By The Center for Binational Institutions *
In January 2020, the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute celebrated the first edition of Convocation, a program that brings together former Mexican and U.S. Ambassadors to discuss the present and future of the bilateral relationship. Convocation 1.0 provided a space to leverage the Ambassadors’ diplomatic, policy and private-sector expertise. Two months before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, the Ambassadorial dialogue centered around competitiveness, security, migration and borders along with highlighting the relevance of soft power (the arts, public opinion, etc.) in the U.S.-Mexico relationship. The recurring theme throughout the varied sessions was the shared responsibility that both countries and their governments have to deal with North America’s most pressing issues.
One of the most important takeaways from Convocation 1.0 was that bilateral institutions and processes matter. According to the Ambassadors, institutions needed to be strengthened and updated. Resilient institutions support stability and progress by maintaining the focus of high-level officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border as administrations come and go and by presenting relevant recommendations. Convocation 1.0 became a key space where to articulate visions from where new initiatives could be born. The Coppel-Intuit Center for Binational Institutions, an initiative by the U.S.- Mexico Foundation, is the result of the Ambassadors’ call.
Convocation has the potential to shape the institutional architecture through which the U.S. and Mexico deal with common challenges by providing a navigation guide that takes into account the already existing bilateral cooperation framework. It is true that innovation is key to come up with solutions to complex problems but it is also important to recognize that institutions governing different areas in the bilateral relationship already exist and are sometimes underutilized. Building on the current institutional framework is a more efficient way to foster the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. Expanding knowledge of what current bilateral institutions do is key.
A good example of a binational program that is not being leveraged enough are the Fulbright-García Robles scholarships managed by the US-Mexico Commission for Educational & Cultural Exchange (COMEXUS). These scholarships support Mexican and U.S. students, researchers and teachers to carry out postgraduate studies, research stays, teaching and professionalization programs. The program is financed by both governments and, in a small percentage by the private sector and philanthropic foundations. Today, the Fulbright-García Robles program could receive more funds from potential donors and companies to increase its impact and reach.
This need to foster and use the current institutional framework was one of the goals of a new edition of Convocation. This year’s Convocation 2.0., took place in Tequila, Mexico on December 2-5. The main themes discussed were the strategic alignment of North American economies; workforce development and human capital; security; labor mobility and circular migration; soft power, perceptions and educational exchanges.
Convocation has proven to be an effective space where to discuss proposals for action that can help guide the U.S.-Mexico institutional relationship. In the words of Gerónimo Gutiérrez, a former Ambassador of Mexico to the U.S who took part in this year’s edition: “Convocation 2.0 provided a very good opportunity to discuss the current state and foreseeable future of the U.S.- Mexico relationship. It reflects the conviction —of all those who participated— that the relationship is extremely important for both countries and that it is always a work-in-progress.”
* The Center for Binational Institutions’ mission is to promote a better understanding of the bilateral institutions between Mexico and the United States. It is a program by the U.S. – Mexico Foundation. The U.S.-Mexico Foundation is a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexicofound