Meridian Diplomacy Forum 2023 Emphasizes the Importance of City and State Diplomacy in Shaping Foreign Policy

watch the forum


Diplomacy is an ever-changing artform that shifts with the times and the needs of a nation. American success abroad and on the world stage is directly linked to U.S. policies and actions at home. This includes expanding the responsibility of international affairs beyond Washington and the Federal government. Held on April 12, the 2023 Meridian Diplomacy Forum, "All Diplomacy is Local: Strengthening City and State Statecraft," underscored the vital role of cities and states in shaping diplomacy and international affairs.  

Taking place on Meridian’s historic campus in Washington, DC, the day-long event featured expert speakers and practitioners who shared insights on various themes around state and city statecraft, including the rise of city networks, the role of innovation, the significance of culture and identity, the need for collaboration, and the challenges and opportunities facing city and state diplomacy.  

Meridian CEO Ambassador Stuart Holliday opened the Diplomacy Forum stating, “Now in its 7th year, the Meridian Diplomacy Forum examines trends and challenges to modern diplomacy and explores how we can come together across sectors and disciplines to work towards solutions.Cities are banding together to tackle our shared global issues of climate change and migration. They were the front lines in dealing with COVID-19 and they are the ones most closely tasked with transitioning our communities to the digital economy. A key attribute that our cities and states have is theirconsistency. Corporations and governments around the world look to partner with those who are steady and predictable. At a time when the foreign policy of our federal government can change drastically every four years, American cities and states are reliable partners in trade and a range of other issues.” 

The program opened with pointed and passionate remarks by T.H. Vadym Boichenko, Mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine; T.H. Oleksandr Markushyn, Mayor of Irpin, Ukraine; and T.H. Volodymyr Karpliuk, Former Mayor of Irpin, Ukraine and the Head of Irpin Reconstruction Summit that demonstrated the Ukrainian city leaders’ unrelenting determination by shedding light on their efforts to revitalize their communities and construct more sustainable, modernized cities.  

Between those gathered at Meridian House and the virtual participants who tuned in on Meridian's website and social media platforms, over 1,000 American and foreign diplomats, issue-area experts, business leaders and next generation global affairs professionals took part in the main public-facing portion of the event. Attendees had an opportunity to hear from USG and foreign officials, such as T.H. Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State; Jean-François Hould, Director, Québec Government Office in Washington, DC; T.H. Levar Stoney, Mayor, City of Richmond, Virginia; and T.H. Claudia López, Mayor, City of Bogotá, Colombia. 

The afternoon Forum segued into an evening “Careers in International Affairs Networking” reception in Meridian’s White-Meyer House as part of the DiplomacyRISE initiative. This was a chance for college students and young professionals to meet and engage with U.S. Foreign and Civil Service Officers and other professionals who have spent their entire careers in global affairs.  

All Diplomacy is Local provided an important platform for discussing the emergence of cities and states as key actors in uncovering solutions to global issues.  

Here are the key takeaways that business and diplomatic leaders should remember:

  1. The Importance of Subnational Actors: 

Subnational actors such as cities, states, and regions play an increasingly essential role in shaping global politics and diplomacy. Forum speakers highlighted that these actors have the flexibility and innovation to tackle global challenges such as climate change, migration, and economic development. They emphasized that subnational actors have direct relationships with their counterparts in other countries, enabling them to drive international cooperation and collaboration. 

     2. The Role of Innovation: 

Innovation emerged as a crucial factor in driving city and state diplomacy. The forum showcased innovative solutions developed by cities and states to tackle sustainability, urban planning, and technology-related challenges. Speakers also noted that innovative approaches to diplomacy, such as public-private partnerships, can lead to effective and sustainable solutions. 

     3. The Significance of Culture and Identity: 

Forum speakers stressed the importance of culture and identity in shaping city and state diplomacy. They highlighted that cities and states could leverage their unique cultural and historical identities to build relationships with other countries and promote their interests. Moreover, culture and identity can shape public perceptions of cities and states, influencing their economic and diplomatic power. 

     4. The Need for Collaboration: 

Collaboration among cities, states, and other subnational actors drives effective diplomacy. The Forum emphasized that collaboration can help promote innovation, share best practices, and build stronger relationships with counterparts in other countries. Collaboration among subnational actors can also help fill gaps left by traditional diplomatic channels. 

