Peace Corps

views updated Jun 27 2018

Peace Corps

1111 20th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20526
Telephone: (202) 692-2000
Fax: (202) 692-2901
Web site:



The Peace Corps was signed into existence by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as a federal organization designed to improve education, community development, health care, and environmental services in undeveloped countries. The organization received a steady flow of recruits throughout the 1960s and '70s, but by 2002 the number of new Peace Corps volunteers was dwindling. According to the ad agency BBDO Atlanta, the Peace Corps' image had grown outdated. Also, it had become increasingly difficult to convince recent college graduates, who were eager to begin their careers, to volunteer for a 27-month, low-paid Peace Corps commitment. To increase by 20 percent the number of applications it received over a one-year period, the Peace Corps released its "Life Is Calling. How Far Will You Go?" campaign.

The campaign began on September 25, 2003, after the business-development firm Threespot Media released a new Peace Corps website that included online applications and a plethora of information about the Peace Corps. Soon afterward BBDO released television spots with the tagline "Life Is Calling. How Far Will You Go?" Some commercials featured an English voice-over from the American actor Matthew McConaughey; others used a Spanish voice-over by the Latino actor Eduardo Verástegui. Print, billboard, and radio advertising ensued. Before the campaign's release, BBDO updated the Peace Corps' target demographic, which had previously consisted of recent college graduates. The new campaign targeted personality types that BBDO dubbed "Unfulfilled Idealists," abstract-thinking optimists who believed life was to be lived as a constant search for fulfillment.

In 2005 the campaign won a Gold EFFIE Award in the Recruitment Advertising category. It also helped catapult the rate of submitted Peace Corps applications by 20 percent in just nine months. The Peace Corps' website traffic increased by 73 percent over the previous year, and total website, E-mail, phone, and mail inquiries increased 47 percent. By 2004 the total number of Peace Corps volunteers had reached 7,733, more than the agency had reported in 29 years.


In 1960, while John F. Kennedy was still a U.S. senator, he spoke to students at the University of Michigan who would eventually become the first Peace Corps advocates. Kennedy suggested that if Americans volunteered in underdeveloped countries, they might encourage international peacekeeping in conjunction with enhancing America's image. After Kennedy was elected president of the United States, he created the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. The new agency required volunteers to submit to an intense three-month training period that was followed by two years of service in an underdeveloped country. Six months after the Peace Corps was created, the first group of its volunteers arrived in Ghana, West Africa, to start their mission.

Before the "Life Is Calling. How Far Will You Go?" campaign, much of the Peace Corps' advertising used facts to attract volunteers. In 2000 the Peace Corps released advertising under the tagline "How far are you willing to go to make a difference?" Copy from a print ad stated, "No 401k, no profit sharing, no stock options, yet you won't find a better place—better benefits anywhere: the Peace Corps." The ads targeted all college-educated adults.

Despite the Peace Corps' attempts to empower college-educated Americans to volunteer for the 27-month commitment, Peace Corps application submissions were in decline. Peace Corps director Gaddi Vasquez explained his organization's antiquated image to the Orange County Register. "We have found anecdotally and through our research that people have high regard for the Peace Corps," Vasquez said, "but in many instances they talk about it in the past tense. A lot of people think it ceased to exist some years ago because it's kept such a low profile." In 2003 the Peace Corps hoped to rebrand itself as a viable organization and to increase its application submissions by 20 percent. President George W. Bush had also encouraged the Peace Corps to double its volunteers between 2004 and 2008.


Instead of targeting a demographic of college-educated young adults, as the Peace Corps had been doing for more than 40 years, "Life Is Calling. How Far Will You Go?" targeted a personality type. It consisted of what ad agency BBDO referred to as "Unfulfilled Idealists," or optimists with an expansive worldview and a belief that life was a constant search for fulfillment. BBDO redefined the Peace Corps' target audience after the agency's own research revealed that "Unfulfilled Idealists" composed more than 80 percent of Peace Corps volunteers. By targeting a personality type, the campaign's scope could expand past the education limitations placed on the previous target.

