Exchange Matters / July 26, 2021

Addressing Democracy and Security Through International Exchange

International exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) foster cross-cultural connections that work to share democratic values and bolster national security. This month, Global Ties Network members shared how IVLP programming can approach themes of democracy and security through a variety of lenses including governance, journalism, and rule of law. 

Staffers from the Bundestag, the German federal parliament, take in the U.S. Capitol Building, including a fresco of George Washington, titled “The Apotheosis of Washington,” as part of a 2018 exchange with Meridian International Center. Photo provided by Marek Kuzma, International Visitor Liaison.

The World Affairs Council of Dallas / Forth Worth
— Elaine Tricoli, Program Coordinator, International Visitor Program
IVLP: Civic Engagement for Elections  
NPA: Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID)

Elections and voting are hot topics in Texas and a regular theme of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The World Affairs Council of Dallas / Fort Worth was well prepared to host the 14 Honduran participants of the “Civic Engagement for Elections” IVLP. The project’s objectives included examining the role of civic education in a participative democracy, discussing and considering strategies to engage young and first-time voters, and exploring how political leaders, civil society and NGOs can promote a peaceful electoral process, mitigating electoral violence and the rhetoric that causes it. 

With these objectives in mind, we put together a panel on Grassroots Organizing for Free and Fair Elections that addressed concerns about voter suppression and other tactics used to decrease minority voter participation, laws and policies that inherently depress voter turnout, and ways in which organizations mobilize to ensure such tactics do not impact marginalized communities.  

Our panelists included Emily Eby of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Angelica Razo of Mi Familia Vota, and Devin Branch of the Texas Organizing Project – each one passionate about the work that they do. Emily works to help every voter cast a ballot that counts while making voting law understandable to all. Angelica fosters community empowerment and positive, sustainable policy changes in social issues. Devin aims to transform Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve.  

After presentations from each of the panelists, the international participants engaged in a lively discussion with their professional counterparts about democratic representation in both Texas and Honduras. It is in these moments, when conversations turn towards an exchange of experiences and insights, that we are reminded of the significance of our work in bringing new ideas to light for individuals in the United States and abroad working to foster democratic values and ensure that every citizen has a voice.  

Group photo of the IVLP visitors. Photo provided by Elaine Tricoli.

A highlight of the group’s time “in” Texas was Home Hospitality. The group was given a Texas-sized welcome and treated to a progressive style “Taste of Texas” dinner. We started off by passing an avocado to our first host, Melissa, who used it to prepare a bowl of guacamole served with tortilla chips. Melissa then made margaritas and talked about growing up in South Texas.  

She passed along a lime to our next two hosts, Laurie and Sarah, who squeezed the lime into their margaritas and toasted our guests. Laurie talked about being a “transplant” from Iowa, the number one producer of corn in the United States She used corn to make a delicious casserole.  She shared one of our favorite Texas sayings with the group: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” Sarah told our guests about her German heritage and growing up in Central Texas where a large population of German immigrants settled in the 1840s.  She talked about Texas beef and shared a plate of brisket with the group.   

Dessert was pecan pie (the pecan is both the state nut and tree) served with Texas favorite, Bluebell ice cream. It was a delightful evening sitting around the virtual table talking about life in our countries – what we loved most and what we liked least. It was honest and open, and, oh, how we wished that our Honduran friends could have been here in person. Someday.

IVLP Participants meet with National Public Radio affiliates from across Massachusetts. Photo provided by Cynthia Melcher.

The World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts                                                         
— Cynthia Melcher, Executive Director
IVLP: Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists – Research and Investigation (Latin America) 
NPA: Meridian International Center 
CBM Partner: WorldBoston 

On April 21, 2021, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants from Latin America met virtually with representatives of National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates from across Massachusetts, gathered by WorldBoston and the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts. 

The NPR representatives Steve Junker, Managing Editor of News CAI – Cape, Coast, and Islands NPR station; Martin Miller, President New England Public Media (NEPM) based in Springfield; Maxie C. Jackson III, Chief Content Officer at NEPM; and Simón Ríos, a reporter from WBUR in Boston —  discussed newsgathering, meeting the needs of their constituents, and funding strategies with the IVLP visitors. Martin also spoke about their recent merger with the Springfield Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television affiliate.  

