The Olympic Games are sure to produce colorful pageantry, impressive athletic feats, and the opportunity to learn more about the People's Republic of China. But the Games also provide an opportunity for people around the world to reflect on the ideals underlying this gathering of athletes.

The official Olympic charter states that a fundamental goal of the Games is "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society." Crafted in the late 1800s by the International Olympic Committee, this charter is an early expression of the importance of citizen diplomacy. Citizen diplomacy is the concept that the individual citizen has the right — even the responsibility — to help shape foreign relations "one handshake at a time."

Despite the passage of more than 110 years and the emergence of a globalized world, there is still a compelling need for the genuine learning that occurs as Olympic athletes and spectators exchange ideas face to face.

As Beijing welcomes an estimated 3 million visitors — certainly the largest single convergence of domestic and foreign visitors in China ever — both the Chinese and foreign visitors are presented with a unique opportunity to examine the role citizens play in building bridges of understanding between people and cultures.

Thousands of American citizens already understand this role and actively participate in citizen diplomacy. Here in Utah, the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy is supporting these efforts. Each year UCCD invites nearly 300 emerging leaders to visit Utah to meet with their professional counterparts and engage with Utah's citizen diplomats. In the past week alone, UCCD has welcomed 39 delegates from Central and Latin America who examined issues related to grass-roots democracy and anti-corruption in government and business.

This is just one example of citizen diplomacy at its finest All across the United States members of the National Council for International Visitors are building international friendships — so needed at this pivotal time in history. Through NCIV, tens of thousands of Americans — all citizen diplomats — volunteer their time and talents to arrange professional meetings, cultural activities and home visits for foreign leaders and other visitors.

By opening their homes, offices and schools to participants in the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program and other exchanges, NCIV members foster international understanding that reflects the spirit of the Olympics.

So as you watch the world come together in celebration of sport and culture in the coming weeks, consider how you, too, can contribute to a peaceful world as a citizen diplomat. For more information about NCIV, go to www.nciv.org. For information about the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, go to www.utahdiplomacy.org.


Laura Dupuy is executive director of the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.