In 2003 Vasquez also pledged to diversify the Peace Corps by targeting older Americans, couples, community-college students, and more ethnic minorities than the agency had reached in the past. "We are definitely emphasizing greater diversity from retirees to ethnic [groups]," Vasquez told the Washington Times. "We want the volunteers to represent a cross section of America." Later in the article Vasquez stated, "We want to break the stereotype that [the] only people who serve in the Peace Corps are younger." The campaign also fostered partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (an association of American colleges and universities committed to Hispanic higher education). Spanish voice-overs for some television spots were provided by the Latino actor Eduardo Verástegui. To reach older "Unfulfilled Idealists," the Peace Corps also partnered with the Retired Teachers Association and the American Association of Retired Persons. Although a minimum age of 18 was required to join the Peace Corps, the organization did not post an age maximum. The Peace Corps had historically recruited individuals as old as 85 years of age.


After the invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003, the United States Army spent the majority of its $200 million advertising budget on its "Army of One" campaign, developed by the ad agency Leo Burnett. In order to attract new enlistees the campaign touted the Army's range of combat technology. Television spots resembled video-game advertisements and attempted to lure new recruits by showing off the Army's war gadgetry. When the campaign yielded few results and the Army needed to quickly increase its active duty population from 482,400 to 512,400, a series of reality-based television spots were released under the new tagline "2400/7." The updated commercials featured the real-life situations of new recruits and the Army infantry. "All of our advertising is based on real-life stories," explained Colonel Thomas Nickerson, director of strategic outreach for the U.S. Army, to Advertising Age. "If you look at our '2400/7' series, it demonstrates what soldiers are doing in their jobs. It's reality TV. We don't use actors. Our research tells us that these kids want to know what the deal is. They want to know what the experience is before they purchase it."


Serving the Peace Corps, a government organization that sent volunteering Americans to underdeveloped countries for humanitarian assistance, was considered dangerous business. During the Peace Corps's first 43 years, an average of one Peace Corps volunteer was killed every two months. Out of the total killed, 20 were murdered. Seventy percent of all Peace Corps assault victims were women.

In 2004 the U.S. Marine Corps, notorious for attracting thrill seekers, continued its longtime advertising message about the Marines' commitment to courage, honor, and pride. The WPP Group's ad agency J. Walter Thompson, Atlanta, had created advertising for the Marine Corps since World War II. "The Marines have always been the warrior class of all the services," Jay Cronin, managing director of J. Walter Thompson, explained to Advertising Age. "All its advertising has always been true to that message. We have tweaked it, but we have not altered it." In 2004 the Marines Corps aired television spots with the tagline "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."


The "Life Is Calling. How Far Will You Go?" campaign began with the release of a new Peace Corps website on September 25, 2003. Designed by communications firm Threespot Media, the new site not only allowed the Peace Corps to measure increased Web traffic during the campaign, but it also added a plethora of new features, including an online application form. According to PR Newswire, David Belman, one of Threespot Media's founders, explained, "With the new site, prospective applicants, current applicants, former Peace Corps volunteers, educators, students, donors, and members of the media, among other groups, can all find precisely what they're looking for quickly and easily."

BBDO tailored the campaign's television, print, radio, and billboard advertisements to target "Unfulfilled Idealists." Prior to launching the campaign in September, the ad agency analyzed the communication styles and decision-making processes of "Unfulfilled Idealists." Then, hoping to package the 27-month-long commitment with the Peace Corps as an opportunity for personal growth, BBDO released advertising that mimicked the target audience's communication style. The actor Matthew McConaughey provided the voice-over for a television spot titled "Life Is Calling," which first showed images specific to a prospering society, such as freeways and commercial jets in flight. The spot ended with images such as people pulling fishing nets onto a beach and other scenes from underdeveloped countries. During the 60-second commercial McConaughey asked, "How far would you go to help someone? Would you go to the end of your driveway? Would you cross a street? Would you cross an ocean? To a place 6,000 miles from home? And how long would you go … Would you go for a week? A month? A year? Would you go for two years? Would you go if you could use your knowledge to teach someone and, in the process, maybe learn something yourself? Life is calling. How far will you go? Peace Corps."

