Was this past year really only 365 days long? The pandemic has played with perceptions of time.
When I think back on all the transitions that the Global Ties Network have been through in the past 12 months, it would be easy to wonder if the pandemic was all a bad dream from decades ago. With some necessary adjustments, we as Network members have returned to welcoming international visitors with the same warmth and commitment to meaningful interactions that we have demonstrated throughout the long history of exchanges.
And yet, in many ways, it has not been simply a return to the way things were.
At a recent event to celebrate the historic International Visitor Leadership Program, Deputy Assistant Secretary Nicole Elkon asked the audience, “How many of you have been here for 80 years?” None of us have. The question made me think of the layers of contributions to our country’s rich record of citizen diplomacy. We are all building on the work of our predecessors and their commitment to fostering international understanding. There is great value in history and institutional memory – it is in fact this institutional memory that enabled us to continue to implement exchange programs even during the tumult of the last three years.
At the same time, this is a time of innovation and new growth. As so many aspects of personal and professional lives have shifted in the wake of the pandemic, our Network has been challenged to invent new models of exchange, particularly when the workplace is no longer defined as a fixed location.
Our field of exchanges has welcomed more than 100 new implementers to the Network in the past year, which promises that we will benefit from the new ideas, perspectives, and practices that they bring. The infrastructure of citizen and subnational diplomacy that Global Ties U.S. supports is stronger for this infusion of new colleagues who have joined our mission to foster collaboration and understanding among leaders around the globe.
What is especially exciting about this new era for exchanges is that now we can prove our impact. The recent findings from the first Global Ties U.S. Community Impact Study, which focused on the benefits to local people and communities across the United States in hosting professional exchange participants, demonstrate that exchanges matter perhaps more than ever in forging stronger communities and more effective leadership. With more than 80% of surveyed respondents reporting an increase in their global knowledge and cultural competence as a result of exchange participation, it is clear that exchanges are central to building a global community to address our shared challenges. You’ll read more about the Community Impact Study on page 4 of this report.
The Global Ties Network is composed of people who are resilient, resourceful, and forward-focused. If we want a future in which people, communities, and nations find peaceful ways to work together, then international exchange is essential to building that collaboration. Whether you are a seasoned citizen diplomat or just starting your journey, I hope you will actively embrace your role in helping to foster more effective global leadership through international exchange.