Updated: Mar 4, 2020
In an era of instantaneous global news, nearly-free telecommunications, and amidst ubiquitous social media, person-to-person relationship building remains one of the most important connections between countries. The Open World Leadership Center (the Center) fosters these connections by bringing young professionals from post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia to the United States for a week of intensive networking.
These young professionals meet with Members of Congress and their staff, giving U.S. policy makers the chance to hear first-hand views from the many countries. The mission of the Center is to bring the next generation of government and civic leaders from strategic countries directly to the halls of the most powerful legislative body in the world, the U.S. Congress. This is the very definition of Congressional Diplomacy: where Members engage in authentic dialogue with legislators from around the globe.
In the last few months, these exchanges have included science entrepreneurs from Russia spending a week in Denver, teachers from Ukraine with new colleagues in Las Vegas, and municipal officials from Serbia developing ties in Milwaukee. In 2019 over 1,000 young professionals participated in programs in all 50 states: emergency responders from Russia to Maine, agricultural economists from Azerbaijan to Missouri, doctors from Moldova to North Carolina, linguists from Tajikistan to Colorado, and many other young professionals built new personal and professional relationships with their colleagues in the U.S.
IPR Fellow Jim Quirk (CUA '91, '03) leads discussions with visiting delegations on their one day in Washington. "They've just arrived, they're jet-lagged, just getting used to their new surroundings," Quirk described. "But they are eager to get started – to learn, to share, to really question what we are doing in the United States and why." A discussion on American politics leads to questions on everything from slavery and Native Americans to taxes, education, gun control, climate change, 51 different driver's licenses, and especially the electoral college. "Federalism," Quirk noted, "has always been a central issue in American politics. Some of its questions today, like conflicting marijuana laws, states with different voter laws, or some states not having income taxes, really get people thinking."
Quirk, who teaches at American University in Washington, D.C., often brings an undergraduate with him to co-present. He keeps in touch with many delegates: they Skype into his classes or guest lecture on topics like corporate social responsibility and public diplomacy.
The Center is a clearinghouse for Congressional Diplomacy efforts; a source of expertise and logistics that enhance Member, Committee, and Caucus work in maintaining productive relationships with parliaments in strategically important regions of the world.
But it is the ongoing relationships between the young professional delegates and their new American colleagues that form the heart of the Center's lasting work. U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, co-chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, described how "…[T]hese are representatives inviting citizens from these various countries to come to the United States…to live with us, to stay in our homes, to find out how we live and how we actually practice freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion in this country." (Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission, “Life Under Occupation: The State of Human Rights in Crimea,” January 28, 2020)
To learn more about the Open World program, please visit www.openworld.gov.
By Jim Quirk, IPR fellow, and Maura Shelden, deputy executive director, Open World Leadership Center, February 2020