Awardee Database

Awardees

Elina Akhtiyarova

Elina excels in shaping 12+ exchange programs from inception to program and into ongoing relationships to the benefit of Kazakhstan and the U.S. When COVID canceled the in-person event for the International Visitor Leadership Program’s 80th anniversary, Elina conceptualized, implemented, and moderated a Facebook Live program with Washington and Embassy officials and over 120 guests that has garnered close to 3,000 views, significantly increasing the embassy’s influence and reach.

Elena Broszkowski

For a dozen years, Elena Broszkowski, Cultural Affairs Specialist at U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, managed the Performing and Visual Arts Portfolio, comprising ECA cultural arts programs and nominations, and post-funded social transformation-through-the-arts programs incorporating exchanges alumni, Binational Centers, public and private universities, municipalities led by opposition party members, and many other Post allies. Using theater, music and practical training, Elena leaves a lasting legacy of young leaders able to bring the changes that Venezuelan society needs.

Dr. Gözde Doğan Yalçıner

Gözde’s Honorable Mention is for the bilateral Cultural Property Agreement (CPA) signed this year. Gözde created partnerships linking the Turkish government, NGOs, and arts institutions, resulting in a CPA that curbs smuggling, denies revenue to terrorist organizations, and protects cultural heritage. Gödze’s work is on the leading edge of a renewed emphasis on protecting cultural property and combating the smuggling of cultural artifacts.

Fatma Souidi

Throughout her 22-year career, Fatma Souidi brought Algerians and Americans together – in spite of a civil war, a revolution, economic crisis, and a pandemic. Fatma engineered the region’s first Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Property which led to updated cultural preservation legislation and training focused on preventing looting of cultural property. Her work in this and other fields is the bedrock of our relationship with an otherwise standoffish government, exemplifying the best of cultural diplomacy.

Vanessa Wagner

For nearly two decades, Vanessa has led the entire range of cultural programming. Most notably, she secured $2.5 million to conserve dozens of heritage sites and led U.S. repatriation of some 2,000 artifacts to Peru, raising the profile of the Mission throughout Peru. Vanessa’s humanity, care for contacts and workmates, advocacy for U.S. interests and help for Peruvians well represent the legacy of Gill Jacot-Guillarmod.

Esti Durahsanti

Since her arrival in 2003, Esti’s interpersonal skills and leadership has provided the foundation for the Consulate General in Surabaya’s public diplomacy programming and serves as an example of excellence for all Consulate employees. Her extensive knowledge and experience with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM), women empowerment, disability rights, LGBTQ issues and trafficking in persons have driven Surabaya to create cutting-edge programming with broad impact. In just one example, Esti partnered with a local TEDx organization to amplify a speaker program on Astrophysics to reach thousands more across the Indonesian archipelago. Countless young women wrote to share how the event inspired them to pursue higher education in the United States as well as STEAM-oriented careers.

Ali Al Ghadban

Ali Al Ghadban, Cultural Assistant, U.S. Consulate General Jeddah, has supported the entire U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with his stellar work in exchange and alumni programs over thirty-five years of service. His connections across Saudi Arabia run deep and he continually leverages his vast network of contacts to strengthen U.S.-Saudi ties through education and cultural exchange and deepen connections with the next generation of Saudi leaders.

Felicity Aziz

Over a 40-year career, Felicity Aziz, Deputy Director of the American Center, Jerusalem,has managed Center operations and staff, while serving as the liaison to some 35 grantee organizations. The Mission relies on her advice regarding women’s empowerment and economic development, religious affairs, innovation and entrepreneurship, climate and environmental issues, rule of law, good governance and peripheral communities. Felicity has successfully informed and influenced generations of Israel’s future leaders, current influencers and professionals through her deep understanding of her community, her knowledge of how to use public diplomacy tools to their fullest extent and her determination to make a positive difference in the lives of her fellow citizens.

Ivanka Ponikvar

For most of the nearly three decades that Slovenia has been an independent nation, Ivanka Ponikvar, Education and Professional Exchanges Specialist, U.S. Embassy Slovenia, has been the Embassy’s most respected exchanges interlocutor. Known for her compassion, around-the-clock attentiveness to detail and commitment to participant satisfaction, she deftly navigated a changing political and economic landscape to recruit the nation’s most promising educational and professional exchange participants. Ivanka owes her success to creating and maintaining the Embassy’s most productive and mutually-beneficial relationships by discerning the right balance, qualifications and temperaments of successful participants. She has steadily increased the Embassy’s network of policy and opinion-makers who have advanced US interests in measurable ways.

