Last week, some of the VCWA team attended the Global Ties 2017 National Meeting in Washington, DC. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Global Ties U.S., the organization is a nonprofit that operates in partnership with the U.S. Department of State to invite visitors from all over the world to come and experience U.S. culture in all its diversity. The VCWA works with nonprofit intermediaries (called National Programming Agencies, also known as NPAs) associated with Global Ties, to bring these visitors to our homes, businesses, and communities right here in Vermont. The National Meeting was an opportunity for all players in the invaluable field of public diplomacy and international exchange to come together to share ideas, best practices, and inspiration from every level of involvement.
The theme of this year’s Meeting was Unity in Community, an idea that is more important than ever, as globalization has simultaneously interconnected all of us and at times, seemingly created intractable rifts between some of us. The idea of building community through a better understanding of the world and its cultures is an integral component of any prescription for a more peaceful and cooperative world.
“You represent the best of what America has to offer the global community”
The impact of international exchange is measurable, and was exemplified by the speakers at this event. A highlight for me was hearing the accomplishments of Rebeca Gyumi, an alumna of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and winner of the IVLP Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change. After visiting New Mexico on an IVLP Youth Leadership Program, she was inspired by the ability of young people to make a difference in their world-- something she did not know was possible before her exchange. Upon returning home to Tanzania, she set to work, founding an organization called the Msichana Initiative, which aims to remove barriers to girls’ education. In addition to continuous efforts to enact social change in girls’ empowerment, last year, Rebeca successfully helped make child marriage illegal in her home country. The power of Rebeca’s story shows the power of international exchange, as her initial spark of inspiration is credited directly to her few days spent in New Mexico.
While Rebeca may be the poster child for the successes of programs such as the IVLP, these positive impacts would not be possible without the participation of the entire community of those involved in international exchange and public diplomacy. When not in the main ballroom listening to powerful stories from game changers and leaders in the field, participants attended a variety of panel discussions and interactive information sessions. While every one of these sessions was valuable, our favorite was, by far, Exchanges in the Digital Space: Amplify Your Organization through Storytelling, featuring our very own Manager of Global Engagement, Vinson Pierce! He discussed the challenges of staying engaged on social media as a small organization and the VCWA’s efforts to overcome these by encouraging delegates to participate in social media while they are visiting Vermont. We hope his advice was as useful to other community organizations as it has been for us!
Vinson had a great time participating in the meeting, but he wasn’t the only one.
Patricia Preston, our Executive Director, said of the National Meeting, “it’s so nice that we can come together annually with the entire Global Ties community. Especially in this past year, which has been polarizing for so many, the theme of Unity in Community spoke to the Vermont Council on World Affairs in a very meaningful way”. Not only is the community Global Ties has fostered meaningful to those well acquainted with the organization, it is truly welcoming of newcomers as well.
I was able to participate in the National Meeting because I was fortunate enough to have been nominated and selected as an Emerging Leader. This is part of a professional development program that runs in conjunction with the National Meeting every year for interns and volunteers from community-based organizations around the country. As a young professional who is so passionate about the potential of international exchange and public diplomacy to change the world, the chance to be surrounded by so many others who share the same vision was inspiring and affirming. I was reassured that what we do at the VCWA, bringing the world to Vermont and Vermont to the world, is absolutely essential.
Group of Emerging Leaders, our sponsors, Al and Sharon Durtka (left) and program manager, Judy Donner (sixth from right)
However, none of this would be possible without the involvement of regular Vermonters such as yourselves, who welcome these visitors we bring to the state into your homes and places of business with open arms, that we are able to continue on with our mission every day. Ambassador D. Bruce Wharton, Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State said in his remarks Thursday, “Never doubt the power you have as citizen diplomats. You are ambassadors, you are role models, and in every administration, you represent the best of what America has to offer the global community”.
So thank you to the U.S. Department of State; thank you to Global Ties; thank you to our NPAs; thank you to all of the community-based member organizations around the country; and the biggest thanks to our everyday Vermonters, who represent the absolute best of what American culture has to offer and who are the real drivers of international peace and cooperation through citizen diplomacy. We are inspired; we are encouraged; we are motivated; and we’re looking forward to building on everything we’ve learned for next year’s Global Ties National Meeting!
This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, Program Assistant at the VCWA