An ambassador uses small-town charm to connect with Slovenians
Ljubljana, Slovenia — In some ways, it seems almost inevitable that Lynda Blanchard would end up in Slovenia.
True, she already had experience on the world stage — as co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit 100X Development Foundation, she helped secure funding to support international childhood education and welfare— but her focus rarely strayed beyond the boundaries of her set goals.
That all changed when she received a phone call from Washington D.C.
“I got the phone call from one of the members I’ve been working with, and I just assumed it was to meet to discuss my initiative,” recalls Blanchard. “Someone I work with came in the room and they said, ‘We would like for you to apply for a position with this president.’ Never in a million years thought I would ever apply for a position, but I filled out the application and ended up with what I think is the best position that I could have ever ended up in.
Though she had donated to the Republican party in the past, Blanchard credits her work on Capitol Hill for attracting the attention of the Trump administration. After operating a successful family-run real estate business with her husband, John Blanchard ’80, she started the nonprofit 100X Development Foundation to help children and the needy in developing countries.
Blanchard’s international work across 15 countries led to Capitol Hill, where she lobbied members of congress to support her initiatives on education and child welfare. A mother of seven—four of whom are international adoptions—it was in part through her efforts that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded higher education foreign countries for the first time, sending aid to the African nation of Malawi.Her experience working with foreign governments, along with her business leadership resume, earned her the attention of President Trump, who nominated her for the ambassadorship in 2018.
Blanchard was confirmed by Senate vote on July 18, 2019 and immediately went to a four-week ‘ambassador school’ to learn about the small, mountainous country that would be her home for the next two years. Her first address in the U.S. as Ambassador to Slovenia, coincidentally, was at Auburn University during the weekend of the 2019 Iron Bowl.
It was an interesting time to represent the U.S. in Slovenia. First Lady Melania Trump was born in the town of Novo mesto, and Blanchard says her dual citizenship was yet another bridge between the two countries. While the Trumps couldn’t visit due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, she met with the first family just before departing for Ljubljana, where she received, among other things, some culinary advice from the First Lady herself.
“[The First Lady’s] favorite dish is potica, it’s like a big breakfast roll with pecans and walnuts in it. My favorite is Kremšnita—it reminds me of banana pudding without the bananas.”
Blanchard was the first U.S. Ambassador to serve in Slovenia in nearly two years, and when she arrived in the capital of Ljubljana, she hit the ground running. Her schedule was booked solid for four months with 14-hour days, seven days a week, hosting business engagements with government officials, meeting with various chambers and finally everyday Slovenes.
“It was difficult to learn the day-to-day groundwork as far as government paperwork and stuff like that, but when you talk about engaging with people, that’s what I was doing on Capitol Hill. It [felt] natural to come to a country and start engaging with diplomats. I felt comfortable getting in front of government officials, but this time there was a bit more pressure to succeed. It’s the competitive nature, but you always need a willing partner, just like in a business deal.”
Blanchard’s minor in computer science came in handy during Cybersecurity negotiations between the Slovenia and the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
Fluent in five computer languages, Blanchard helped secure funding for a cybersecurity hub in Ljubljana, in addition to helping further relations in technology and, surprisingly, space travel.
Four current NASA astronauts have Slovenian backgrounds, and one of Blanchard’s most popular acts was to help bring a Moon Rock exhibit for people to enjoy.
Blanchard also worked on a dual degree with the University of Primorska on various subjects to better understand and engage the Slovenian people. Sadly, as a political appointee, Blanchard serves as the pleasure of the president, and her term as ambassador formally ended with the swearing in of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. Her current successor is Susan K. Falatko as Charge d’Affaires.
But Blanchard looks back on her time in Ljubljana with pride, grateful to have furthered relations between the two countries, not only at the diplomatic level, but the personal one as well.
“Just being able to feel like you’ve made a footprint in a country that will last a lifetime and make a difference for people, and make a difference for bilateral relationship,” said Blanchard of her time there. “As ambassadors, number one, of course, we represent the US, and our focus [everywhere] is the same—to bring all bilateral relationships to the next level and make them stronger.”