The campaign tried to deliver its message as if from a kindred spirit of the "Unfulfilled Idealist." Commercial dialogue and ad copy mimicked the metaphoric language that BBDO had observed among "Unfulfilled Idealists." Print ads featured the Peace Corps logo above the image of a sunrise and the copy "Never have to start sentences with 'I should've …" Print ads targeting an older audience included the copy, "Do people tell you you're over the hill? What if you were? Over the hill, over a stream, and over an ocean. To another continent." The Emmy-winning actor Forest Whitaker was featured in a radio advertisement titled "Paths," during which Whitaker suggested that listeners should take the path less traveled by joining the Peace Corps. "Could you explain that helping the people of Peru improve their community would also have an effect on your own?" he asked. "Or assisting an entrepreneur in Ukraine to launch her small business? Or creating a support group in Malawi for children orphaned by AIDS?"

The campaign appeared in 27 American advertising markets, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco, Detroit, and Atlanta. The campaign's TV spots aired across cable networks on donated media. Outdoor posters also appeared on Metrorail and Metrobus signs in the Washington, D.C., area.


Not only did "Life Is Calling. How Far Will You Go?" earn a Gold EFFIE Award in the Recruitment Advertising category in 2005, but the campaign also helped increase the number of submitted Peace Corps applications by 20 percent in nine months. The Peace Corps' retrofitted website, which started accepting online applications at the beginning of the campaign, saw a 73 percent surge in activity over the previous year.


The Peace Corps, A U.S. Government agency dedicated to assisting underdeveloped countries, paid its American volunteers the wages earned by a native working in the same profession. The volunteers' vaccinations, immunizations, and travel tickets were paid for. During his or her 27 months of service, each American volunteer in 2004 also received a stipend of $225 per month.

Even though the campaign's application submissions increased 20 percent, the number of volunteers accepted into the Peace Corps increased very little. As a result of limited funding, the organization only expanded by 277 volunteers between 2003 and 2005. When the Peace Corps requested an annual budget of $359 million from Congress at the start of the campaign, the organization was only granted a little over $300 million. The U-Wire quoted Anne-Michelle Reilly, an advocacy intern for the Peace Corps, as explaining, "the Peace Corps is a great organization that is grossly under-funded. They are one of the few U.S. Government organizations that is respected worldwide, mostly because the goal of the program is to present to the world a positive view of America." Reilly continued, "[President George W.] Bush promised to double the number of volunteers to 14,000 and he proposed a budget increase of 20 percent last year, but Congress reduced that significantly."


Bruce, Jeff. "Commentary; Peace Corps Series Prompts Invitations." Dayton (OH) Daily News, March 25, 2004, p. A14.

Bunis, Dena. "Putting a New Face on the Peace Corps." Santa Ana (CA) Orange County Register, September 26, 2003, p. 1.

Carper, Kandis. "Peace Corps Recruiter to Answer Questions." Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review, October 7, 2004, p. N12

De Marco, Donna, "Peace Corps Wants Diversity." Washington Times, October 6, 2003, p. C15.

Dignam, John. "Peace Corps Volunteer Sees Pride in Ukraine." Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette, December 9, 2004, p. B1.

Dingmann, Tracy. "Book Revisits Peace Corps Volunteer's Killing." Albuquerque (NM) Journal, October 17, 2004, p. E8.

Jervis, Rick. "Army, Marine Recruiters Shift Focus to Wary Parents." USA Today, April 5, 2005, p. A.1

Lamothe, Ernst. "Peace Corps Representatives Look for Recruits on Campus." Champaign (IL) News-Gazette, November 11, 2004, pp. B1-B2.

Lazare, Lewis. "Business Week Putting Fresh Face Forward Today." Chicago Sun-Times, September 29, 2003, p. 55.

Linnett, Richard. "Reaching 'Generation Kill': Army Fails to Battle New Recruit Reality." Advertising Age, July 26, 2004, p. 3.

Markley, Melanie. "Peace Corps Has High-Tech Goals in Mexico." Houston Chronicle, October 11, 2004, p. 5.

Mergian, Gwen. "Peace Corps Benefits from a Bit of Maturity." Albany (NY) Times Union, November 28, 2004, p. G1.

Paine, Danielle. "Peace Corps Worker Back from Paraguay." Springfield (MA) Republican, December 8, 2004, p. NP20.

                                            Kevin Teague

Peace Corps

views updated May 18 2018


PEACE CORPS. Created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps has been an enduring U.S. federal government program to provide trained volunteers to help developing nations alleviate poverty, illiteracy, and disease.

