The Colgate Scene
Point man for volunteers
Alumnus leads presidential initiative
|By Charlie Melichar|
President George W. Bush named Ken Lanza '77 to direct the Volunteers for Prosperity initiative in May 2003. [Photos courtesy of Ken Lanza '77]
Kenneth Lanza '77 is a student of the world.
Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica -- the list of places Lanza has called home is extensive. The son of a Senior Foreign Service officer and academic, Lanza grew up immersed in foreign cultures, an experience that prepared him for a life of work in and with developing nations around the globe. That experience has now led Lanza to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he serves as President George W. Bush's liaison for Freedom Corps, and manages Volunteers for Prosperity, a presidential initiative to match American professionals who want to volunteer with service opportunities abroad.
Lanza has seen firsthand how internal strife, poverty, and ignorance corrupts a developing country's culture and bleeds its economy dry. After graduating from high school in Afghanistan, Lanza went on to the American University of Beirut, where he studied for two years. His second year was cut short when the intensifying civil war made attending classes next to impossible.
"We spent much of that year dodging bullets on the way to class," said Lanza.
As he considered transferring to a college in the United States to continue his studies, Lanza sought the advice of those familiar with the top institutions in the States. He was told to look into Colgate University and its president, Thomas Bartlett.
Bartlett, who had an international reputation, had served as advisor for political and security affairs in the U.S. permanent mission to the United Nations and as president of the American University in Cairo.
"Those advising me on where to study knew of Bartlett's experience in Cairo and that he had an interest in developing international studies at Colgate," said Lanza. He saw a Colgate education as an opportunity to be at the leading edge of international issues and education. He applied only to Colgate, and was accepted.
During his time at Colgate, Lanza was impressed with the level of personal attention he received, particularly from one celebrated teacher, the late history professor Douglas "Doc" Reading '33.
"Doc inspired me to major in Russian history," said Lanza, who eventually went on to lead economic development efforts in the former Soviet states and has presented to the third-ranking member of the Russian government.
Lanza outside of a mosque in Cairo, where he made a presentation on international economic competitiveness.
The White House calls
The experience was rewarding, but during this time, Lanza was closely watching the policies set forth by the Reagan administration, particularly as they pertained to the development of developing countries.
"[Reagan's] emphasis on private sector development and growth as a means to achieve sustainable pro-gress was interesting to me," said Lanza.
His interest in foreign markets continued and, in 1984, Lanza became one of 1,800 applicants for 26 available Foreign Service officer positions. Lanza was chosen and began his service with a year in Washington, D.C., followed by a four-year appointment in the United States Agency for International Develop-ment's private sector office in the Dominican Republic.
After another four-year appointment in the USAID private sector office in Costa Rica, Lanza spent a year as director of economic growth for the Bureau of Europe and Eurasia, covering 27 countries.
In May 2003, President George W. Bush announced a new initiative called Volunteers for Prosperity (his call to international service for American professionals), managed by the White House's Freedom Corps Council.
Assistant to the President John Bridgeland, who was also Freedom Corps director, had begun the work of searching for a director of Volunteers for Prosperity, vetting names though Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and others in the administration. They were searching for someone with expertise in international economic development and knowledge of volunteer organizations, as well as a deep understanding of foreign policy and government processes.
Given his background and experience, Lanza proved to be the top candidate and was detailed to the USA Freedom Corps Council as the president's liaison shortly after Bush's announcement. In this role, Lanza serves in the Executive Office of the President, USA Freedom Corps Council, in the White House. In getting Volunteers for Prosperity off the ground, Lanza spearheaded the development of an executive order (signed by President Bush in September 2003) that set forth policy, established VFP offices within four agencies (USAID, and the departments of State, Commerce, and Health and Human Services), named USAID the inter-agency coordinator for the initiative, and called upon grant-makers to make an effort to support VFP programs and proposals.
The best diplomats
"Are Americans responding to the president's call to service?" asked Lanza. "Are volunteer organizations receiving federal funding, and if so, how many volunteers are they deploying? Are corporate sector companies answering the call to service, and doing so by using their own resources?"
He said that, so far, the outlook is good. Lanza points out that, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics information, four million more Americans did some type of regular volunteer work in the period between September 2002 and September 2003 than during the previous year, raising the number of Americans that volunteer regularly to around 63 million people. The number of volunteer organizations that have signed on with the Volunteers for Prosperity initiative also encourages him.
Lanza expects similar success moving forward, primarily due to the culture of volunteerism in the United States, which he believes is stronger than that of most of the rest of the world, "particularly the developing world," he said.
"Other developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, may have a higher percentage of participation, but, because of our size, the U.S. sends far more volunteers overseas than any other nation," he said.
He said that the rest of the developed world has taken note of President Bush's call to service, and several countries are beginning their own programs in the mold of Freedom Corps. The response from those directly affected by the volunteer programs is the most encouraging and gratifying sign of all.
"Beneficiaries immediately recognize that there is something special about volunteers," said Lanza. "They develop close, long-lasting relationships with those they work with and serve. People recognize that volunteers are giving of themselves genuinely with no financial reward."
For this reason, Lanza calls the volunteers our "best diplomats abroad," and believes that they serve an important role as the government works to develop relationships with other nations.
"We are doing the work of creating and supporting a culture of service in the U.S. and around the globe," said Lanza.
Top of page
Table of contents
|<< Previous: The prodigal rebel||Next: ...from the front line >>|