in international exchange programs met at the Johnson Foundation Wingspread Conference Center in Wisconsin in 2004 to discuss citizen diplomacy.

The idea for a national summit was born, and Iowans began discussing a center for citizen diplomacy that would support the concept with a national focus but run from Iowa. "Iowa has a wonderful tradition of openness to the outside world," said Menzies.

The center is envisioned as starting small, with a handful of staff members and a suite of offices rather than its own building. Backers have approached members of the Iowa congressional delegation with a request for $317,000 in federal appropriations this year. But at a time when the federal budget is extremely tight, the prospects may not be good.

Schodde said that business plans are far from firm, but it's envisioned that the center eventually could have a budget of $9 million a year. That would involve private and government money.

Under discussion is whether the center eventually could become an authorized federal entity, similar to the U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent and nonpartisan organization established and paid for by Congress.

Aides to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the center is not included in the current appropriations bill and the foreign operations allocation is $2.7 billion below the administration request for the upcoming budget year.

"At this level, it is difficult to maintain funding levels for many projects and therefore difficult to fund new projects," said Dave Townsend, a Harkin press aide who is not related to Ted Townsend.

Jill Kozeny, communications director for U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., said that "at this stage of the appropriations process, it's an uphill effort." She said there may be a last-minute opportunity as appropriations bills are debated.

Nonetheless, U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, a Des Moines Democrat, said he will try his best to help. "I remain fully supportive of establishing the National Center for Citizen Diplomacy," he said. "First-rate people are involved in this effort, such as ... Menzies and Ann Schodde, and there's no better place for it than right here in Des Moines."

Townsend said $3 million needs to be raised to get the efforts for the center moving forward. He called for other private contributions to match his $1 million.

"It's important that I not be seen as the one and only guy who believes in this," he said. "Some other sources from the private sector need to stand up and say to the nation, 'Iowa believes in this.' "

Menzies said the center could make a difference in a troubled world. "For me, all of international relations comes down to individual relationships of trust," said the former U.S. ambassador to Bosnia.