The East-West Center: Change and Opportunity


Remarks of East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison

Friends of the East-West Center Annual Meeting
Nov. 9, 2016

Thank you Puongpun, for a generous introduction. I also want to thank the Friends of the East-West Center for inviting me to speak and all of you for coming.

EWC President Charles MorrisonRich Turbin, chair of our Board of Governors, had been urging me to hold an event to mark my departure after 18 years serving as the Center’s president. But I wanted to leave any large-scale event to the new president, my good friend Richard Vuylsteke, as a transition is best defined as a beginning, not an ending. So instead I will use this occasion, provided by the Friends, to talk about legacy.

First, it is a legacy of a period, not of an individual. It is OUR legacy, a legacy of all who comprise the EWC family. As a community, we have labored to develop and implement a set of very rich, impactful, and changing programs centered on the institutional objective of Asia-Pacific community-building. And I am very proud of what we have achieved together

I have been privileged to work with some great teams and partners. I have had an initiating role in some elements of our program, but almost none in others. My most important role has been to find or promote some remarkable people to run our programs, and they in turn initiate activities and hire their own outstanding staff members. I played the major role in developing the community-building objective, in resetting the organizational structure, in developing dialogues and exchanges as a pillar of East-West Center programming, in initiating leadership programs, in establishing our Washington office, in creating the Asia-Pacific Community-Building Award, and in conceptualizing a variety of more specific activities including the International Graduate Student conference, the International Media Conference, the US Asia-Pacific Council, the Obuchi program for Okinawa, the US Asia-Pacific Council, the bid for Hawai‘i to host APEC, and our mediation work in the Pacific Islands.

But most of the implementation and further development was undertaken by colleagues, including our fantastic programming in Washington, our outstanding philanthropy work, the acclaimed Changing Faces Program for women leaders, and ground-breaking research in so many areas, including demography, governance, climate change, innovation, and higher education.

Over the past 18 years, the underlying mission of the Center – building understanding and relations between the people of the United States and the vast Asia-Pacific region – has not changed, but it was sharpened with the institutional objective, and the program structure and operations have changed enormously while honoring and expanding upon the previous legacy. It is entirely possible to be creative without being destructive.

We have not been stagnant, and certainly we have not declined. Since 1998, appropriated funding is about 40 percent larger. Participant numbers have increased from a little over 1000 to 3000, reflecting a much higher level of activity and ability to connect larger audiences. Reserves against budget shortfalls have tripled to almost 90 percent of annual appropriations. From a very low base, the endowment funds have increased over 12 times, buoyed by three 7-figure gifts, including a collective alumni endowment. Staff size remains the same, but is deployed more efficiently. Thanks to Ricky Kubota, our very able Director of Administration, the ratio of administrative in overall staffing has declined, or put another way, the tooth-to-tail ratio has risen.

It wasn’t linear. There were periods of advance, periods of consolidation, and one significant cut, all these mostly affected by the political environment. Overall and in retrospect, the funding picture, despite an annual drama that I will explain later, has been quite stable, but with different lead supporters in different eras. The Federal appropriation is, of course, the critical base, covering much of the infrastructure and salary costs, but most program money is raised from other sources. In 2008, the Freeman Foundation provided $1 to 1.5 million annually, equivalent to about a $30 million endowment. For a time, the Ford Foundation was sending 50 or so students a year to the Center, adding enormously to our student numbers. In recent years, the governments of Brunei and Taiwan have been large supporters of leadership students from the ASEAN and Pacific island regions respectively.

I was focused on from the very beginning on preparing for an era in which the Center would not have the kind of dedicated patronage we enjoyed from the late Senator Daniel Inouye. Contrary to some belief here in Hawai‘i, the senator, whom I deeply admired, was not omnipotent. He could not prevent a 60 percent cut in the Center’s budget in the mid-1990s or a 20 percent one in 2011 during my tenure. Both of these occurred after mid-term electoral changes in the House of Representatives rippled through budget politics. But whatever the circumstances, the Senator always staunchly supported the Center and its mission from his critically important position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

It was essential to broaden this base of support, and leverage the appropriation. Unlike most fully government programs, we do not have the luxury simply sit back and spend our public money without leveraging it. As a national public diplomacy institution, serving the United States and its region, we needed to show a greater bang for the buck, and in the areas most relevant to needs in US-Asia-Pacific relations.

