Exchange Matters / February 16, 2024

How Citizen Diplomacy Shapes the World

Compiled by Layla Melendez, Communications Intern

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. 

Cleveland Council on World Affairs 

By Carina Van Vliet, Executive Director 

Students participate in the first Model United Nations conference at Case Western Reserve University, a longstanding community partner. Photo from CCWA.

The Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) was founded in 1923 by women peace activists who, shocked by World War I, wanted the United States to play a central role in shaping a world of peaceful, cooperative democracies that would never again engage in the folly that was the Great War. The group was initially called the Women’s Council for the Promotion of Peace. In 1943, it became the Cleveland Council on World Affairs and increasingly focused on educating Cleveland citizens about foreign policy. Regardless of the approach, the Council’s goal was always to offer avenues for the Cleveland community to learn and care about the rest of the world.  

In 1947, the Council formed an International Students Group to welcome foreign students who started arriving in Cleveland in significant numbers after World War II. Two years later, in 1949, the U.S. Department of State invited CCWA to participate in the “Foreign Leaders Program,” which eventually became the “International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).” Cleveland has been involved ever since. Today, CCWA welcomes some 400 visitors a year, and local citizen diplomats volunteer to open their homes to these visitors, hosting dinners – just like they did for students in 1947.   

A century later, CCWA’s mission to promote global engagement in Northeast Ohio through its people-to-people exchange work matter more than ever. Read more HERE.

Global New Orleans 

By Laila Bondi, Executive Director 

IVLP group bonding in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Photo from Global New Orleans.

Global New Orleans was established in 1944, which means this year we are celebrating eight decades of welcoming international visitors to our region! Although many things have changed during that time, including a few name iterations, we have been an integral part of the international ecosystem, serving as a bridge between cultures, fostering understanding, and promoting peace through citizen diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges.  

New Orleans has always been the gateway to the United States from the world in many ways, due to its strategic location on the Mississippi and distinctive international flair. In fact, locals often refer to our city as the most northern point in the Caribbean. Visitors consistently comment how at home they feel here, partly because of our welcoming and inclusive culture, but also because the architecture, food and music are drawn from our neighbors from Haiti to Senegal, just to name a few.  

There are so many favorite moments to reflect on from the decades of experiences we’ve had: from sharing dinner and Mardi Gras costumes with guests at our board president’s home; to our monthly updates from a visitor in 2018 who is doing incredible environmental restoration work in Zambia, some of which was inspired by techniques he learned here; to one of our local resources who serendipitously found himself presenting to a group that included a man he met 10 years prior in Cambodia during his Peace Corps service! 

Citizen diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges are not just about building connections; they are about building empathy, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to a better world. We see the power of these exchanges with each group, particularly when our youth can engage with the visitors, opening their world and expanding the range of possibilities for them. When our community can connect a face and experience with a country, religion or culture they may be unfamiliar or unknown to them, we can all better understand and empathize. So, now more than ever, this is the time to be doing this essential work, amplifying voices, fostering collaboration, and transcending borders. 

Global Ties ABQ 

By Melora Palmer, Executive Director 

IVLP group meets Albuquerque’s Mayor Tim Keller at the International Balloon Fiesta. Photo from Global Ties ABQ.

It is hard to believe Global Ties ABQ turned 60 years old last year; 60 years of remarkable exchange, shared knowledge, and friendships! 

We started as an all-volunteer organization in 1963 as the Albuquerque Council for International Visitors. In 2018, we became Global Ties ABQ when we joined the Global Ties Network and hired an executive director and program officer. It’s been a sometimes-bumpy ride since then, but it’s only been up, and things look very bright for our future! 

We have been an integral source for anything international within our city and state having developed long-term resources and connections that we still count on to this day. 

Many of our members have stayed in touch with the numerous visitors they hosted, some of them even traveling to their countries to meet and learn about their cultures. 

A favorite testimonial that I love to share came from a group of International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visitors in 2023 on the “Promoting Social Change through Art” project. There was a gentleman, the Curator / Manager of the National Cultural Center in Uganda, who wrote back to us including the resource – which was a local nonprofit that works with underprivileged youth using art and music to create new paths for economic and social success. He praised the resource and thanked him for all the wonderful things he learned during his visit to Albuquerque, saying he was looking to replicate the same programming in his country. 

To me, that’s what it’s all about: promoting peace and cooperation through global ties!

