My initial Protocol Officer Training in May 2016 helps me daily here at USAID. Without hesitation, my favorite aspect of protocol is never quite knowing exactly what I will be asked to assist with, resolve, mediate, mitigate, or plan each day! No two are the same in my work life. I am tasked with new and different challenges regularly, and no matter what, I know I have a network of experts and references to look to for guidance - a network I nurture carefully.
Among my goals is one to continue to leverage and professionalize the many helpful resources already available to me, and to make my colleagues aware of what protocol is and how I can help make their work lives easier. More often than not, those who reach out for guidance have been tasked with planning an event or high level visit, and are understandably apprehensive to go about it correctly, all the while continuing to handle normal daily responsibilities. In a large government agency, coordination can happen at the last minute, so one way I am of immediate help is to respond with a calm, collected presence. My mantra is "Drama.No." I firmly believe there is no problem without a solution, and if I am relaxed, the principals I support can be relaxed in order to perform at their best. That is my prime directive as a protocol officer. I have described my job as a hybrid of hotel concierge, event planner, and parent because sometimes, I have to say no - hopefully, for the right reasons! Yes or no, I love knowing that my work contributes to the collective success of the Agency.
Protocol is used everywhere, for any number of reasons. Last year, I had the chance to contribute to a truly unique experience, a memorial service for a fallen colleague. The narrative weaving together the photos with the tragic murder of a USAID Foreign Service National, Mr. Xulhaz Mannan in Bangladesh in April 2016. Xulhaz dedicated his passion for LGBT rights and awareness to his work at USAID in Dhaka, having founded Roopbaan, the only LGBT magazine in Bangladesh, a conservative government and society.
In June 2016, Mr. Mannan was honored with an engraved tile bearing his name on the Memorial Wall at USAID Headquarters in Washington, DC. At the same time, the Agency dedicated a memorial plaque to fallen USAID partners. Members of Xulhaz's family, friends, colleagues, diplomats, and partner organizations paid tribute to his life and memory. His family gifted USAID with a beautiful painting Xulhaz completed just before his death. The service was a poignant opportunity for those who knew and loved him to come together to both grieve and celebrate a life taken far too early.
Based on my PSOW training, I was able to provide timely support and assistance to the Agency's then-Director of Protocol to create an atmosphere of utmost respect for the occasion. Close attention was paid to the smallest of elements of the service, from the program and guest list to the receiving line with members of the Mannan family, who traveled to the U.S. specifically for the event and other high-level receptions also held in recognition of their loss.
It was apparent that, without the thoughtful attention to detail and expertise provided by protocol, the service would not have had the heartfelt impact people are still talking about today.We went to great lengths to ensure that the event represented the perfect blend of dignity, creativity, and intimacy. The service absolutely communicated the message and power of grieving, healing, and remembering together - not as individuals, but as humans with shared experiences.
Most recently, a new USAID conference room was officially dedicated as the Xulhaz Mannan Conference Room so that his life will continue to inspire the work of the Agency he proudly served.
I was humbled to have played even a small part in the event, and am fortunate to have gained invaluable insights and knowledge I can draw on each day.
ALL PHOTO CREDITS: Ellie Van Houtte/USAID
Acting Director of Protocol
Vice President, Dufour & Co