International Connections: Strength through Community Partnerships

Earlier this year, I joined the World Affairs Council team as an intern for the International Visitor Program (IVP).  IVP manages Seattle’s participation in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which is a professional exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The IVLP brings current and emerging foreign leaders to the United States to learn about a variety of issues relevant to their work.  Groups travel to three or four U.S. cities over the course of three weeks to engage in meetings, tours, and workshops about their fields of work, and to cultivate relationships with their American counterparts. The IVLP is a potent tool fostering diplomacy locally and globally; this year is the program’s 75th anniversary, and since the program’s commencement, over 200,000 international visitors have participated in the program, including more than 355 current or former heads of state or government.

I am taking on a long-term project to explore what makes Seattle a unique and valuable place to engage in international dialogue and learning. Throughout my internship, I will accompany international groups to their meetings with organizations, institutions, and individuals, and engage with delegates about aspects of their Seattle program that contributed to their professional growth. The questions I will ask each group are below:

  • What did you know about Seattle before arriving?
  • What has been the highlight of your time in Seattle?
  • How do the Seattle businesses and organizations that you met with compare to similar organizations in your home countries?
  • How do you plan to apply what you have learned during this visit to your own work?
  • What else would you have liked to experience if you had more time in Seattle?
JA BizTown Map

JA World

My first opportunity to explore these questions came when the World Affairs Council hosted a group of young professionals from the Near East and North Africa. These visitors came to Seattle to learn strategies for facilitating civic engagement and social empowerment in their communities. The visitors attended workshops on strategic communication and community-level conflict resolution and visited grassroots volunteer organizations like EarthCorps. Many of them did not know much about Seattle before their visit, only that it is an “environmental and foggy” city. They all agreed that the highlight of their visit was a tour of the Junior Achievement (JA) World BizTown & Finance Park, a mini city in Auburn that teaches kids about financial literacy. The mini-city features storefronts of leading financial, automotive, restaurant, and real estate businesses, all of which have partnered with JA World to fund the program. Classes of students participate in scenarios in which they must find jobs, budget their purchases, and financially plan for the future. The delegation was impressed with JA World’s financially-sustainable business partnerships. A visitor from Palestine remarked that community partnerships amongst organizations in his own country were neither as effective nor as well-coordinated.  This same visitor observed that community partnerships in general seem very strong throughout Seattle and effectively bridge the private, public, and non-profit sectors—an important aspect of facilitating a committed and engaged community.

The Palestinian visitor’s observation about Seattle’s community partnerships resonates strongly with the World Affairs Council.  Meaningful relationships with local citizens and organizations provide the Council with a supportive network of professionals and homestay families that plays an integral role in facilitating meaningful exchanges for IVLP groups and youth programs. Community partnerships are what make the Council an effective liaison between the city and the world, and Seattle has continually proven itself to be a great and welcoming host to the international community.  This same phenomenon that makes Seattle such a welcoming place for international visitors resonates with the international visitors. The young leaders from the Near East and North Africa asked the JA World representative many questions about techniques for building community partnerships, and many of them plan to reach out within their communities to implement similar programs upon their return home.

In the coming weeks, the World Affairs Council will be hosting international visitors from South and Central Asia, Europe, Serbia, Albania, and China. I look forward to attending meetings with these visitors and sharing my observations through these blog posts.

 

-Cory Rand, International Visitor Program Assistant