Exchange Matters / February 16, 2024

100 Years of Citizen Diplomacy in Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky

By Michelle Harpenau Glandorf, President & CEO

The World Affairs Council – Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky will complete our 100-year anniversary on February 23. Our organization was established 100 years ago, as a forum for global dialgoue. We were the fourth local chapter of the World Affairs Councils of America, our national organization, which began in 1921 in response to the United States’ refusal to join the League of Nations. The people who brought our organization to life were concerned that at the end of World War I, the United States would chose an isolationist foreign policy over one of global engagement, and came together to prepare for their first meetings and guiding principles: to nurture grassroots, people-to-people involvement in international affairs. 

The challenges facing the world a century ago were VERY similar to the challenges we face today, including: 

  1. Conflicts in the Middle East 
  2. Illegal transport of opium across our maritime borders 
  3. Border tensions in Europe and elsewhere 
  4. Protectionism – and a distrust of the “other” 
  5. Concerns about Russia 

The founding members were committed to partnering with other civic groups such as the League of Women Voters and Hughes High School’s Foreign Affairs Club to strengthen ties locally and across the world.  

Events around the world over the past year have really shown how quickly things can change and impact local activity. This has only strengthened our resolve to continue this important international work here at the World Affairs Council – Cincinnacti & World Kentucky.  

IVLP group meets with Cincinnati City Council members. All photos provided by World Affairs Council – Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

As an organization who has been committed from the very beginning to the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) network and being involved myself for the last 14 years, I know how important and special exchanges are for our community and the world. For example, just this last year, we had an IVLP group focused on transparency and accountability in local government. The visitors met with many local resources and representatives, and even had a chance to meet all of the Cincinnati City Council Members. 

The delegates explained that they were so impressed with us – from the view from their hotel, to the meetings, to the friendly hospitality they experienced everywhere they went – that if they were to move to the United States, they would want to move to the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. Their experience, they shared, was one of the best during the entirety of their visit to the United States.   

Young European Leaders group visits the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Another very memorable delegation was a group of young European leaders who we introduced to the political, geographical, and regional differences between Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. They were truly amazed at the size of the United States and how long it takes to drive between different areas. Our delegates met with Mayor Meyer of Covington, finding inspiration in his work to revitalize the community and create opportunities for its residents. A local family, the Gunkels, helped to plan an Indiana Day and invited the visitors to their farm for local hospitality complete with a delicious home cooked meal. 

A visit to the Cincinnati Enquirer allowed these visitors to engage with a local journalist and learn how they employ different types of media to engage their audience. Another highlight was the visit to East Central High School in St. Leon, Indiana where they spoke with students, visited classrooms, and learned about the programs. After our meeting, all the delegates flocked to the school buses outside to take pictures. They had never seen a yellow school bus before!  

We cannot do this work without our volunteers and partners. They step up time and time again to make these exchanges better. Through these people-to-people interactions, the World Affairs Council – Cincinnati & Northern Kentucy connects our community with the world and engages individuals with foreign affairs. There has been a community need for this work for the last 100 years, and I know it will go on for another 100 years. We look forward to the next chapter of global leadership.