Helena Vagnerova

Helena Vagnerova, Senior Member, Established Opinion Leader Team, U.S. Embassy Prague is a living legend within Embassy Prague and has mentored generations of Foreign Service Officers and local staff. She has mastered every aspect of public diplomacy, from brainstorming to carrying out policy-relevant, impactful programming. She can single-handedly draft Front Office memos and remarks for the Ambassador, while managing a panoply of logistical, budgetary and bureaucratic issues. In doing so, she personifies how cultural programs advance US security, economic, and policy objectives, as well as the critical role cultural outreach plays in strengthening the bonds between the two countries. During Secretary Pompeo’s historic speech at the Czech Senate in August 2020, he cited Helena’s work on the PKF Prague Philharmonia’s concert at the Ambassador’s Residence as an example of U.S.-Czech friendship and solidarity.

Marta Garcia de Bello

Marta’s leadership as a Cultural Affairs Specialist has been crucial to maintaining diplomatic relationships in Venezuela even after the official American presence there ended. Due to Marta’s resilience in the face of these difficult circumstances, outreach activities by EducationUSA and American Spaces continue guiding current and future leaders of Venezuela to become agents of positive change.

Helen Reidy

As Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Consulate General in Australia over the past 27 years, Helen has inspired hundreds of Australian students to study abroad in the United States by creating specialized outreach programs for EducationUSA and increasing media coverage to make opportunities more visible. Her unwavering dedication to educating students about study in the United States led to the U.S. becoming the first-choice destination for study abroad for Australian students. Helen has created long-lasting professional relationships that will continue to strengthen the greater U.S.-Australia partnership for years to come.

Nadia Ouhenia

Louiza “Nadia” Ouhenia, who has worked with U.S. Embassy Algiers for 25 years, is the master of a portfolio that covers 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 Mbatalbaye

Felix Mbatalbaye, of U.S. Embassy N’Djamena in Chad, 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. Approaching mandatory retirement, Felix Mbatalbaye leaves a profound legacy.

Markéta Kolářová

Marketa Kolarova, an invaluable advisor to Political Affairs Officers and Ambassadors in Prague, Czech Republic, for 28 years, revitalized US-Czech cultural relations after the Velvet Revolution. With her profound insight and managerial savvy, she midwifed 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.

Carmen Urcuyo

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 made her one of the Mission’s most valued and effective employees.

Gladys Tutisani

Gladys Tutisani, of the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, received recognition for her unusually effective programming; her persuasive exchange nominations; her ability to strategically innovate and expand cultural programming; and her willingness to jump into staffing gaps and mentor new officers. In response to her outstanding nomination, we have resolved to start offering a cash award to Honorable Mentions for the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award.

Tilly De Groot

Tilly De Groot, of the U.S. Embassy The Hague, received this award in recognition of a long career of achievements, including: the creation of American Studies degree programs at five top universities; the establishment, staffing and programming of the John Adams Institute; and work with Dutch Muslim and immigrant communities. Two of de Groot’s programs have been showcased by the U.S. State Department as “global best practices.”

Monica Alcalde

In recognition of her contributions over 38 years as Cultural Specialist at the US Embassy in Santiago, Chile. The programs she runs include traditional exchange programs, and long-term initiatives in justice, democracy, economics and social issues, many of which she created and sustained over decades. Focusing on legal reform, these programs helped move Chile’s inquisitorial justice system to one patterned largely on the US system. Her program alumni are everywhere in government, NGOs and civil society, innovating and reforming, inspired and encouraged by their ongoing contacts with her and the Embassy. The Chilean Congress recognized the impact of her work in a tribute read on the floor of the Senate.

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 Foundation 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's "Gill" Award.
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 Foundation’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 Foundation 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.

*The Prix Coindreau Prize, The Jeanne Varnay Pleasants Prize for Language Teaching, and the CASVA-Henry & Judith Millon Award are currently inactive.