August 13, 2020
Dear friends of the World Affairs Council,
I closed the offices of the World Affairs Council 23 weeks ago, directing my colleagues to work at home until further notice and ending all in-person programming until public health guidelines dictated it would once again be safe to resume our normal work. I could never have imagined that in mid-August, our work would still be conducted virtually. And yet here we are. I am so grateful to the wonderful team at the World Affairs Council, who shifted seamlessly to remote work, managing the challenges (there were and are many) and embracing the new opportunities (there also were and are many) to continue to bring the world to Seattle, just differently than we have done in the past. I do not know what our new normal will look like when it is safe to resume in-person work and am eager for the opportunity to engage face-to-face with our members, friends, and international visitors when it is possible. This update is to let you know, however, that that will not take place in 2020.
Community Programs will continue to hold virtual meetings at least through December 2020. I am extremely proud of the work done by Community Programs and operations teams to take us virtual so quickly and so well. A lot goes on behind the scenes to make these discussions happen and they have been innovative and relentless in making sure we continue to bring you excellent discussions. That’s not to say there has not been and will not continue to be the occasional technical glitch as everyone is relying on an infrastructure that is being taxed by all our remote work, but our virtual discussions have been relevant, timely, and well-executed. We have also been heartened to see much higher registration numbers for our programs, especially from teachers and students. In addition, we’ve seen some participants join our programs from across the country. We were able to bring speakers to the World Affairs Council from around the country and indeed from around the world—including public health officials from Zhejiang Province in China; public health experts from Taipei, Taiwan; and former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer from the Netherlands. We were able to respond with facts and lessons learned about how COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of U.S. foreign policy and priorities: from February through July, we put on 10 COVID-related programs.
Our virtual fall line-up is coming together nicely and we look forward to having you join us again next month. We will kick-off the 2020-2021 program year with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Fall community programs include discussions with former Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (focusing on sub-Saharan Africa); former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry (nuclear policy); and Gen (ret.) Jim Clapper, former head of DNI who will talk to us about election security ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Our Fellows cohort will be joined by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in September and former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in October. And our Fellows alumni programming will kick off with a conversation with former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in September. We will start charging a modest ticket fee for our members for our virtual community programs going forward and a big thanks again to those of you who kindly donated the equivalent ticket cost (and often more) to the Council when we were not charging for programs.
Our International Visitor Program welcomed our last in-person delegation back in early March. We recently received word from the State Department that all in-person programming would be canceled through the end of the year. Although we know this is the only safe decision that could be made and are fully in agreement, it was still difficult to hear. But we are moving forward with implementing virtual programing and are grateful that the State Department is eager to continue to bring visitors to the United States virtually so that we can continue to foster global connections and conversations. What does virtual exchange look like? Recently we facilitated a webinar between journalists from Central and Eastern Europe with the University of Washington's new Center for an Informed Public to discuss misinformation. We are working on our first IVLP Virtual exchange for a group of museum experts from Ukraine who are overseeing the development of the Holodomor Victims Memorial museum. Not only will this group meet with museum experts in Seattle but they will also have the chance to meet with IVP volunteers for a casual conversation; it’s home hospitality in the age of COVID. We look forward to new opportunities for the community to meet with and exchange ideas with leaders from around the world and exploring creative and meaningful ways to bring the world to Seattle virtually. We are also using this time to capture the incredible contributions of the local Seattle community with IVP programs through our new Community Spotlight Series. It's been wonderful to hear about the lasting impact of meeting with IVP groups and we look forward to continuing this series in the months to come. To all our citizen diplomats who welcome our international delegations into their businesses, their homes, their schools, and their communities—thank you. We hope that when it is once again safe to bring visitors from around the world to the community, you’ll join us in enthusiastically welcoming them back.
As the parent of three school-age children (elementary, middle, and high school), I know well the struggle that students, teachers, and parents endured as schools closed and we all adapted to online learning. Global Classroom has also adapted and moved its workshops to all virtual and done so quickly and well. And one of the greatest upsides of having to be virtual is that we are more accessible to more teachers and more students. We’re pleased to continue our strong relationship with the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and look forward to our upcoming Arctic Workshop series in partnership with the Canadian Studies Center. We’re eager to see more teachers and students join our Global Competence Portfolio Project, where students have a unique opportunity to reflect on their global learning and build on their experiences, knowledge, and skills. We are also excited about the increasing engagement of students, educators, and schools in our Community Programs for this school year as we are able to maximize the benefits of being virtual. The students are always encouraged to participate fully and have always asked insightful questions of our speakers. To the teachers that have used Community Programs discussions as virtual field trips – we loved having you and hope to see more of you bring your classes and incorporate these learning opportunities into your classrooms.
We cannot wait to see you all again. We don’t know when that will be and we won’t look to gather again until it is truly safe to do so. Your health and safety and the health and safety of my colleagues at the Council are my primary concern right now. We have managed well the transition to virtual programming (as have you all!) and will continue to bring you timely conversations, unique opportunities for global conversations and connections, and resources from afar. As with so many of our non-profit colleagues in Seattle and around the country, this is a profoundly disruptive time for programming, finances, and operations. To all of you who had the capacity and were able to maintain or even increase your support of the World Affairs Council, a very heartfelt thank you. If you are able to offer support now, you can do so here. Your support and engagement has meant that we can continue to do the program work that you value and that carries new meaning. Despite the challenges, we will continue to explore the many opportunities made possible by our new global platform. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!
Jacqueline Miller, President and CEO
World Affairs Council