By Anne Foss
In February, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) launched its own version of the “Shark Tank” experience to spur innovation in a fun and inclusive way. Modeled after the popular TV show, the program culminated April 25, when competitors pitched their ideas to improve working in EUR to a panel of “sharks,” featuring EUR Acting Assistant Secretary Dereck Hogan, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Bureau of Administration Assistant Secretary Alaina Teplitz, and Bureau of Global Public Affairs Assistant Secretary Bill Russo.
Competitors identified areas for improvement focusing on three categories: people, policy, and resources. They offered solutions on how to improve work, processes, and support for employees, and designed pilot programs in EUR that could be scaled across the Department of State. EUR’s Shark Tank producers, a group composed of mid-level officers and deputy officer directors, then paired each team with a mentor to coach competitors through the various stages of refining their proposals.
The producers focused on delivering both substantive solutions to bureau challenges and on providing an opportunity for rigorous professional development. They also organized seminars for competitors over a series of weeks that included a resources review with the Executive Office; a session on incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility with EUR’s senior diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility advisor; a tailored presentation skills course developed in partnership with the Foreign Service Institute; and, finally, a practice pitch with a “Skeptical DAS” (deputy assistant secretary) before facing the sharks live on stage on April 25 in the Burns Auditorium in Washington.
Competition finalists presented a variety of solutions, including taking care of employees’ physical and mental health, empowering eligible family members to sustain careers overseas, bringing data to the heart of EUR policy development, and demonstrating leadership as the Department engages Congress. After some lively competition, the audience and sharks agreed: the proposal “Stop Failing the Tele-Trailing,” pitched by Benelux (the economic union comprising Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) Desk Officer Kate Maxwell and Sweden and Iceland Desk Officer Marlo Cross-Durrant with the goal of supporting eligible family members as they navigate teleworking overseas in the private sector, emerged as the winner. EUR is currently exploring how to support all four projects, working with offices across the Department.
Anne Foss is a press officer in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.