Global Ties KC 

By Courtney Brooks, President & CEO 

A 2017 IVLP group from Nepal works together to prepare dinner. Photo from Global Ties KC.

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.  

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. Read more HERE 

NC Global Leadership 

By Lisa Stahlmann Jessar, Executive Director and Beth Robertson, Former Executive Director 

U.S. and International counterparts connect. Photo from NC Global Leadership

When welcoming international visitors to home hospitality evenings (everyone’s favorite event!), I always share how much of an impact they make on those in our community and how much we learn from each of them and their stories. At the end of the evening, we conclude that each of us has the same goal for our communities – health and safety, and opportunities for growth and human connection. 

During one such evening, a visitor from Iraq shared that his family was concerned for his safety during his travel to the United States. Ironically, he had a cousin living on the East Coast who had expressed grave concern about his safety in Iraq. In sharing this, he demonstrated not only a penchant for family diplomacy, but also the real and yet sometimes misguided perceptions in both cultures. He was a clear example of the value of human connection. What we read, hear, and assume is all too often far removed from the realities on the ground. 

In over 30 years, North Carolina Global Leadership has been fortunate to welcome thousands of emerging leaders from around the globe who have each left an indelible impression on the lives of those in Greensboro. Citizen-to-citizen diplomacy is truly a gift to our community. 

San Diego Diplomacy Council 

By Heidi Knuff, Executive Director 

IVLP wheelchair basketball players from Romania engage with U.S. students. Photo from SDDC

This year, the San Diego Diplomacy Council (SDDC) proudly celebrates 45 years of connecting San Diego to the world through the Internatinoal Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other citizen diplomacy and people-to-people exchange programs. 

SDDC began in 1979, during the Cold War, when the United States used the soft power tool of citizen diplomacy to strengthen our relationships with allies and reduce tensions with Soviet sympathizers. At the time, IVLP programs stopping in San Diego often highlighted our large military presence. 

Forty-five years later, we are now in an increasingly multi-polar world. Our work still strengthens democracies, reduces tensions, and builds friendships. However, we have refined our local programming, enhancing opportunities to not only teach, but to learn from our international visitors. While we still highlight our local military presence in some of our programs, we also highlight San Diego’s robust innovation sectors, entrepreneurship programs, social services, binational collaboration, artists, athletes, breweries, and more. Read more HERE.

World Affairs Council – Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky 

By Michelle Glandorf, President & CEO 

IVLP group meets with Cincinnati City Council members. Photo from WAC Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky

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 

Read more HERE.

World Affairs Council of New Hampshire 

By Tim Horgan, Executive Director 

An IVLP group is all smiles while relaxing and enjoying New Hampshire’s outdoors. Photo from WACNH

The world, people tell us, is a scary place that may fall apart at any minute. With major wars ongoing, the lasting effects of a global pandemic, a growing great power rivalry, and other challenges, it is not difficult to see why many feel this way. As the world approaches the 24th annual Citizen Diplomacy Day on February 16, let us all commit ourselves to telling a better story about the world, a story we see every day: the power of citizen diplomacy to change the world. 

Throughout the Global Ties Network, new connections are made each day, and the world becomes a little bit smaller. In this ritual of sharing best practices, community, and personal experiences, both the host and the visitor have the opportunity to better understand each other and humanize global experiences. Rather than taking a bird’s eye look at the issues facing the world, these people dive deep into problems and solutions, crafting new ideas that they can implement across borders. While it remains difficult to draw a direct line between a meeting or an experience a visitor had and a positive change in their home country, one cannot deny the power of exchanges to shape the world. Read more HERE.

World Affairs Council of Philadelphia 

By Lauren Swartz, President and CEO 

International visitors connect with students from Bodine High School for International Affairs in Philadelphia. Photo from WAC Philadelphia. 

Global leaders. Philly students. Entrepreneurs, teachers, and citizen diplomats. For decades, these diverse individuals have come together at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia to converse, exchange ideas, learn, build connections, and open doors between Philadelphia and the world. In 2024, we will celebrate our 75th anniversary – a time to reflect on our impact and legacy and lay the foundation for the next 75+ years and more of fostering global opportunities in Philadelphia. 

