Exchange Matters / January 13, 2021

Recommitting to Exchanges in 2021

By Jacqueline Miller, Chair of the Global Ties U.S. Board of Directors and President and CEO of the World Affairs Council – Seattle

After a tumultuous and tragic 2020, like many of you, I had been eagerly waiting to turn the page to the new year with a sense of optimism. Just six days in, that optimism was challenged with the insurrection in Washington, DC and, on the same day, then-record U.S. deaths from COVID-19. But amidst the pictures and stories that made our hearts sink so early in the new year, we’ve already seen resilience.

The U.S. Congress worked until the early morning hours to fulfill their obligation, no longer just ceremonial, to confirm the election of a new president. Our allies voiced their confidence in the strength of  U.S. democratic institutions. Politicians from both sides of the aisle condemned the attack on U.S. values and processes. And members of our exchange network, of which we [the World Affairs Council – Seattle] are a part, and which is dedicated to supporting global exchanges and the benefits that these exchanges accrue to us individually and collectively, responded with eloquence and passion, recommitting all of us to our missions to promote dialogue, learning, and understanding.  

Our exchange Network has never been more important. And thanks to support from Global Ties U.S. and the U.S. Department of State, we’ve also been able to show our resilience and our nimbleness as our Network of Community-Based Members (CBMs) and National Program Agencies (NPAs) had to completely rewrite how exchanges are carried out. It is my privilege to support Katherine Brown and her team in my new role as board chair of Global Ties U.S. as they work to strengthen this impressive and vital Network. This year had been planned as a celebration of six decades of impact – and it still will be, but how we celebrate will be much different than we anticipated early in 2020. 

Personally and professionally, this is a meaningful Network. I have seen terrific camaraderie among the CBMs as we come together in frequent, informal Zoom sessions to compare best practices, boost each other up, and ask for help, which is always readily given. NPAs and CBMs together have navigated the challenges of the pandemic, working with the Office of International Visitors (OIV) at the U.S. Department of State and Global Ties U.S. to rapidly and successfully implement virtual exchanges. And although I so miss being able to welcome international visitors to Seattle and our citizen diplomats miss breaking bread with our visitors from around the world, it will be some months before it is safe to once again implement in-person exchanges. In the meantime, we will be busy planning the first all-virtual national conference and finding ways big and small to celebrate 60 years of making connections that build a more prosperous world.