- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Having reached middle age, the 55-year-old Peace Corps has ordered up a makeover in a bid to appeal to a rising generation of twentysomethings.

The organization’s new look unveiled on Wednesday features a web-compatible logo, an overhauled website and a revamped platform to update the agency’s flip phone image with a smartphone gloss.

Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said the changes come amid a six-year reform effort to modernize the agency.

“We are aware that the world is changing, and our volunteers are using technology in their own work, so the look of Peace Corps needed to reflect the modern agency that we are,” Mrs. Hessler-Radelet said. “We’re reaching out to meet the new generation of Americans where they are — which is online and in the cloud — so they can consider the Peace Corps.”

Press Director Erin Durney said the move was all about fitting in with the iPhone generation where people depend on the internet to get their information.

“We want to open people’s eyes and show them that we’re still here, and we’re still relevant,” Ms. Durney said.

After seeing a decrease in applications, the organization made several changes in 2014 to improve the “Volunteer Delivery System,” including a shorter wait time between application and decision, and allowing more input from volunteers regarding where they are posted.

In 2015, the Peace Corps received its highest number of applications since 1975 with 24,848 applications — more than the number for 2010 and 2011 combined.

Peace Corps officials said Wednesday they also began making moves to refresh the image of the agency begun under the Kennedy administration. The Peace Corps’ in-house creative team collaborated with Ogilvy Washington to develop an updated look.

The Peace Corps hired One Forum to do a complete overhaul of its website — which had not seen a major upgrade in seven years.

“A lot happens in technology in seven years,” said Amy Vainieri, a member of the website redesign team, said.

Wednesday’s venue even reflected the Peace Corps’ new style. Attendees wandered through a modern brick interior Chinatown loft visiting interactive stations, mingling with returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs), and getting a taste of the organization’s technological innovations.

Guests were able to video chat with current volunteers in Guatemala, Macedonia and Namibia, see 360-degree view of a Peace Corps village using Samsung technology goggles and test out the Peace Corps’ app developed to teach Ukrainian. In addition, plenty of RPCVs were present to tell their personal Peace Corps stories.

Since its founding, more than 220,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in some 140 countries; currently, about 7,000 volunteers are serving in over 60 countries.

RPCV Kate Glantz, who was posted to Tanzania and now runs an online wedding registry platform for social good, calls herself the “poster child for happy volunteers.”

“It was the springboard for everything I’ve done since. The lens through which I see the world has been informed by my Peace Corps service,” she said.

But another ex-Peace Corps volunteer, Ryan Rommann, who wrote a critical survey of the agency, its recruiting strategy and evolving agenda in the journal The American Interest in 2013, said an image overhaul is less of a problem than the agency’s inability to quantify its effectiveness.

“I taught English to 100 students, but that’s very different from saying that 100 students learned English,” Mr. Rommann said of his experience in Mongolia from 2009 to 2011. “It’s a lot of self-reporting, and I think it’s important to actually show what’s happening. But, again, I don’t know if that’s what the Peace Corps really wants.”

Mrs. Hessler-Radelet said that volunteers act as catalysts to inspire change within communities, and sometimes the true impact takes a while to see.

“We often work with young people, and it’s only through growing up that any volunteer is able to see the fruit of their labor and look back on their experience to really see that change,” she said.

• Jessie Fox can be reached at jfox@washingtontimes.com.

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