Exchange Matters / September 2, 2021

Q&A with Marissa Buffo and Morgan Lyn of WorldChicago

Interview by Madeline Black, Communications Intern

Editor’s Note: Marissa was the fall 2021 Events Intern at Global Ties U.S. and is a member of WorldChicago’s Young Professionals Group. Morgan is the Marketing & Development Manager at WorldChicago. Global Ties U.S. interviewed them to learn why WorldChicago values involving young professionals in their work. 

Marissa (right) with WorldChicago President Peggy Parfenoff, and the first in-person Young Professionals Group event. Photo provided by Marissa Buffo

How does WorldChicago involve young professionals in board committees and what is their value to the organization? 

Morgan Lyn: WorldChicago is constantly working to curate a diverse board in race, religion, gender, and age. We introduce board members to their potential leadership role by welcoming them as a committee member to become more familiar with the internal work of the organization, goals and strategy. Additionally, they get a better sense of their own potential time and resource commitment needed to help move the WorldChicago mission of citizen diplomacy forward.

We’ve found that having early and mid-career professionals on each committee creates more ideas and, in turn, more opportunities. For many, being in a career or field for a long time makes them unaware of their own invisible boundaries born of repetition and industry standards. Young professionals have yet to form those barriers and may be exposed to newer ideas through school and their peer groups. WorldChicago wants to keep creating, growing, and pioneering new ways to bring the world to Chicago and Chicago to the world. 

Why did you join the WorldChicago income development board committee?

Marissa Buffo: I spent a year working in Copenhagen at an organization focused on international exchange and then moved back to Chicago (my hometown) during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this transition, I was looking for ways to stay involved in the field and was motivated to find opportunities to combine my love of Chicago and international exchange. I had been following WorldChicago for some time and saw a post calling for board applications. I knew that I did not have a deep professional or volunteer experience, but was passionate for this work and reached out to see if I might be a good fit in some capacity on the board. After learning more about the board committees, it was mutually determined that the income development board committee was the best fit for my interests and skills. A short time after joining, I was approached about an opportunity to help with the relaunch of the Young Professionals Group. 

Marissa mentioned the relaunch of the Young Professionals Group. Why the pause, and what goals does the organization have for the refreshed group? 

ML: Before the start of the pandemic, WorldChicago’s Young Professionals Group (YPG) was on hiatus to discuss and strategize new networking events, professional development workshops, and social gatherings. This discussion grew in scope and technical assistance due to COVID-19. In the summer of 2020, we relaunched virtually with the determination and need to create ways to engage and keep global citizenship at the forefront. 

WorldChicago sees the YPG as a learning and amplification space for some and stepping stone to board membership for others. We curate a diverse team of active young professionals and equip them with the platform and outlet to make a difference in citizen diplomacy. For those who wish to continue their work as volunteers we welcome them as home hospitality hosts and professional resources. For those who want to dedicate more of their time, we try to find ways, for instance board membership positions, to get them further involved. 

How is WorldChicago’s focus on youth and young professionals reflected in its exchanges and activities? 

MB: WorldChicago has always worked to involve young professionals in the networking and hosting portions of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other exchanges, as well as previously leveraging the YPG in these events. There has always been a lot of interest from both young professionals in Chicago and the exchange participants in developing relationships and cross-cultural understanding. The YPG has held virtual events leveraging the power of video conferencing to bring together young professionals in the Midwest, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. We have held events that range from structured trainings, such as presenting in a virtual environment, to very informal networking opportunities and discussions like our monthly “Adventure, Brunch, and Citizen Diplomacy” event. Through these events, we have been able to connect Chicago young professionals with WorldChicago alumni and current fellows based abroad (who we hope to meet in person soon, whenever travel is safe!).   

What are other ways WorldChicago involves youth in international exchanges, programming, and other activities? 

ML: WorldChicago’s youth programming is an integral part of our mission work. The youth, especially those in their key developmental years, such as teenagers and college students, allow for WorldChicago to make a difference today AND a difference for tomorrow. For instance, our Youth Diplomats program, a nine-month Chicago based experiential learning opportunity which empowers teens to be active global citizens, is created through an intentional and prosocial approach to fuse communities, schools, organizations, government, peer groups, and families. This powerful relationship promotes a role of resiliency for the youth and gives them the language, access, and skills to take part in the world as a global citizen and become an important voice for making the world a more peaceful place. 

What were some of your most memorable experiences (including projects, events, etc.) working with board leadership? 

MB: Helping with the relaunch of the Young Professionals Group was incredibly exciting and has been a great opportunity to grow closer with staff and members of the leadership team that are also young professionals. Recently, we held our first in-person event after months of virtual programming which was special to engage with previous members of the Young Professionals Group and hear about their experiences hosting when exchanges were in person, as well as meeting YPs who were new to Chicago and the WorldChicago organization that had become engaged in a fully virtual environment. 

What skills and lessons have you taken from your time on the income development board committee into the rest of your career? 

MB: My time on the committee has helped me better understand WorldChicago’s long term and strategic goals. It has been incredibly interesting to hear the conversations that are happening at the board level so I can better understand how the YPGs contribute to those goals. Furthermore, I have learned a lot about the role everyday citizens can play in diplomacy and forging cross-border understanding by connecting with WorldChicago alumni and reading applications for future exchanges. More generally, I have also gained leadership and public speaking skills that have been very useful to me in both my career and volunteer life. The experience working with WorldChicago has been incredibly rich and believe I have received so much out of my involvement personally and professionally. 

How has this experience influenced your own perspective on citizen diplomacy? 

MB: I have had the chance to connect with many passionate young professionals in Chicago and abroad during my time at WorldChicago. It has solidified my desire to continue to play a role in person-to-person engagement in the future. I have witnessed how citizen diplomacy plays an important role in efforts to build a more peaceful and engaged world—the more we learn about our counterparts in other countries, the more informed we are at home, the better we can participate in both local and global society.