Peace Corps 1991-92

Elaine Chao’s tenure as Peace Corps Director coincided with a particularly eventful period in world history as the Baltic nations threw off the yoke of domination and the former Soviet Union Empire was imploding of its own weight. President George H.W. Bush nominated Elaine as Peace Corps Director in June 1991 and she was sworn in on December 2, 1991 after which she embarked immediately on a trip to Nepal to visit Peace Corps Volunteers. She is the first Asian Pacific American Peace Corps Director.

With the advent of the dramatic rise of new emerging democracies in that part of the world, Elaine Chao established the first Peace Corps programs in the newly liberated Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union to help its peoples adapt to the new free enterprise economic system.

Peace Corps is a U. S. government agency that sends young Americans to volunteer in developing countries for two years. Traditionally, the majority of Peace Corps volunteers were often newly graduated from colleges, and worked in developing nations with subsistence economies by helping to build ditches, improve agricultural methods, elementary education and community hygiene.

For the new programs in the Baltic and the former Soviet republics, there was less need for such assistance. Instead, these countries requested more sophisticated aid in developing private sector entrepreneurial and small business capabilities. Secretary Chao realized that the new programs in this region needed to focus on different skills to help jump-start the fledging new economies to ensure the continued survival of these new democracies.

So, Peace Corps launched a new campaign to recruit more experienced volunteers with business, marketing, financial, accounting backgrounds who had at least five years of work experience in the private sector. A hotline set up for candidates interested in participating in this exciting new initiative during this historic period in world history, received over 1,000 calls the first day it was in operation. By fall, over 250 Peace Corps Volunteers were on their way to the Republic of Russia. And, other volunteers were soon to follow to Ukraine, Georgia and other newly established nations of the former Soviet Union.

Other achievements as Director included streamlining the Peace Corps Volunteer recruitment and application process. As Director, Elaine Chao also sought to have a Peace Corps of volunteers and staff that reflected the racial and cultural diversity of the United States.

“She just had this balanced, quiet, confidence that she knew what she believed in, and stood for, and her principles. But she also understood she had to work with other people and listen to others to get something done”

Chris Dodd
Former US Senator from Connecticut on her work with the Peace Corps