The Peace Corps' inception was both a product of the Cold War struggle and a reaction to the growing spirit of humanitarian activism evident throughout the Western world by the beginning of the 1960s, a spirit that had manifested itself in volunteer humanitarian programs already implemented in Canada, Australia, Britain, France, and Japan. The proposal to create a similar U.S. program had first been placed on the national political agenda by Democratic candidates during the 1950s, notably by Adlai E. Stevenson in his failed presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956. During the course of the 1960 campaign, Kennedy, the Democratic Party's new candidate, adopted the proposal and it became one of Kennedy's signature campaign issues, largely due to its appeal to young liberals.

Once in office, Kennedy continued to challenge Americans to contribute to national and international public service, calling in his inaugural address of 20 January 1961 for Americans to form a "grand and global alliance" to fight tyranny, poverty, and disease. On 1 March 1961, he temporarily established the Peace Corps by Executive Order 10924 under the auspices of the Department of State and appointed his brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver Jr., to act as the Corps' first director at a token salary of one dollar per year. In September 1961, shortly after Congress formally endorsed the Peace Corps by making it a permanent program, the first volunteers left to teach English in Ghana, the first black African nation to achieve independence (in 1957) and whose government had since become an outspoken advocate of anticolonialism. Contingents of volunteers soon followed to Tanzania and India. By the turn of the century, the Peace Corps had sent over 163,000 American volunteers to over 135 nations.

Since its inception the primary missions of the Peace Corps have remained unchanged. The aim of the Peace Corps was not direct intervention to cure poverty per se; rather, it was to provide technical assistance to developing nations to make progress toward sustainable self-sufficiency. The Peace Corps' objectives reflect a mix of altruistic idealism and enlightened national self-interest. As President Kennedy explained the idealistic sentiment, "To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves." In tandem with this offer of technical assistance, the Corps also aims to foster better mutual understanding. Ideally a reciprocal process, a large part of the objective was to promote the American way of life so as to negate the appeal of communism to third world countries.

In order to retain the support of young liberals, from whose ranks most new recruits have traditionally been drawn, Shriver had striven to preserve the Corps' integrity by shielding it from bureaucratic politics. By the beginning of the 1970s, however, amidst rampant protest and cynicism about American foreign policy exacerbated by the Vietnam War, the Corps' bureaucratic independence came under political attack. In 1971 President Richard Nixon combined the Peace Corps with several other federal volunteer programs under a new agency called ACTION. In 1979, however, President Jimmy Carter reversed this by reestablishing the Peace Corps' autonomy, and in 1981 Congress passed legislation to make it an independent federal agency for the first time. With the end of the Cold War, Peace Corps volunteers were dispatched to former Soviet bloc countries struggling with new independence, such as Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, and in 1995, in a move to supplement the primary mission of the Peace Corps, a Crisis Corps was established to mount short-term humanitarian relief efforts.

Typically serving for a period of two years, Peace Corps volunteers are invited by host nations to assist in a variety of roles of the host nation's choice. Most Peace Corps volunteers have contributed in the field of education (particularly teaching English), but the work ranges across community development, agriculture, health care, and public works. Prior to their service, volunteers receive intensive, specialized training, and once on location they are actively encouraged to assist where possible but refrain from involvement in the host nation's domestic politics.

Throughout its existence, the Peace Corps has weathered charges of cultural imperialism and persistent questioning of its self-proclaimed altruism. Critics have often suggested that it was in fact a front for the Central Intelligence Agency. Nevertheless, since its inception the Peace Corps has proved remarkably resilient to the political tides of Washington and has arguably even enjoyed qualified success in fulfilling its mission.


Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK's Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.

David G.Coleman

Peace Corps

views updated May 23 2018


u.s. volunteer agency whose goal is to help developing nations share american expertise and to enhance mutual understanding.

The Peace Corps was established by U.S. President John F. Kennedy on 1 March 1961 "to promote world peace and friendship" by providing developing nations with volunteer American personnel. It was hoped that, through daily contact with Americans doing development work, developing nations would better understand the people of the United States and that in turn Americans would better understand other peoples and their situations.

Since its inception, the Peace Corps has sent more than 170,000 American volunteers to over 136 developing countries, including the following countries in the Middle East: Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, Turkey, and the Yemen Arab Republic. In all of these countries, Peace Corps volunteers were teachers, engineers, designers, and administrators of special programs.