The fact that this was a Murrow project was especially meaningful. As a broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow played an important role in U.S. democracy by bringing to light threats to free speech during the McCarthy Era. His wife, Janet Murrow, was educated at Mount Holyoke College and lived in Western Massachusetts for many years after his death. Both NEPM and WBUR in Boston have Murrow Societies for their most generous donors. 

The World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts was delighted to partner with WorldBoston and present every NPR station in the state to compare and contrast how the organizations present the news and serve their different communities. This kind of meeting is an example of how the virtual world can open possibilities for meetings that would be unlikely to take place in person. 

The World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts participated in another meeting with this same project on community journalism and minority-owned media outlets, which included representatives from Boston and Springfield as well as New Orleans, and a discussion on funding was clearly as informative to the individual resources as it was to the participants in Latin America. The exchange highlighted the role of media and a free press in keeping citizens informed and upholding democratic values.

Photo provided by Cynthia Melcher.

IVLP: Best Practices in Court Operations and Court Security (Ukraine) 
NPA: Institute of International Education 

On June 17, 2021, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants from Ukraine met virtually to discuss security and other court operations at the Hampden County Courthouse, located in Springfield, Massachusetts and one of the busiest criminal courts in Massachusetts. The participants heard from District Court Judge Charles Groce III, Clerk of Courts Laura Gentile, and Assistant Chief Court Officer Paul Nadle.   

Speakers discussed how operations at the court are organized with special emphasis on security. The impact of COVID on the business of the court was also discussed, including the modification of a former movie theater at a local mall to accommodate social distancing for jury trials.   

During the Q&A session, the conversation was wide ranging and the professional resources had several questions for the participants, making it a true exchange of ideas. The group discussed the basic credentials required to become a judge and the judicial systems of both countries. Judge Groce noted that he envied Ukrainian judges who have a more active role in the investigation process than U.S. judges do.   

Although we are a tiny Council, we have been pleased that virtual exchanges have allowed us to meet with more participants than we ordinarily have been able to within a similar amount of time, and we have been able to access resources who might not have been willing or able to meet in person. It does still feel as though in-person connections are deeper than virtual. 

Photo provided by Sarah Sibley.

— Sarah Sibley, Vice President for Citizen Diplomacy
IVLP: U.S. Energy Policy – Security, Independence, and Innovation
NPA: FHI 360 

On May 18, 2021, WorldBoston was delighted to virtually welcome International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visitors from across the globe to discuss energy policy as it relates to security, independence, and innovation. Our visitors met with Joanna Troy and Will Lauwers from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environment (MEOEE) to discuss Massachusetts’ clean energy plans as well as the importance of renewable energy and making it more widespread and accessible.  

Over the course of virtual IVLP exchanges, we have increasingly recognized the importance of a two-way exchange, in which our community partners learn as much from our IVLP participants as our participants learn from them. Indeed, we have witnessed such an exchange over the course of several IVLP exchanges, and this meeting was no exception. One of the most memorable moments of the meeting was when two participants from Africa bonded over common challenges with promoting clean energy in their countries where oil is abundant.

It was an opportunity to hear from international climate experts about challenges in combating climate change in their part of the world, but it also underscored the IVLP’s role in forging connections and encouraging discourse between the international professionals themselvesAnd today, when most of the crises we face transcend borders and have implications for global security — whether it be the pandemic or the climate change — such collaboration and inclusion of diverse perspectives is more critical than ever.  

Certainly with in-person programming, but perhaps even more importantly in this era of isolation, the IVLP plays an integral role in building and sustaining global efforts against our most pressing issues. Truly, it was awe-inspiring to see the critical work our community partners and international visitors are doing to promote clean energy and diversify energy sources to combat climate change. 

IVLP alumnus and President of the Romanian IVLP Alumni Association Gruia Ioan Bumbu at the 2019 National Meeting.

International Member Spotlight: Romanian IVLP Alumni Association                                 — Gruia Ioan Bumbu, President  

In 2007, I traveled to the United States on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project “Managing Diversity in a Multiethnic Society.” During this trip, I learned how U.S. society leverages its multiculturalism to promote and advance the happiness of all individuals. This amazing institutional experience inspired me and convinced me to fight for the Romanian democratic process in order to empower minority communities and protect their rights.

With this vision for Romania and much hard work, I was nominated as Romania’s Secretary of State and President of the National Agency for the Roma people less than one year after returning from my IVLP. By applying knowledge and lessons learned from my IVLP experience, we started to fundraise and to implement best practices, helping to improve the lives of the Roma minority in Romania.