Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you for inviting me to open the 2015 MASA Alumni Conference.
It is an honor to be here among so many alumni of U.S. government sponsored exchange programs.
It is a source of great pride for me that American taxpayers contribute every year to scholarships and fellowships that enable citizens from around the world to study, do research, or visit the United States.
To my mind, the value of these exchange programs is that you have the opportunity to see the United States through your own eyes, to experience American society on your own terms, and to immerse yourself in American culture.
Whether you are an alumnus of a Fulbright, SUSI, IVLP, UGrad or Humphrey program, your first-hand experience in the United States has broadened your worldview and your knowledge, improved your English language skills, and expanded your network of colleagues and friends.
Through each of your exchanges, we have together invested in the future of Mongolia.
Whether you are a nuclear scientist like President Undraa or a journalist like our friend Jargalsaikhan, or a lawyer like a young alumnus I met a few nights ago, you are the future leaders of Mongolia.
And the understanding of the United States and of American society and culture that you gained during your exchange experience will make you a better informed leader and one more able to navigate the global marketplace of ideas in which Mongolia plays an important part.
One of my priorities as Ambassador is to nurture the next generation of democratic leaders in Mongolia.
Looking out at this audience today gives me great hope for the future of Mongolia.
MASA has been a great partner to the United States Embassy and I am pleased to say that we will continue and strengthen that partnership during my tenure as Ambassador.
I would like to commend the outgoing MASA board for the dedication to fostering a socially-aware and service-conscious ethos.
As President, Undraa has motivated MASA members to lead many projects in diverse areas from medicine to environmental conservation to gender equality.
I am delighted that this year’s conference theme is volunteerism.
Every visitor to the United States I have ever met has returned with a strong impression of the vital role that volunteerism plays in American society.
Every year, millions of Americans donate their time and talents to a range of causes.
What unites these individuals is a commitment to giving back to their societies and a dedication to helping their fellow citizens in need.
To highlight how transformational these volunteer experiences can be, I’d like to briefly share three experiences, from three MASA board members, from three different exchange programs in the United States.
Amar, a UGRAD alumnus, reports that one of his most memorable experiences in the United States was a day spent conversing with senior citizens and planting seeds in their community garden.
Ninj, a Fulbright alumna, taught English to Southeast Asian migrants seeking economic opportunity, as well as refugees fleeing violence and persecution.
Gandolgor, a Humphrey alumna, facilitated training at a female entrepreneurs forum, organized Toastmasters events, cleaned the storage space of a Goodwill store, and fed the needy.
Amar, Ninj, and Gandolgor’s distinct personal experiences exemplify the many ways in which volunteerism enriches society.
I am excited to learn that this spirit of volunteerism has taken hold here in Mongolia, in part due to the efforts of MASA members.
You’ve enabled the next generation of Mongolian youth to make smarter career decisions by creating the first-ever online career advancement video tutorials.
You’ve empowered women from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing training in financial management and small business development.
And you’ve promoted a more inclusive society by harnessing the power of crowdsourcing to create an e-map to track wheelchair-accessible venues right here in Ulaanbaatar.
I encourage all of you, and especially the younger alumni among you, to continue to give back, to make a difference.
Motivate others to contribute by sharing what you’ve learned during your time overseas.
The global perspectives you possess will be an important contribution to the decisions that will shape Mongolia’s future development.
I think ‘Development Ambassadors’ is the perfect name for MASA.
Today, you are here to celebrate the many accomplishments that MASA members have achieved over the last two years.
You will also embrace ambitious goals for yourselves and for MASA for the coming years.
I wish you a successful conference and I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
Thank you very much.