Our standing with the current Executive branch could not be better. There were 20 years that no secretary of state participated in or stopped by the East-West Center. But Republican secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and Democratic secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry all have. . The Center has become the go-to place for Asia policy speeches by secretaries, four in last six years. Administration senior officials, including many non-elected professionals, participate on a regular basis in our programs in both DC and Hawai‘i. We have also had three visits from the current President, including two this year, as well as one by the previous president.

The Department of State also invests heavily in the East-West Center from its own funds, being one of our biggest sources of non-appropriated funds, over $1.5 million last year. State supports program participants, for example by sending journalists and other participants to our programs on embassy accounts, although those expenses are not always reflected in our budgets.

Another important change has been the diversification of the student program. For many years, the Center had essentially one student program for degree studies, carried out in partnership with the University of Hawai‘i. This was excellent and has produced many outstanding alumni, but it was expensive. I was told bluntly that it was the only Federal-funded scholarship program exercised at only one university in one state.

We carried out a review of educational needs in the region. In discussions with educators and educational ministry officials from around the region, our study team found that the overwhelming need for distinctive short-term, non-degree educational offerings. There was also no residential leadership program, in the United States or elsewhere in our region that focused on the big issues of the region. That is why, with a generous $5 million grant from the Freeman Foundation, we created the signature Asia-Pacific Leadership Program. In its 16th year, this is now the centerpiece of a complex of leadership training opportunities bringing over 200 non-degree students a year to the EWC. A cadre of individuals, knowledgeable about the region as a whole and prepared with leadership skills is absolutely necessary for successful community-building.

Over the past 16 years, more than 600 young professionals have been participants in the Asia-Pacific Leadership Program, and a larger number in other shorter term programs, drawing upon the same leadership staff team and patented EWC methodology. These participants have shorter, but much more intense experiences at the Center than our degree students, and they are equally devoted alumni, with very active virtual networks.

The creation of East-West Seminars, as a third major leg of our activities in Hawai‘i, also reflects the public diplomacy priority of the East-West Center. It was developed to be a home for well-crafted dialogue to strengthen understanding of issues and directed toward communicators and thought-leaders – journalists, politicians, and educators. Today, the East-West Center has the largest suite of journalist programs in the Asia-Pacific region, and a flagship International Media Conference brings hundreds of journalists to the region’s largest media event, held once every two years, very recently in Delhi.

The Washington office was long overdue. Established in 2001, just before 9-11, it was intended to expand our programming to the nation’s capital and to connect our headquarters in Hawai‘i better with the currents of thinking there. It is also intended as a home for activities best conducted in a national capital. Under director Satu Limaye, the Washington office is a small, but incredibly busy hub of activity, with weekly programs, hundreds of policy briefs, and the site of projects on contemporary policy issues. Its flagship project is the Asia Matters to America, America Matters to Asia series, focusing on how Asia and key Asian countries affect the U.S. at the national, state, and Congressional district level and vice versa. That will be needed more than ever.

The Research Program was integrated but also expanded to cover a broader array of issues. When Secretary Kerry spoke at the East-West Center, he outlined four issue areas: sustainable growth, climate change, peace and security, and human empowerment. With a very small staff, we were working on all of them.

As frequently pointed out, success in the 21st century does not necessarily require that an institution be big to have impact, but it must be nimble The EWC is nimble, taking advantage of opportunities. Every year, there has been at least one, and often more, major activity or project at the East-West Center, something we never did before. For example, major new activities this year included the East-West Sustainability Summit, held in conjunction with the World Conservation Congress, a new Asia-Pacific education program for Congressional staff, done in partnership with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and a new women’s project initiated by New Zealand Ambassador Amanda Ellis. Every program involves partners, often many of them, and every professional staff member by necessity is a fund-raiser. This can be very complex and creative; for example, this year’s Jefferson Fellowships, our oldest program for journalists, had funds from three embassies, two private companies, two foundations, several media organizations, and the participants themselves.

