By Andrew Gasparini, Assistant to the City Manager of Kennesaw, Georgia
Editor’s note: Andrew Gasparini is a 2021 Emerging Leaders from Georgia and former intern with the Georgia Council for Citizen Diplomacy. He shares how the Global Ties Network shaped his globally-focused career, and discusses his current work with the City of Kennesaw Georgia, where he helped establish a Sister Cities Program and created the inaugural Kennesaw Sister Cities Commission.
The television show “Parks and Recreation” was my touchstone for the ins and outs of local government, with its humorous depiction of what happens in City Hall. It was not until I stepped into my current position as Assistant to the City Manager in Kennesaw, Georgia – my hometown – that I experienced the dynamism of local government and the breadth of work it accomplishes.
Growing up in Kennesaw, I attended the North Cobb Magnet School for International Studies and was privileged to study abroad multiple times at a young age, encountering various peoples, perspectives, and cultures different from my own. My interests in learning more about the world outside of my hometown and the greater Atlanta area led me to study history and political science with a concentration in international affairs in college, and intern with the Georgia Council for International Visitors in the summers of 2018 and 2020. I came to understand that neither my hometown nor the greater Atlanta area existed outside the context of the places I visited.
I would never have anticipated I would be working in local government after graduating, but when the opportunity arose to give back to the community that nurtured me, I took it. In anticipation of my new job, I began consuming a lot of media about the field of public administration – and that included re-watching my high school favorite show, “Parks and Recreation.” When I reached Season 2, Episode 5, I knew immediately the story of “Sister City” was one I wanted to replicate for Kennesaw. Establishing a Sister Cities Program combines my background of international affairs with my passion to serve my community. The project was also an opportunity for me to help connect my neighbors with various peoples, perspectives, and cultures abroad.
Early on in my project research, I began speaking with my coworkers in Kennesaw to learn more about the office infrastructure and how to make this project sustainable. I realized that for this international partnership to succeed, I’d need to ratify a city-backed commission that would be tasked with maintaining the connection to ensure this project did not just rely on one person. I also began networking with other nearby municipalities and international organizations to learn how they ran their programs, finding what was applicable and incorporating those aspects into the framework for the Kennesaw Sister Cities Commission.
One aspect of government that “Parks and Recreation” illustrates correctly is the amount of time it takes to complete a project. Bureaucracy requires careful consideration of what is best for the community as a whole. I presented the idea to Kennesaw’s Mayor and Council three times over five months, incorporating feedback from my councilmembers and my neighbors to ensure everyone was completely onboard. This feedback produced a stronger project approach that incorporated cultural, economic, and educational exchange, and that will better serve Kennesaw.
Over the past several months, I have interviewed and nominated people to serve on the inaugural Kennesaw Sister Cities Commission, ratified in September in the hopes of bringing to the table professionals from our university and school system as well as our chamber of commerce and development authority. I am excited to share that their appointments were approved this past Monday, which is a fitting way to start International Education Week and conclude my experience as a 2021 Global Ties U.S. Emerging Leader.
Completing this project has taught me how to be intentional with all of my interactions, place excellency over expediency, and convey information to others effectively. To the future emerging leaders, I encourage you to look around you and find connections you can foster to promote public diplomacy. These efforts are not monopolized solely in large cities but are achievable in your own backyard. You can be the bridge and the bridge builder.