Exchange Matters / February 16, 2024

Global Ties KC Celebrates 70 years

By Courtney Brooks, President & CEO, Global Ties KC

Editor’s Note: February 16 is Citizen Diplomacy Day, a day first recognized by Congress in 2011 to commemorate our organization’s 50th anniversary and our Network’s important role in building people-to-people connections through international exchange. In celebration of this day, we asked leaders from across the Global Ties Network to reflect on how citizen diplomacy humanizes the world, both locally and globally, and why this work matters. 

For 70 years, Global Ties KC has been the premier force championing citizen diplomacy in Kansas and the western half of Missouri. Over the last decade, the organization has grown exponentially in every aspect. Where Global Ties KC was once coined as a “volunteer service organization,” we are now a team of seven professional staff members and have grown to an organization that has an annual financial impact on the KC community of almost $2 million (through our budget, program impact, and volunteer support). We have also expanded our work to local high school students, implementing the Youth Diplomats Institute for the fifth year in a row.  

Visitors enjoy home hospitality and the outdoors. Photos provided by Global Ties KC.

Preparing for our 70th anniversary has been a time of reflection for the team, realizing the local and global impact of citizen diplomacy. In a world that is rife with conflict and polarization, through programs like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), individuals are given the chance to converse with diverse people, connect as human beings, and build relationships that have the potential to foster future peace and understanding. The importance of person-to-person exchange is seen now more than ever before.  

By convening global changemakers within our cities, we are seeing the local and global impact of exchange. For example, just from our youth programs, we see students now in their home countries implementing projects looking at water sanitation, literacy, recycling, digital equity, and so much more – the same students and visitors are inspiring our local high school students to do the same within the Kansas City community. The impact is exponential. And these are just examples of ONE program from ONE city. I imagine that every one of us in the Global Ties Network, which comprises 80+ community-based nonprofit organizations as its members, have multiple stories to share. Global problems need global solutions, and the work of citizen diplomacy drives this change.   

I’ve had the honor of leading this organization for 12 of its 70 years, and during this time, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming over 5,000 international visitors to the Heartland. Each person who participates in our programs brings an incredible story, and though I wish I could recall them all, certain faces and moments stand out in my memory. Often, it’s the events that include food that stick with me the most. Grilling hamburgers on my back porch. The woman from Myanmar who helped me cut up vegetables for a stir fry. The delegation from Nepal who after seeing I was pregnant, turned their farewell dinner into a surprise baby shower, complete with a Dahi Chiura Ceremony celebrating where I as the mother-to-be was stuffed full of food, including Dhau-Baji (yogurt and flattened rice). 

IVLP visitors from Nepal work together to prepare dinner.

These strangers, who quickly become friends, have not only shared memorable experiences with me but have also opened their homes when I’ve traveled. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a wealth of personal memories from these programs. Equally significant to me is the realization that, through my efforts and Global Ties KC’s role in the Heartland community, thousands of others have created their own unique stories. 

At the core of citizen exchange facilitation lies a profound responsibility. As a Network, we play a crucial role as connectors, facilitating ties between international leaders and local hosts, resources, and event participants. With each visitor we host, and every new connection we forge, whether between an international leader and a homestay host or a professional resource, we cast a pebble into the global pond. The ripples we generate possess the transformative power to combine and create impactful waves.