Public Policy in Practice with Dr. Joseph Westphal, Former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

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Anna Dausman, Executive MPA '18
March 28, 2017

On March 17th, Fels was honored to host former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Joseph Westphal, as part of the Public Policy in Practice event series. Executive MPA Candidate Anna Dausman reflects on the event and Dr. Westphal's career insights.

Watch the full event here.

As an Executive MPA student, what I value most about my Fels degree is its hands-on practicality. In my courses, I learn skills and insights that I can immediately apply to my everyday work. This benefit is likewise true of Fels’ Public Policy in Practice speaker series: each month, we hear from some of the most accomplished practitioners in public service. While these leaders speak volumes to fascinating (and often unpredictable) career journeys, they also underscore the day-to-day reality of working for the common good across sectors and the traits that make this work stick. 

This month, we heard from Dr. Joseph Westphal, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2014-2017) and former Under Secretary of the Army (2009-2014). Dr. Joseph Westphal shared experiences and insights from a long and storied career in public service. While Dr. Westphal covered remarkable ground in the conversation (from mitigating sexual assault in the military, to foreign policy and diplomacy in the Gulf), the most resonant piece for me was his advice on the attitudes needed to promote collaboration in public service and mitigate the undeniable rancor and anxiety in the current political climate.

On this, Dr. Westphal raised three memorable points: 1) focus on relationships; 2) be guided by strategy; and 3) seek diverse experiences.

In his words, “I built personal relationships before the business or professional relationships. With that, anything is possible. … [You can] establish a relationship of truthfulness.” In terms of strategy, Dr. Westphal recommended “thinking broadly about how things impact each other - from decisions to interactions,” rather than relying on rank hierarchy to determine daily priorities. Finally, he noted the measure of a diverse background. For Dr. Westphal, this spans academia, military, and diplomacy. The variety of people, problems, and tactics present across these sectors provided multi-dimensional preparation necessary for the complex work of diplomacy.

As trite as it sounds, I left that room on March 17th feeling both humbled and eager to continue this work. This is usually how I feel leaving the monthly Public Policy in Practice sessions. Each exemplary guest never fails to convey - with both vision and heart - the subtleties, challenges, and rewards of life in public service.

See pictures from the event here.

Watch the full event here.


Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326

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