Over the last 75 years, our merged organization has: 

  • Empowered more than a million students to engage in the global affairs that shape our world.  
  • Connected Philadelphia leaders and innovators with nearly 20,000 of their peers from every corner of the globe through professional exchange.  
  • Dialogued with more than 5,000 global changemakers from Benazir Bhutto to Bono, from Tony Blair to Tarana Burke, from Condoleeza Rice to Rick Steves, and so many more.  
  • Explored the road less traveled with tours to Iran, Antarctica, Libya, China and other destinations across the globe.  

The magic of people-to-people diplomacy is when we can tie it all together. When a group of Argentinian political and civic leaders joined us for a public program on an upcoming mayoral election, we strengthened the dialogue in the room with a nuanced international perspective. When media professionals from across Africa visited a local high school, first-generation students were particularly touched to speak their family’s first language and connect with a community close to home. This winter, we’ll be reconnecting with a delegation from Vietnam during a tour of their museum in Ho Chi Minh city. 

As we look ahead, we look forward to deepening our programmatic reach into Philadelphia’s underserved schools, creating more opportunities for people-to-people exchange, and reigniting our city’s relationship with the rest of the globe. Raising community voices means that there is a seat for all of us at this world affairs table. 


By Sarah Sibley, Vice President for Citizen Diplomacy

An international visitor from Togo presents gifts to his Thanksgiving dinner hosts in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Photo from WorldBoston

WorldBoston is celebrating 75 years of people-to-people global engagement this year. 

We have been hosting international visitors through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other professional exchanges since 1961, previously as the organization Boston Center for International Visitors. Additionally, WorldBoston has been organizing global engagement events for our community since 1949, previously as the organization Boston World Affairs Council. These two organizations merged to become WorldBoston as we know it today. 

We are a cornerstone for citizen diplomacy in eastern Massachusetts, and host about 1,000 international leaders a year, which brings immense pride to our organization and creates lasting impressions within our community.  

Our commitment to exchange is echoed in the words of Peter Forman, President & CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, who spoke about the value of citizen diplomacy to the community.  “We enjoyed the program as did our members who had a chance to meet with her and share some perspectives and best practices,” said Peter about working with one of our YLAI Fellows. (Young Leaders of the Americas initative) “Finding the right placements is an effort, but I am a proponent of international exchange programs like this and feel the effort is well worth it.” 

Additionally, the heartfelt reflection of Ivan Kaparulin, an IVLP alum from Kyiv, Ukraine, resonates deeply with our mission. On Thanksgiving Day 2023, he reached out to his dinner diplomacy hosts to share how his 2019 Thanksgiving home hospitality experience challenged stereotypes and fostered genuine cross-cultural understanding.  

“In recent days, for some reason, my thoughts have returned to 2019, when I was lucky enough to visit you,” said Ivan. “They say that one of the most important values in life are the people’s memory and events that influenced or left a mark on your soul.”

“That visit remained in my memory thanks to the hospitality, warmth and cordiality with which you met our group on Thanksgiving Day! It was very unusual to note how you agreed to share your family holiday with strangers. Thanks to you, this made me reconsider my views on Americans, who seemed to me to be more business-oriented, purposeful people, and not at all family-oriented. This is, in a good way, surprising and unusual, because the modern world pushes a person towards selfishness and automation. Sincerity and kindness are in short supply now.

Through exchange, WorldBoston is forging connections between local and global counterparts, and promoting international cooperation. As we commemorate Citizen Diplomacy Day and our 75th anniversary, we remain dedicated to our mission to foster engagement in international affairs and cooperation with peoples of all nations.  

World Trade Center Institute 

By Nina Bankova, Vice President of Global Engagement & Fellowships

An IVLP visitor from Japan (right) with Aruna Miller, Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. Photo from WTCI.

As the World Trade Center Institute (WTCI) celebrates our 35th anniversary this year, I want to reflect on the profound impact that we have had on the Baltimore community, on Maryland, and on global good overall.  

WTCI was established in 1989 to serve as a hub of global trade. From the very beginning, when then Governor William Donald Shafer said, “I want one [World Trade Center]!,” our organization was destined to be a catalyst for exchanges – of ideas, best practices, business partnerships, and lifelong friendships. WTCI soon acquired the exchange programming portfolio for Maryland, making us the designated community-based member for the state. Ever since, WTCI has delivered professional and cultural exchange programming for projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, USAID, the Congressional Office for International Leadership, higher education institutions, foreign embassies, the World Bank Group, and many more.  

Being a part of the public diplomacy efforts of the U.S. Department of State has always been one of our hidden strengths. Read more HERE.