CSG International Program Helps States Think Globally

Catherine Bray’s interest in politics and government came about in a roundabout way.

She initially had planned to be a French teacher when heading off to university in the United Kingdom, but that was not to be. Her French tutor, who was also her French teacher, advised her to seek another path.

The only other subject that would fit into her timetable was politics. She didn’t read the newspaper, watch the news or care about politics.

“I had a completely different concept of what politics was or political theory or policy in general,” said Bray, the new director of The Council of State Governments’ international program in Washington, D.C.

But she followed that path since it would keep her on track in her educational pursuit.

“I immediately loved it,” she said. “I loved the policy side. I loved the international element of it all and understanding how nations work together.”

Bray studied politics at Leister University in her hometown and immediately after graduating moved to Brussels, where she worked for the European parliament. She was standing for local office in the U.K., but had an interesting offer from the minister of defense.

“He really values the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.,” Bray said. “He said he ran a think tank that looks at this special relationship and if I didn’t get elected, there might be an opportunity to help build out that think tank’s capacity.”

She lost the election, but was able to fulfill her goal of moving to America.

“Everything just seems from afar, if you like politics, (Washington) D.C. seems to be the place to be,” she said.

She initially joined CSG in 2009 to run the international program. In 2010, a public affairs firm that was opening an office in Brussels recruited her. Working for that firm, she learned to do government affairs and public affairs, and worked with clients in Southeast Asia that had regulatory interests in Europe.

“I was spending all my time either on a plane or in a different country,” Bray said. “I had moved to America for a reason; I was interested in the American system and how it worked.”

So she decided to start her own consulting company fostering global engagement, working with British and European-based think tanks engaged in projects of an international nature that were relevant to a U.S. audience. When opportunity knocked at CSG, she returned to the organization to once again head up its international efforts.

She sees her role quite simply: “It’s all about helping states to become globally fluent.”

People think different things when you say international. Economic development officials might think foreign investment, business leaders think export opportunities and politicians might think foreign policy. While state leaders might think foreign policy should be left up to national leaders, Bray said that really isn’t true.

“I think there is no domestic policy area that isn’t influenced by globalization these days, whether you’re looking at domestic tax policy that affects the economic climate and whether a foreign company would see your state as a viable option to open a manufacturing plant and create jobs,” she said.

Commerce with many countries relies heavily on personal and cultural ties, she said.

“A lot of state have really adapted very well, especially on the commerce side,” said Bray.

The CSG international program aims to provide that broader picture of how global trends affect policymaking and where the opportunities for states are, she said.

Bray will be working to integrate the work of the State International Development Organizations, or SIDO, a CSG affiliate, with the CSG international programs because it all falls under economic development.

“We’re in a slow recovery and the real shining areas are state exports, export promotion and the attraction of foreign investment into the states,” Bray said.

“The more people that think international the better,” she said. “It’s all about economic growth, but having stability in that growth.”

On the policy side, she hopes to help legislators and other state officials become more globally fluent and to understand that no policy area operates in a silo.

But that often happens in state government, she said, when it comes to looking internationally. Only one state—Washington—has a person with the title of trade policy adviser, although a few other state trade directors also deal with policy.

Bray is anxious to look at the past and present of the CSG international programs and see where it should be in the next 10 years.

When she’s not thinking internationally, Bray, a self-professed workaholic, likes to stay active. She is a runner and calls Washington “a beautiful city to run around.” She also likes to bike and spend time with her friends’ children and her “other half,” who lives in Alabama.