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The French-American Foundation is a privately funded, non-governmental organization established to promote bilateral relations between France and the United States on topics of importance to the two countries, with a focus on contact between upcoming leaders from each country. It employs a variety of initiatives that include multi-year policy programs, conferences on issues of French-American interest, and leadership and professional exchanges of decision-makers from France and the United States.
Founded in 1976, the Foundation is an operating organization that relies on outside financial support to carry out its mission and does not provide grants. It is an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit organization.
Its sister organization is the French-American Foundation France.
The idea was born in 1973 between Ambassador James G. Lowenstein, James Chace, editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs, both members of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank, and Nicholas Wahl, a specialist of post-war France at Princeton University. In order to counter an anti-French sentiment within the State Department, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the press, as well as anti-Americanism among the French elite, the three men grew the desire to create a structure dedicated to friendship between the U.S.A. and its oldest ally, and outside government control, unlike the existing exchange programs led by the State Department since 1941.
The Young Leaders program is the flagship program of the French-American Foundation. The program was created in 1981, under the sponsorship of Princeton French-American economist Ezra Suleiman who remained its president until 2000. It was initially intended as a response to observations that the close working relationships between French and American leaders in the post-war period were waning as new, younger leaders rose with little exposure to their transatlantic counterparts. 30 years later, it still plays a key role in the creation of transatlantic bonds, with more than 400 leaders in government, business, media, military, culture and the non-profit sector having taken part.
Every year, a jury in France and the United States selects a small group (around twenty) of French and Americans between 30 and 40, that are destined to hold a leadership position in their field and to play an important role in the relationship between the two countries. The selected Young Leaders then participate in two five-day seminars, alternatively in the U.S. and France, with the opportunity to discuss issues of common concern and, more importantly, get to know each other and create durable bonds. In the past, participants have taken part on up to five different years.
Young Leaders alumni include prominent Americans such as President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Evan Bayh and Bill Bradley, General Wesley Clark, former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Oscar-winning filmmaker Charles Ferguson, and business leaders Frank Herringer (Transamerica Corporation) and John Thain (CIT Group).
Several Young Leaders serve in the cabinet of French President François Hollande, himself a Young Leader in 1996: Pierre Moscovici (1997), Arnaud Montebourg (2000), Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (2007), Emmanuel Macron (2012), Fleur Pellerin (2012). Past French participants also include former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, former Higher Education Minister Valérie Pécresse, and several business leaders, including Henri de Castries (AXA), Alexandre de Juniac (Air France-KLM), Michel Combes (Alcatel-Lucent), Frédéric Lemoine (Wendel), Anne Lauvergeon (former Chair & CEO of AREVA), and Michel Bon (former CEO of France Télécom).
Policy Advisory Council
The Policy Advisory Council enlists the contributions of leading academics, policy experts, and other prominent thinkers on France, the United States and the trans-Atlantic relationship. This informal network of experts from both sides of the Atlantic provides intellectual leadership to further the Foundation’s mission of deepening understanding between France and the United States and serves as a forum for dialogue on crucial issues.
The Annual Gala is the principal fundraising event of the French-American Foundation. Each year at the Gala, the Foundation presents its Benjamin Franklin Award to two individuals who have made significant contributions to the French-American relationship. The Comte de Vergennes Award is presented to longtime supporters of the French-American Foundation.
Past honorees include: Anne Lauvergeon, Patricia Russo, Ambassador Anne Cox Chambers, Henri de Castries, John A. Thain, Hon. C. Douglas Dillon, Hon. Walter J. P. Curley, Médecins Sans Frontières, Bernard Arnault, Michel David-Weill, the Forbes family, Maurice Lévy, and Frederick W. Smith.
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