Op-Ed: The Peace Corps Knows What Makes Global Leaders Great

Are you a world-policy shaper who was influenced by the Peace Corps during your formative years? We may have an award for you.

Improving agricultural practices is one important aspect of the Peace Corps mission, but often the seeds being planted will influence the course of a future leader’s life. (Photo: The Peace Corps)

Jan 25, 2013

Forget about the Oscars. It’s time for a different kind of awards season.

The National Peace Corps Association, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization supporting returned Peace Corps volunteers and the Peace Corps community, is now accepting nominations for the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.

Maybe you know someone who should apply. The qualifications are simple: The recipient must be an outstanding global leader who grew up in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers served—and whose life has been influenced by the Peace Corps.

We mean it when we say outstanding. We are looking for someone who’s made a significant contribution to the world in a way that reflects the core values of the Peace Corps: service, development, peace, human rights, health advocacy and global understanding.

The award—which was established to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and will be given out annually—is named for Harris Wofford, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. As a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, Wofford was instrumental in the formation of the Peace Corps.

“As a young, poor student from the northeast of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar was inspired by Peace Corps teachers to pursue education and public service.”

The Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award’s first recipient was Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president of Nigeria, distinguished businessman and philanthropist. who received the award in 2011.

Abubakar, who accepted the award in 2011, has spoken eloquently over the years about how he was influenced by four Peace Corps volunteers he met while a secondary school student. Aside from his career in politics, Abubakar has also given more than $300 million to support educational and health-related organizations in Nigeria, including building hundreds of schools and founding the American University of Nigeria in 2005 through a partnership with American University in Washington, D.C.

“As a young, poor student from the northeast of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar was inspired by Peace Corps teachers to pursue education and public service. After a successful career, he founded the American University of Nigeria, the best private university in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dr. Robert Pastor, who served as vice president at American University in Washington, D.C., and worked with the former vice president. “No African leader has been more dedicated or generous in furthering education on the continent than Abubakar.”

This year’s Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award will be presented at the National Peace Corps Association’s Peace Corps Connect: Boston annual gathering on June 28 to 29, 2013. The winner of the award will deliver the Global Leaders Lecture and will also travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

We often talk about the good that Peace Corps Volunteers do around the world. The well-documented work of young volunteers in education, agriculture and health services improves and saves lives around the globe. But the efforts of these generous, dedicated people working at a grassroots level can have an indirect effect that can extend far beyond the time they spend in a host country.

For instance, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former Finance Minister and 2009 Presidential Candidate in Afghanistan; Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru; and Surin Pitsuwan, former Thai Foreign Minister, have all worked to improve the opportunities and realities in their home countries and globally. It’s more than mere coincidence that all three of these tireless campaigners for human advancement have cited contact with Peace Corps Volunteers during their formative years as influential in placing them on a path of service.

The Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award is just one way to recognize the ways that Americans serving their country can also serve the world. Help us spread the word.

Nominations are being accepted now through Friday, February 1. To make a nomination, visit the association’s awards page, complete the form online, write a nomination letter, assemble supporting materials and email it all.

If you can’t suggest a deserving global leader off the top of your head, you can still participate. Come to the National Peace Corps Association website and explore the Peace Corps community.

Have you or anyone you know been involved in the Peace Corps? Talk about it in COMMENTS.

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