June 9, 2022
Caroline Naralasetty, President of the French-American Foundation – United States and Amina Sabeur, Executive Director of the French-American Foundation – France (FAFF), as well as Agnès Touraine, President of the Jury of the Young Leaders program and member of the FAFF Executive Committee, agreed to talk to Forbes about the history and current status of the Foundation.
You can read the original article (in French) by clicking on this link.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, French President Emmanuel Macron, astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Antony Blinken have all completed the French-American Foundation’s Young Leaders program.
Through two sister entities, one in the United States in New York and the other in France in Paris, the French-American Foundation aims to nurture and deepen the relationship between the two allies. Inaugurated by Presidents Gerald Ford and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1976, the organization has been selecting the future political, civil, economic, and military elites of both countries through its Young Leaders program since 1981. Caroline Naralasetty, President of the French-American Foundation – the United States, and Amina Sabeur, Executive Director of the French-American Foundation – France (FAFF), as well as Agnès Touraine, President of the Jury of the Young Leaders program and member of the FAFF Executive Committee, agreed to talk to Forbes about the history and current status of the foundation.
A Dual Organization
The French-American Foundation consists of two distinct and independent entities on either side of the Atlantic. For Caroline Naralasetty, “This organization is very relevant. Each team knows its audience, thus being more effective in its programming and funding. The two entities are funded by an annual gala that accounts for more than one-third of donations. The French organization, FAFF, also relies on membership fees from individuals and companies, while the American entity organizes fundraising campaigns. In both France and the United States, members and benefactors can be companies or individuals.
For France, Amina Sabeur recalls that the members are very diverse and that they range “from start-ups to large CAC 40 companies and from diplomats to journalists, all with a common interest in the United States. With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to the cancellation of annual galas, funding has become a key issue, and “it is crucial,” according to Caroline Naralasetty, “to reconnect” with donors and be able to “understand that their priorities have changed.” After having invited for its previous galas personalities such as Bill Gates or the famous American entrepreneur and fashion designer Ralph Lauren, the French American Foundation – France has decided to reschedule this highly symbolic event at the end of the year.
“Young Leaders”: The French-American Foundation’s Flagship Program
The Young Leaders program is the organization’s signature program, with the participation of leading figures from the political, economic, and military worlds. Although Agnès Touraine points out that it is “the pioneer of leadership programs and the most emblematic,” the program is not without competitors. Indeed, leadership programs flourish within lobbying organizations such as the German Marshall Fund or the World Economic Forum. So, what makes the French-American Foundation’s program unique?
First, its format. The French-American Foundation’s Young Leaders program is a two-year program consisting of two five-day study tours, one to France and one to the United States. Each year, the American and French organizations respectively select about ten candidates, with a requirement of parity for both entities. New Young Leaders can meet with the previous class on their first trip and the next class on their second. No reports, leadership courses, or coaching sessions are imposed on the selected candidates, as Amina Sabeur underlines: “the French-American Foundation is not a lobbying institute, but a place of exchange.” Therefore, it is not intended to produce white papers or ideologically train the people selected for the program. It aims instead to “create an alchemy,” according to Agnès Touraine, and to “offer a space for exchanges, dialogues and debates on current themes that cross the two societies.”
“Another strength of the French-American Foundation,” says Caroline Naralasetty, “is the small size of the classes, which creates a close-knit community around transatlantic relations.
The selection of candidates is therefore crucial to the success of the program. The foundation can boast about having selected candidates who later became presidents of the French Republic and the United States of America. Among the selected presidents are Emmanuel Macron (YL 2012) and François Hollande (YL 1996), as well as Bill Clinton (YL 1984), preceded by his wife, Hillary Clinton (YL 1983); when selected, they were all at the time only young novices in politics.
The flair of the association does not seem to have lost its strength over the years!
The only exclusive selection criterion is age. All candidates must be between thirty and forty years old. Second, they must have already achieved significant professional accomplishments and have been identified as a leader in their field. The candidate must also “show his/her willingness and desire to participate in the activities of the association, as well as his/her ability to take risks,” explains Agnès Touraine. They must also have “developed their own vision and an informed view of contemporary issues,” adds Caroline Naralasetty.
The association’s goal is not to train an elite but rather to welcome it in all its diversity. While the French-American Foundation has been criticized in the past for selecting only very homogeneous profiles, it now receives more diverse applications, particularly in terms of professional experience: entrepreneurs, corporate executives, members of civil society, doctors, researchers, artists, military personnel and politicians.
The program evolves with society, and while its formula has remained more or less faithful to the spirit of 1981, the themes addressed during the study tours have changed significantly. This year’s trip will be to Austin, Texas, and will focus on the changing U.S. economy, migration movements to the Sun Belt, and massive investments in tech companies.
