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Join Bob Gersony and Rick Barton for a discussion of the many decades of extraordinary work by Gersony for USAID and the State Department. Gersony is the subject of a just-published book by best-selling author Robert Kaplan entitled The Good American - The Epic Life of the U.S. Government's Greatest Humanitarian. Ambassador Barton, with long experience in AID And STate addressing global conflicts, is the author of Peace Works: America's Unifying Role in a Turbulent World.
Bob Gersony was born in Manhattan in 1945, the son of refugees from Europe He dropped out of high school, served in the Army in Vietnam and by the early 1970s drifted to Guatemala where he set up a successful school to teach Spanish to foreigners. When a massive earthquake hit the country in 1976, killing 23,000 people, Gersony organized the provision of cheap sheet iron from El Salvador to help poor Guatemalans rebuild shattered homes. A local USAID official was so impressed that he hired Gersony to help manage the agency’s programs in Guatemala. Thus began Gersony’s 40-year relationship with the U.S. government.
In the years ahead, Gersony would be sent not only to other Latin American countries but also to Africa, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, the Middle East and even Nepal. He developed an expertise in collecting ground truth by venturing into the back country, typically accompanied only by a local driver, to interview refugees about human rights violations. He would then develop a plan, Robert Kaplan writes, “that promised to improve the lives of ordinary people — yet tied to U.S. national strategic interests during a global ideological struggle [the Cold War] where every country was in some small sense strategic.”
Gersony was, Kaplan writes, “a character out of a Saul Bellow novel trapped in settings depicted by Joseph Conrad.” In the 1980s and 1990s, he uncovered mass murder and ethnic cleansing being carried out by ostensible U.S. allies such as Uganda’s President Milton Obote, Chad’s President Hissene Habré, the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. By exposing these atrocities, Gersony helped bring them to an end. Gersony's is married to the former Cindy Davis, a retired AID staff member (and current UAA member) whom he met on one of his assignments.
Rick Barton has advanced peaceful, democratic change in more than 40 war-torn countries over the past two decades, . Under his leadership, a series of innovative and values-centered organizations have produced rigorous analysis, new pools of funding and talent, and global coalitions. In his distinguished tenure at USAID, the United Nations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, he has advanced civil society, human rights and effective solutions. Among other roles, Rick was the first Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations; he served as the U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), and he was first Director of AID's Office of Transition Initiatives - OTI). Rick is the Co-Director of Princeton University’s Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI) and teaches at Woodrow Wilson School.
A graduate of Harvard College, he earned his MBA from Boston University. Rick received an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College of Massachusetts, the U.S. Department of State’s Distinguished Honor Award and the Foreign Affairs Award for Public Service, the World Affairs Council of Maine’s International Leadership Award, and Deerfield Academy’s Heritage Award.
He is the author of Peace Works: America's Unifying Role in a Turbulent World, where he uses a mix of stories, history, and analysis for a transformative approach to foreign affairs and offers concrete and attainable solutions for the future.