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Alum’s Trans-Atlantic Mission to Strengthen Cross-Cultural Understanding and Educational Diplomacy

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headshot of Maria Balinska
Photo by Andrea Joseph

From London to Boston, Maria Balinska MPM ’84 has spent her transcontinental career shaping international dialogue and understanding. From her beginnings as a BBC producer and editor in London to her transition to executive director of a nonprofit digital daily in Boston, she cultivated her journalistic skills and interest in cross-cultural exchange. Motivated by a belief in the power of education to bring people together, Balinska returned to London in 2019 to lead the US-UK Fulbright Commission as executive director, where she continues to shape educational diplomacy between the two nations.

Balinska credits her education at the School of Public Policy for inspiring her career path and sharpening her three key drivers: curiosity, a desire to challenge preconceptions about foreign cultures and a core belief in effecting change. “I feel very lucky to have been able to engage – and sometimes argue – with faculty who brought together policy theory and policy practice,” reflects Balinska. “I will never forget, for example, the first thing that Professor Allen Schick said to us in our introductory politics class: ‘Your ignorance is my power.’”

Citing the recent partnership between SPP and the US-UK Fulbright Commission, Balinska highlights its mutual benefits of institutional diversity and bringing an international context to policy discussions. She also notes the positive impact of Fulbright scholars in strengthening connections between the U.K. and the U.S., echoing the Commission’s longstanding commitment to collaboration and empathy.

Balinska emphasizes storytelling as a powerful tool for promoting cross-cultural understanding. Drawing from an internal survey of alumni on both sides of the pond, she notes the transformative impact of international educational exchange including greater knowledge of survey respondents’ subject area, deeper understanding of their own culture and benefits for their institution. 

Addressing the urgent need for evidence-based policymaking, Balinska advocates for collaboration among diverse stakeholders. “It’s clear what is needed to address the challenges we share as a planet: collaboration between people with many different experiences, backgrounds and perspectives. … This is why we believe that widening participation in all our programming is not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.”

Balinska stresses the importance of the Fulbright Commission actively listening to diverse audiences and fostering inclusivity. “Our mission is not just about advancing knowledge,” shared Balinska. “It is also about promoting civic engagement and developing compassionate leaders.” 

Reflecting on the evolving media landscape, Balinska acknowledges the challenges it poses in promoting international exchange. Despite the current trend of media consumption “pushing us into ever more narrow silos,” she points to the enormous potential of cultural immersion in gaining a broader perspective to address global issues like climate change. “As students and faculty at SPP know all too well, social divisions, economic inequalities and international tension are affecting increasing numbers of people. The Fulbright mission to foster empathy and dialogue is as urgent as ever – we’re proud to be partnering with the School to advance it.”

For Media Inquiries:
Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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