By Eric Cipriano
Today’s ever-changing world demands flexibility and productive responses, for which many people are not prepared. Diplomacy in the 21st century requires effective, creative and innovative foreign policy solutions, and America needs an engaged, flexible and durable workforce to safeguard its national interests. Resilience—the ability to adapt in the face of adversity—is vital. Resilience training at the Department of State is designed to prepare members of the foreign affairs community to meet unexpected changes with confidence.
In response to the complexities of serving in high stress and high threat posts—such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) Transition Center launched the Resiliency Project, a pilot program that combines the individual and collective efforts of FSI faculty and founding members Ray Leki, Beth Payne, Laura Smallwood and Dr. Sam Thielman. The four instructors first came together to share best practices and experiences with resilience training, and they quickly began collaborating their efforts. By 2012, they had created the pilot program, and four years later, the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience (CEFAR) was formally organized. As director of CEFAR, Beth Payne oversees two resilience trainers, Damien McCombs and Eric Cipriano, along with CEFAR program assistant, Christina Leehr.
CEFAR provides resilience education and training for the broader foreign affairs community, including stand-alone resilience courses and resilience modules in more than 30 existing FSI classes. In addition, CEFAR offers resilience consultations and training for domestic offices and overseas posts to address resilience related issues, helping posts improve their resilience and be better equipped to achieve foreign policy goals. Through in-person training and digital video conferences (DVC) conducted at missions abroad and domestically, CEFAR offers content that helps participants increase professional skills and develop insights into working and living overseas. The training also prepares foreign affairs professionals and their family members to handle a wide range of challenges.
The key components of CEFAR’s resilience model include taking care of oneself, problem-solving, maintaining an optimistic outlook, finding purpose and meaning, and maintaining social support. CEFAR mentors senior leaders to run their operations in a way that fosters resilience and promotes the creation of Wellness and Resilience Committees across the U.S. government, in order to help individuals maintain high resilience. CEFAR focuses on a proactive approach instead of a reactive response, and all training courses and consultations within CEFAR use a proactive approach to promote building, enhancing and sustaining personal, familial, community and leadership resilience.
An essential CEFAR forum is the Fostering Resilience blog, which can be found on the Department’s intranet. CEFAR also coordinates the High Stress Assignment Outbriefing Program course (MQ950) upon completion of an assignment in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Republic of South Sudan, Yemen or the Central African Republic. The high-stress assignment outbrief provides employees who have served in any high-stress/high-threat assignments an opportunity to understand the challenges of returning, reintegrating with family and friends, and moving on to another assignment. The outbrief also outlines various resources and support. Under special circumstances, the High Stress Assignment Outbriefing Program (MQ950) can be substituted with the High Stress Assignment Outbriefing Program – On Demand (MQ951). While MQ950 is a collective, regularly scheduled, in-person class at FSI, MQ951 is for individuals or small-groups and is held both in-person at FSI and virtually around the world in order to meet the unique needs of the participants. Finally, CEFAR encourages the use of local resilience and wellness committees.
Bringing resilience into the workplace, family and community strengthens relationships and changes outlooks, especially during difficult circumstances. For more information on resilience courses, consultations and training events, please contact FSITCResilience@state.gov.
Eric Cipriano is a resilience instructor and trainer at the Foreign Service Institute.