Other Events of The Association
Beyond the Young Leaders program, the French-American Foundation – United States also developed in 2017 a program called “Transatlantic Forum” (https://frenchamerican.org/initiatives/transatlantic-forum/) aimed at younger profiles who would seek to build their network and become aware of certain current issues. The Foundation also organizes policy breakfasts that are usually reserved for business leaders and members of the board of directors of the U.S. entity throughout the year in small groups.
In France, the FAFF organizes one event per week and can count on the solid concentration of its members in the capital. The events vary in size, from breakfast for about twenty people to a conference around a French or American personality visiting Paris with over one hundred and fifty guests.
The two foundations have several activities in common, including a cybersecurity conference devised eight years ago by General Jean-Paul Paloméros, former Chief of Staff of the French Air Force and former NATO Allied Commander Transformation, and Jean-Louis Gergorin, co-founder of the French- American Foundation. Each year, the program brings together nearly one hundred American and French experts for two days in Washington D.C. The next edition will take place from November 30 to December 1, 2022, and will focus on “The future of Democracy in the Digital Age: A Transatlantic Discussion on Evolving Geopolitics and Cyber Security.” The two foundations also organize a prize for the best translation on both sides of the Atlantic.
A Powerful Network of Alumni
The 600 alumni of the Young Leaders program are the organization’s backbone and keep the program going by promoting the program in their network and encouraging new recruits to apply. As Agnès Touraine explains: “All members of the jury are former Young Leaders. The experience is unique, and it is difficult to select candidates when you have not been through the program yourself.” Alumni also participate in events either as listeners or speakers. Amina Sabeur indicates that “for each event organized, alumni receive personalized invitations according to their expertise and interests.”
The exclusive nature of these exchanges and the application of the famous Chattam House rule, which requires each participant not to divulge the speaker’s identity or other participants, create a climate of trust with the guests and allows greater freedom in the debate. None of the interventions are recorded or filmed.
Strengthening Transatlantic Relations
For Amina Sabeur, the French-American Foundation does not intend to create parallel diplomacy; it wishes to “continue to federate, to gather and to put itself at the service of friendly and embodied transatlantic relations” beyond the “ups and downs” of geopolitics. The goal here is to foster “mutual understanding” between the two countries, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken (YL 1998) emphasized in his letter to FAFF in 2021 on the association’s 40th anniversary. It also intends to show that, in the same way as the “American dream,” there is a “French dream.”
While France is considered America’s oldest ally, to quote Joe Biden’s congratulatory note to Emmanuel Macron upon his re-election to the French presidency, the understanding between the two countries has been far from perfect and appears to be eroding for some. For Caroline Naralasetty, however, “the appeal of France should not be underestimated.” She continues: “despite the announced geopolitical shift towards Asia, there are still Americans who think that ties with Europe, including France, are important, especially with what is happening right now in Ukraine.” Moreover, it is also one of the roles of the FAFF to “explain to Americans what Europe is, whose functioning may sometimes seem complicated to them,” notes Amina Sabeur.
The attention from France to the United States is much stronger than the opposite on the other side of the Atlantic, yet, according to Caroline Naralasetty, there are already many efforts made around diplomacy and culture: “If we look at the panorama of French actors in the United States, many organizations that promote the French language and culture such as the Alliance Française, the French Institute, and diplomacy through more traditional channels such as consulates (https://www.forbes.fr/business/entretien-avec-valerie-baraban-consule-generale-de-france-a-houston/) or chambers of commerce, the foundation offers another channel for exchange and debate.
“The United States and France share a strong set of values,” insists Amina Sabeur. She also wishes to recall in conclusion the words of President Emmanuel Macron (YL 2012) in reaction to the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which are entirely in line with the mission of the association to promote transatlantic friendship: “Since the 18th century, the United States of America and France have been bound by a pact of freedom and democracy.”
Speakers Biographical Notes:
Caroline Naralasetty is American and Francophile. Before joining the French-American Foundation – United States in 2021, she was in charge of development at the Lycée Français de New York City.
Amina Sabeur is French and has taken the position of Executive Director of the French-American Foundation – France in 2021, after only five years with the organization. Her professional career led her successively from diplomacy to entrepreneurship. In parallel to her activities within the organization, she teaches at Sciences Po Lille.
Agnès Touraine (YL 1999) is French and began her career in the United States with McKinsey’s consulting firm. For the past five years, she has chaired the Jury of the prestigious FAFF Young Leader program in France and is a member of its executive committee.
For more information:
Link to the association:
In the United States: https://frenchamerican.org/ (https://frenchamerican.org/
The foundation’s U.S. gala will take place on June 7 at The Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, New York City. The gala will honor Kenneth Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Lazard, and Carol Bellamy (YL ’81), former executive director of UNICEF, and member of the foundation’s executive committee.
For more information about the event: https://frenchamerican.org/events/annual- gala/
To reserve your place: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/french-american-foundation-gala-2022-tickets-310693391297
French American-Foundation – France gala to be announced soon
Article translated by Mariam Moustafa