5. The Challenges and Opportunities Facing City and State Diplomacy: 

The forum featured discussions on the challenges and opportunities facing city and state diplomacy. Speakers noted the difficulties of limited resources, lack of recognition, and the need to balance local and national interests. However, they also identified opportunities for sub-national actors to drive innovation, build relationships with other countries, and shape global policy. 

Are you interested in digging deeper into the 2023 Meridian Diplomacy Forum? Top takeaways, images and our On Demand video for each of our sessions are linked below. 

See more on social: #DiplomacyForum #AllDiplomacyisLocal

Forum Kickoff Dinner

On the evening of April 11, Meridian and Millicom, in partnership with the Embassy of Colombia, co-hosted a curated dinner to kick off this year's Diplomacy Forum. Held at the Colombian Ambassador's residence, guests had an opportunity to discuss the importance of subnational diplomacy and the role of cities and states in the preservation of democracy with their fellow peers. Guests also had the opportunity to hear from distinguished individuals such as His Excellency Luis Gilberto Murillo Urrutia, Ambassador of Colombia to U.S.; Ambassador Stuart Holliday, CEO, Meridian International Center; Mauricio Ramos, CEO, Millicom; Maryam Mujica, Head of Public Affairs, Americas,; Michael Steele, Political Analyst, MSNBC. 

During the dinner, Meridian honored Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. with its inaugural Democracy Strengthener Award, which recognizes exceptional individuals whose demonstrated commitment to uphold and advance democratic values in the United States and abroad has personified the shared universal aspiration of a free, safe and just world. As former Ambassador to China, Huntsman championed freedom of speech and freedom of expression. He underscored freedom of religion and press freedom while serving as Chief of Mission to Russia. Domestically, he has spoken out against the harm that money in politics is doing to our democracy, while continuing to advocate for voter rights.

Forum Agenda


As Ukrainians grapple with the challenges of an ongoing war, city leaders are demonstrating their unrelenting determination by turning their focus towards the future. Learning from the past and building on the present, mayors and municipal officials are leading efforts to revitalize their communities and construct more sustainable, modernized cities. This session addressed the status of the Ukrainian communities of Mariupol and Irpin, and, in the case of Irpin, their plans for what’s next. New survey data on what the citizens of Irpin believe is most important in the revival of their community was shared. The session also explored the intersection of leadership and resilience.  

The Honorable Vadym Boichenko, Mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine

The Honorable Oleksandr Markushyn, Mayor of Irpin Ukraine

The Honorable Volodymyr Karpliuk, Former Mayor of Irpin and Executive Director of Irpin Reconstruction Fund

Diane Hoskins, Co-CEO, Gensler

Sofia Song, Global Cities Lead, Gensler


While U.S.-China tension at the national level is a serious impediment to global progress on our shared climate and environmental crises, avenues for cooperation and movement on climate targets remain ripe among American and Chinese cities. This conversation showcased current and previous sustainability partnerships between U.S. and China municipalities and explored paths that remain open for collaboration at the local level among public, private and civil society environmental leaders in biodiversity conversation, clean energy development, emissions reduction, climate adaptation and similar environmental arenas.  

Featured Speaker: The Honorable Deborah Lehr, Trustee, Meridian International Center

The Honorable Greg Nickels, 51st Mayor of Seattle, Washington (Virtual)

Lina García, Director of International Affairs, U.S. Conference of Mayors (Virtual)

Li Zhu, Director of Conservation, Paulson Institute

Dr. Jennifer Turner, Director, China Environment Forum, Wilson Center


To introduce the main themes for this year’s Diplomacy Forum, our keynote session highlighted the importance of subnational diplomacy by drawing on the experiences of two internationally-minded mayors from the U.S. and Colombia. The conversation explored how these municipal leaders have positioned their cities internationally by demonstrating their capacity to engage in global initiatives that address shared challenges. It also offered insight into how cities are leading the way towards sustainable development by showcasing Bogotá’s Voluntary Local Review on the SDGs. 