In Iran from 1962 until 1976, Peace Corps volunteers founded kindergartens, taught English, built libraries, designed a new mosque in a Khorasan village after the old one was destroyed in a 1968 earthquake, and planned a college of dentistry in Mashhad. In Morocco, volunteers faced the challenge of learning both Arabic and French; they were employed in activities ranging from irrigation projects to teaching physical education in secondary schools. In addition to teaching, the Peace Corps in Tunisia supplied the Habib Thameur Hospital in Tunis with nurses. In Turkey, some of the over two hundred volunteers founded a home for street boys in Istanbul and others worked at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. And in the former Yemen Arab Republic, Peace Corps volunteers helped construct a water-pumping station in Hodeida.

Though Peace Corps volunteers are sent only at the invitation of the host country, the program has not been without its critics. A problem that has plagued the Peace Corps in the Middle East and elsewhere has been the failure to train host-country counterparts to replace Peace Corps volunteers once their twenty-seven months of service have ended. Still, although the Peace Corps has not always succeeded as a development organization, its record has been more benign and its effects more beneficial than some other U.S. aid programs developed during the height of the Cold War.

The Peace Corps no longer had any volunteers in the Middle East in late 2003 but was planning to reinstate its programs in Jordan and Morocco in the spring of 2004. According to the Peace Corps Media Office, 68 volunteers served in Bahrain from 1974 to 1979; 1,748 served in Iran from 1962 to 1976; 227 served in Jordan from 1997 to 2003; 295 served in Libya from 1966 to 1969; 3,444 served in Morocco from 1963 to 2003; 160 served in Oman from 1973 to 1983; 2,130 served in Tunisia from 1962 to 1996; 1,460 served in Turkey from 1962 to 1972; and 564 served in North Yemen and, after unification in 1990, all of Yemen from 1973 to 1994.


Coates, Redmon. Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986.

Ridinger, Robert Marks. The Peace Corps: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989.

zachary karabell
updated by christopher reed stone

Peace Corps

views updated May 11 2018

Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is a U.S. government grass-roots development initiative. President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961 to channel the idealism of American youth toward alleviating the problems of the developing world. One of the first groups went to the island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. Soon programs were established in virtually every country in the Western Hemisphere. During the first three decades over 20,000 volunteers were sent for two-year periods of service in the region.

During the 1960s the Peace Corps efforts in Latin America concentrated on community development. The objective was to help poor people solve local problems. Volunteers were expected to live in situations as close as possible to those of the people they served and to learn the local language. The number of volunteers in Latin America peaked in the late 1960s.

During the 1970s and 1980s budget cuts and political factors reduced the program, especially in South America. Nevertheless, a broad range of projects was undertaken in agriculture, education, and health. Skilled technicians in these fields were recruited as volunteers. Community development became a secondary priority. Efforts were made to coordinate the Peace Corps activities with other official U.S. and private assistance programs. Programs were designed in consultation with the recipient countries. However, funding began to increase again in the 1990s. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, President George W. Bush proposed doubling the size of the Peace Corps as a way to combat anti-Americanism abroad. With the extra funding, the Peace Corps has begun recruiting more volunteers to meet the president's goal.

The return home of the volunteers increased awareness in the United States of the problems of the poor and dispossessed in Latin America. At the same time the cross-cultural linkages of the program created a better understanding of the United States among the people at the community level in the participating countries.

See alsoUnited States-Latin American Relations .


R. Sargent Shriver, "Ambassadors of Good Will, the Peace Corps," in National Geographic 126 (September 1964): 297-345.

Robert B. Ridinger, The Peace Corps (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Cobbs Hoffman, Elizabeth. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Fischer, Fritz. Making Them Like Us: Peace Corps Volunteers in the 1960s. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.

                                        David L. Jickling

Peace Corps

views updated Jun 08 2018

Peace Corps US government agency, organizing work by volunteers in developing countries. The corps was established in 1961 by President John F.Kennedy with the aim of providing trained manpower in developing countries. Peace corps volunteers usually spend two years overseas and are paid only a basic local wage.

Peace Corps

views updated Jun 08 2018

Peace Corps / ˈpēs ˌkôr/ an organization sponsored by the U.S. government that sends young people to work as volunteers in developing countries.

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