Nurturing Global Partnerships: A Successful Start to 2024 with IVLP in San Francisco

From January 24 to 27, 2024, we enthusiastically welcomed to San Francisco our first U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) delegation of the year.

This project on Cybersecurity Capacity Building brought together six distinguished guests from Montenegro: one representative from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and five officials from the Ministry of Public Administration—the governmental body responsible for oversight of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector and coordinating the development of eGovernment and related investments in cyber security and data protection.

Collectively, the visitors explored avenues for strengthening cybersecurity capacity and resilience in Montenegro through local engagements with public and private sector leaders in the field.

Perceptual Changes: The IVLP as a Transformative Experience

For many in the group, this IVLP marked their first visit to the United States. Participating in this program presented an opportunity to challenge their existing views of the nation and its people. One of the accompanying interpreters observed: “Having spent time in the U.S., every single visitor commented on the unexpected openness and kindness of the Americans, both those they met in meetings, as well those they met on their own.”

“They marveled at the friendliness of the Americans they met on the streets, in stores, and in restaurants. The words they used to describe people were WARM, SPONTANEOUS, and CARING.”

As one visitor aptly remarked, “I have always appreciated and admired Americans’ openness to discussions and willingness to provide help. The U.S. is the world’s largest donor and a reliable partner to many countries. What I have seen about the U.S. culture now is that the focus is always on the substance, rather than formality.

Strategically Aligned Professional Appointments

The success of this project was underlined by meticulously planned meetings that were directly aligned with the visitors’ professional objectives and U.S. Foreign Policy goals. The schedule included insightful discussions on policies and tools for strengthening government cyber defense capabilities; best practices in U.S. cybersecurity policy, strategy, and cooperation; and approaches to building cybersecurity infrastructure resilience.

San Francisco, CA – January 25, 2024

Starting their Bay Area journey in San Francisco proper, the delegation met with Craig Dziedzic, General Manager and Mikyung Kim-Molina, Regional Program Manager at the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative (BAUASI) on improving regional capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist incidents and catastrophic events. BAUASI utilizes Federal Department of Homeland Security grant funds to analyze regional risks, identify capability gaps, and build a secure, prepared, and resilient region — a unique model that resonated with the visitors. The Cyber Navigator Project and other elections security and cyber training initiatives were also noteworthy.

At the City and County of San Francisco, Interim Chief Information Officer and Head of the Department of Technology (DT) Michael Makstman and Interim Chief Information Security Officer Nathan Sinclair introduced the visitors to the Office of Cybersecurity and municipal efforts to strengthen resiliency to cyber threats. An evolution of DT’s Cybersecurity division, the Office of Cybersecurity secures the City’s infrastructure, network, and data by actively monitoring systems, assessing and managing security risk, creating city-wide cybersecurity policies, and integrating cybersecurity tools and best practices within City departments. Discussion centered on identifying vulnerabilities and strategies to build resilient cyber infrastructure across the public and private sector.

Both San Francisco engagements showcased impressive examples of successful multi-stakeholder collaboration for a cyber secure future.

Silicon Valley, CA – January 26, 2024

Venturing into Silicon Valley, our International Visitors met with Illumio, a key player in Zero Trust Segmentation that protects organizations by stopping breaches and ransomware from spreading across the hybrid attack surface. Visitors appreciated connecting with Chief Technology Officer Ben Verghese and Chief Evangelist John Kindervag on the concept of Zero Trust—an architectural approach founded on the principle of “never trust, always verify” that operates on the assumption that breaches are inevitable and that threats can originate from anywhere, even inside the network.

While the visitors found all their professional meetings to be high in quality and relevance to their work, there was one in particular that truly stood out.

The standout meeting of the program was with Palo Alto Networks, the next-generation security company maintaining trust in the digital age by helping organizations worldwide prevent cyber breaches. This engagement left a lasting impression, described by one visitor as “one of the most useful meetings with exciting potential for future cooperation.” Another participant further acknowledged not only Palo Alto Networks’ achievements and expertise but also apparent openness and readiness to collaborate with Montenegro in its cybersecurity and digital transformation efforts.

Special thanks to all those who enriched our visitors’ experience: Adriatics Regional Sales Manager Veljko Markovic, System Engineer Vedran Franjic, Senior Manager for Commercial Central and Eastern Europe Magda Jianu, Senior Manager of the Executive Briefing Center Fauzia Khan, Director of Product Marketing at Unit 42 Danny Milrad, SVP Product Management – Next Gen Firewall Tanya Shastri, Principal Architect Nick Piagentini, and Director of Product Marketing – Cortex Peter Havens.

Exploring San Francisco through Cultural Activities

Alcatraz Island & Golden State Warriors

Beyond professional pursuits, the visitors immersed themselves in San Francisco’s rich cultural tapestry. An Alcatraz Day Tour allowed them to explore the windswept island and learn about its layered history, while their spirited attendance at a National Basketball Association game heightened their appreciation for American sports culture.

One of the interpreters traveling with the group noted:

“As avid sports fans and basketball enthusiasts, the visitors were thrilled at an opportunity to cheer on the Golden State Warriors as they took on the Sacramento Kings. The atmosphere and the energy at the Chase Arena made for a truly memorable experience.”

Citizen Diplomacy: Building Bridges Beyond Borders

This successful start to 2024 is a testament to the enduring value of people-to-people exchanges like the International Visitor Leadership Program and the commitment of organizations like Global Ties San Francisco to advance mutual understanding through citizen diplomacy. As we reflect on the transformative experiences shared during this visit, we look forward to our continued efforts in building bridges for a more collaborative world.