The Honorable Claudia López, Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia  

The Honorable Levar Stoney, Mayor of Richmond, Virginia

Moderator: Dr. Alyssa Ayres, Dean, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University


The Cities Summit of the Americas is a first-of-its-kind subnational diplomacy gathering that will assemble hundreds of state, city and community leaders from across the Americas for a three-day long conference in Denver, Colorado from April 26-28. Organized by the U.S. Department of State in partnership with the State of Colorado and the City of Denver, the Cities Summit seeks to ensure leader-level commitments made at the Ninth Summit of the Americas held last year in Los Angeles. The State Department Office of City and State Diplomacy highlighted some of the priorities and expectations surrounding the inaugural Summit and detailed some of the key issues to be explored including climate and environment, energy transition, housing and safety, and democracy and inclusion.  

The Honorable Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State 


As cities and states in Europe, China, and elsewhere in the world expand their global reach through the establishment of international affairs offices, American municipalities are falling behind. This reality precludes U.S. local governments from securing the economic benefits of trade, investment, and tourism, while preventing their communities from weighing in on important global issues like climate change and migration. This session explored the international portfolios of subnational governments in the U.S. and around the world. It addressed common barriers for local governments and officials interested in engaging globally, including sources of funding, metrics of success, and public apprehension.

Ambassador Nina Hachigian, Special Representative for City and State Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State 

Jean-François Hould, Director, Quebec Government Office in Washington

Alexis Roig, Barcelona's Chief Science and Tech Envoy and CEO, SciTech DiploHub

Moderator: Maritza T. Adonis, CEO, MTA Visions Global CSR & Gov't Relations


Mauricio Ramos, CEO, Millicom 

The Honorable Fred Hochberg, Vice Chair, Meridian International Center


There is growing realization that international organizations and national governments are unable to tackle the widespread social, economic, and environmental issues afflicting our planet alone. Community-level actions are needed as well. Cities around the world are answering this call, with mayors and municipal officials increasingly banding together to tackle global issues like climate change, democracy preservation, digital rights, and forced migration. This session examined the proliferation of city coalitions and their ability to collectively implement strategic actions and position cities as legitimate international actors within our global system.

Alby Bocanegra, Founder, The Urban Futurist Inc

Kate Johnson, Head of U.S. Federal Affairs, C40 Cities

Dorothy Kisaka, Executive Director, Kampala Capital City Authority

Moderator: Emérita Torres, Vice President of Policy, Research and Advocacy, Community Service Society of New York


His Excellency Shaikh Abdulla bin Rashed AlKhalifa, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the U.S.



The Honorable Wes Moore, 63rd Governor of Maryland


While the CHIPS and Inflation Reduction Acts aim to boost American manufacturing and return more of the supply chain to the U.S., international trade and investment remain instrumental to maintain and build strong local economies. In fact, cities and states may increase their engagement with foreign governments through economic diplomacy as U.S. exports become more competitive. This session made the case for why international trade matters, while exploring how city and state officials can best aid the international ambitions of their local businesses and engage with international companies. It also highlighted different ways in which the Federal government supports municipalities in global trade amidst shifting supply chains and a new trade paradigm. 

Alexis Gordon, International Business Manager and Chief of Protocol, City of Charlotte, North Carolina

Yana Kravtsova, Executive Vice President, International Market Development and Public Affairs, Enviva

Jessica Reynolds, Senior Director, Office of International Investment and Trade, Maryland Department of Commerce

Moderator: P.J. Joshi, National Weekend Editor, Washington Post


Global democratic backsliding has become a defining trend of the past decade with antidemocratic political projects most recently affecting countries like Hungary, Mexico, India, Brazil and Israel. In response, the Biden administration has formalized its commitment to advance democratic renewal at home and abroad through the Summit for Democracy. This conversation explored Governor Huntsman’s experience combating domestically and internationally forces that are averse to democracy and democratic principles and highlighted his thoughts on how the U.S. can effectively strengthen democracy globally while dealing with a highly polarized population and an increasingly antagonistic international system.

Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr., 2023 Meridian Democracy Strengthener Awardee

In conversation with Ambassador Stuart Holliday

The Diplomacy Forum was held in partnership with

Project summary

Meridian Diplomacy Forum 2023 Emphasizes the Importance of City and State Diplomacy in Shaping Foreign Policy | April 2023
Number of Attendees: 1000
Regions: Africa, Western Hemisphere, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East and North Africa
Impact Areas: Foreign Policy, Business and Trade, Energy and the Environment, Public Diplomacy, Governance and Transparency
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
Partners: Diplomatic Corps, Individuals/Donors, Private Sector
Meridian Diplomacy Forum