What about the future? Before a successor picked, I made some statements about the opportunities and directions I foresaw for the Center. But that was just input for future leaders. The future president and current and future board will make the decisions, and I know how hard it is. I intend only to be supportive..

So I will just confine myself to general observations about the future.

First, there remains a tremendous need for an East-West Center.

The EWC might not be needed –

If the US, China, Japan, ASEAN, India and everyone else in the region were getting along just fine, but they are not.

If all the economic, environmental, demographic, social justice and governance issues were being solved or addressed effectively by other institutions, but they are not.

If American had a really solid understanding of the enormous complexity of Asian and Pacific island societies, and if those societies had a clear appreciation of American interests and ideals, but that also is not the case.

If there were other well-crafted, multinational educational programs focused on the Asia-Pacific region as a region, but there are not.

I could go on, but you get the point: the region faces enormous challenges, and we play a critical role. These challenges increasingly are not just regional challenges, but global challenges for which our region’s leadership is needed. The market for our services is robust.

But second, there are many other institutions also working in parts of our space, especially in Washington, attracted by the growing importance of Asia. Even the Atlantic Council that now has a big Pacific program. The Brookings Institution has offices in China and India. We are part of a complex eco-system of public diplomacy and public policy institutes. Many of these organizations are our partners, but they are also competitors, and it is essential that we protect the value of our brand name – that is, our reputation for quality –, make use of our special and distinctive attributes, and continue to offer differentiated, valuable products. The competition for limited funds has become more and more fierce.

Third, the most challenging and crippling problem for the Center in the last decade has been the House-Senate and Executive branch-Congressional branch games played around the Center’s budget – games that had nothing to do with our performance. I won’t explain these in detail, but they inhibit good forward planning and rational budgeting, distort staff activity levels, and been enormous diversion of executive management time. Sadly, they mean that taxpayer money is not being used optimally. I am grateful that the Department of State has always supported a so-called plus up in the Congress, and it has been amazing how successfully and consistently the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation and other supporters in both Senate and House have supported that plus up. There has been no cut in the Center’s budget since Senator Inouye passed away.

But the Hawai‘i delegation should not be in the position of having to plus-up a national, Federal program. There was never a guarantee that the plus-up would happen, and it reinforced a misperception in Washington that the Center is simply a Congressional earmark for Hawai‘i instead of an effective nation program that happens to be located in Hawai‘i for very sound, strategic reasons, like the Pacific Command.

Finally, the Board found an excellent new president for the Center. Actually, he’s not so new since I met him at the East-West Center when I first came to Hawai‘i in 1980. Richard Vuylsteke will bring a wealth of knowledge of the region, he has many years’ experience of running two American Chambers of Commerce, first in Taipei and Hong Kong, and he has an extensive set of networks, different from those of the past, and rooted in the business community. I spent several hours with him this past week-end renewing our friendship and planning the transition, and I also want you to know that he is an exceptionally nice and committed person. He is deeply dedicated to the mission of the Center, and he’ll be a great president.

Richard will need your support and encouragement, just as I had. When I was chosen as president, I felt that even those who were skeptical that I was up to the job wanted me to succeed. For example, I received a hand-written note from Puongpun saying that although he supported another candidate, he wanted to congratulate me and he would be there for me. And he always has been. From all of you, all of our stakeholders around our region, I felt I had the wind at my back.

We face uncertain times, and this uncertainty increased exponentially yesterday since the future U.S. foreign policy, including in Asia, has yet to be defined. The Center, however, is not partisan program. It is a centerpiece of bipartisan U.S. public outreach toward the Asia-Pacific region, systemically the most important world region to our nation. It has a continuing relevant and critical mission. It has a great record of accomplishment. It has a huge and committed alumni, like no other in the region.. It has a very dedicated, capable staff and a set of excellent programs. In facing the future, let’s make sure our new president has the wind at his back.