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World Affairs Council Honors Brazilian Envoy

by Anna Gawel

Over the last decade, Brazil has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty — and education has been “pivotal” to this impressive socioeconomic rise, says Mauro Vieira, the country’s ambassador to the U.S., who was given the Distinguished Diplomatic Service Award by the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C., (WAC-DC) at the group’s annual Global Education Gala on March 13.

Vieira pointed out that the Brazilian government has tripled the education budget in the past 10 years while doubling university enrollment. He also noted that the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, which allows Brazilian students to study in the United States, is part of a larger initiative to grant 100,000 Brazilian university students the opportunity to attend the world’s best colleges and universities.

“This award is a recognition of Brazil’s achievements over the last few decades,” Vieira told nearly 1,000 guests gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C., calling his country a “vibrant democracy” that “learned that economic growth, development and social justice are intertwined.”

From left, Ambassador of Brazil Mauro Vieira; Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia; Chairwoman, President and CEO of Lockheed Martin Marillyn A. Hewson; and President of Hamad bin Khalifa University Sheikh Abdulla Bin Ali Al-Thani attend the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C.’s Global Education Gala, where Vieira was given the Distinguished Diplomatic Service Award and DeGioia received the Educator of the Year Award. Photo: World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C.

Edie Fraser, board chairwoman of WAC-DC, said educational exchange is critical in a globalized world. “There is an urgent need for increased national dialogue on how the United States can effectively bridge the global education ‘learning gap’ that exists in our nation’s middle and high schools, colleges, and universities to permit our young people to effectively compete, work and communicate in our increasingly multicultural nation and interconnected world,” said Fraser, who is also chief executive officer of STEMconnector, which advocates for science, technology, engineering and math education.

And interconnectedness is the mission of WAC-DC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1980 to expand awareness among the American public and the international community of global geopolitical, business and civil society issues. It hosts discussions and debates that attract more than 5,000 people each year; speakers have included more than 120 foreign ambassadors, 50 U.S. ambassadors, 21 Cabinet secretaries and two U.S. presidents since 2000.

From left, Raytheon Middle East and North Africa Regional Director Jason Colosky, recently appointed Ambassador of Qatar Mohammed Jaham Al Kuwari, and Raytheon International President Matthew Riddle attend the 2014 Global Education Gala hosted by the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C., a nonprofit that aims to expand awareness of geopolitical, business and civil society issues in an interconnected world.

Education is key to WAC-DC’s mission. The group offers teacher development workshops, in-depth seminars, youth leadership forums, Academic World Quest competitions, internships and international travel-study tours as part of its goal to be an institution “where learning happens.”

In fact, within the World Affairs Council of America’s 98-council nationwide network, WAC–DC is the recognized leader in professional development programs for educators. To date, more than 1,100 American and international high school educators have participated in 28 annual Institutes on International Affairs, while locally, more than 6,600 students have benefited from the council’s Youth Leadership Forums.

In addition to Vieira, WAC-DC’s Global Education Gala honored three others for their marks on world affairs: John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University (Educator of the Year Award); Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes” (Global Communications Award); and Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, co-founder of the Qatar Foundation (Global Education Award).

Dozens of ambassadors attended the gala, whose corporate underwriters included Boeing, ExxonMobil, Lockheed Martin, Leo A. Daly, Occidental Petroleum, Raytheon and Walmart.

From left, Colleen and James Armington of Boeing sit with Ambassador of Brunei Dato Paduka Haji Yusoff bin Haji Abdul Hamid and his wife, Datin Mahani Abu Zar, at the 2014 Global Education Gala at the Ritz-Carlton.

Like many of his fellow Washington envoys, Vieira has spoken at the WAC-DC’s Ambassador Speaker Series. During a February appearance at the National Press Club, he expounded on the progress his multiethnic, Portuguese-speaking country of 200 million has made in recent years.

“Over the last 20 years, Brazil has tamed inflation through consistent and responsible economic and fiscal policies and launched regional integration schemes, opened up its economy to foreign investment, and become the home to world-class companies,” he said, noting that inflation is around 6 percent, international reserves stand at $380 billion and unemployment is only 4.8 percent.

“And this is a big change in our economy, which grew a lot in the last 14, 15 years,” he said. “And just to give you an idea of this growth, I’d like to mention that in the year 2000, the U.S. economy was 14 times larger than the Brazilian economy. The U.S. economy was $10 trillion and the Brazil GDP was $650 billion. In 2012, this proportion was dramatically changed and the U.S. economy was only six times larger than the Brazilian economy. The U.S. had $15 trillion and Brazil had $2.3 trillion.

From left, Leo A. Daly III, chairman and chief executive officer of Leo A. Daly; President of the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C. (WAC-DC) Heidi Shoup; WAC-DC Chairwoman Edie Fraser; and Sheikh Abdulla Bin Ali Al-Thani, vice president of education at the Qatar Foundation, attend the Global Education Gala, where Al-Thani accepted the Global Education Award on behalf of Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. Photo: World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C.

“During the last 10 years Brazil embraced innovative social policies that helped to lift 31 million people into the middle class and almost eradicate extreme poverty,” he added. “More than 100 million Brazilians are now middle-income earners.”

Still, Brazil has also seen its explosive GDP growth cool in the past few years, in part due to falling commodity prices. A ballooning fiscal deficit is also scaring away foreign investors.

Inequality and crime remain persistent problems as well, and the middle-class economic surge was not accompanied by a commensurate investment in public spending on infrastructure and other services. As a result, protests broke out last summer over the high costs of public transportation as frustration mounted over the huge tab the government was running up to pay for hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Although Vieira told guests at the Global Education Gala that Brazil was ready to host the World Cup in June, FIFA officials have raised concerns that the country is far from ready.

Preparations have gone into overdrive to make sure the soccer extravaganza — spread out over a dozen cities — goes off without a hitch, but the World Cup countdown has been marred by reports of construction delays and mishaps, along with a security clampdown that has struggled to quell crime in the country’s favelas, or slums.

Vieira said the government knows that hosting such major international events always involves a tradeoff but insists the payoff will be worth it.

“Brazil is very much aware that these mega events are not an end in itself but an instrument to foster economic growth, create high-quality jobs and improve infrastructure,” he said at WAC-DC National Press Club talk.

“These big sporting events are seen as important instruments to attract investment, not only foreign but also domestic investments, and to generate and direct benefits to the Brazilian economy that could reach up to $90 billion in 2019. For the Olympics only, there are an estimated $12 billion in investments for general infrastructure, hotels, tourism, and urban mobility and urban development.”

The World Cup and Olympics are also part of the country’s efforts to establish a “truly global foreign policy” as a major player on the world stage, Vieira said. “Brazil has shown that a large and democratic country can emerge and play a decisive role in world affairs without resorting to traditional instruments of hard power.”

Anna Gawel is the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat.



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