By Gail Shrott, Executive Director
When I arrived for my first day at GlobalPittsburgh, then called the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, I had no idea that 33 years later I would feel so strongly about the organization’s mission and the incredible Global Ties Network with which it affiliates. As I reflect on my career with the organization, I have a deep appreciation for the colleagues, volunteers, and regional community leaders who believe so strongly in the value of exchange programs and create opportunities to share ideas with people from around the world, forging relationships spanning continents. Working with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and other U.S. Department of State exchange programs has been a life-changing experience that afforded me opportunities to work with creative and committed people from National Program Agencies and the U.S. Department of State. Working with my counterparts at other Community-Based Member organizations (CBMs) and with the staff at Global Ties U.S. has presented me with many opportunities to share, learn, and laugh with others in a mission-driven work environment.
I was fortunate to have learned to design and implement programming for international professionals at a time when there was no other option but in-person exchanges. During my tenure at GlobalPittsburgh, the world has experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the end of the apartheid system in South Africa, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so much more.
I have marveled at the U.S. Department of State’s responses to profound changes in the world by developing exchange programs to bring emerging leaders from countries in transition to the United States for programs like “Business for Russia” and its successor program, “Community Connections.” In 1994, our organization worked with our counterparts in cities like Cincinnati, Louisville, and Philadelphia, among others, in the pilot project for Business for Russia through which we hosted 23 Russian business people in month-long homestays and business placements. That learning experience helped our organization develop the capability to arrange 25 training programs for professionals predominantly from Ukraine and Russia between 1996 and 2004, and enabled Pittsburgh-based professionals (including me!) to participate in reverse exchanges to Ukraine.
Each exchange opportunity leads to another. Our organization has participated in youth exchanges for Iraq, and training programs for entrepreneurs and young leaders from countries in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Southeast Asia, Eurasia, and Saudi Arabia, among others. The impact of these exchange opportunities has been profound; ongoing linkages have been developed, friendships fostered and nurtured, cultural preconceptions shattered or revised, and more than a few people have savored new foods from around the world.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated that our Network pivot to virtual exchanges. Once again, I marveled at the U.S. Department of State’s leadership in supporting the training of members of our Network, including through its Forward Planning Working Group, which helped the Network pivot back to the safe implementation of in-person exchanges. I am proud to have been a member of the Forward Planning Working Group and to have helped develop guidelines to ensure the community programming that I value will continue and thrive. I feel that there is a bright future for exchanges and that the Global Ties Network will continue to play an important role in promoting citizen diplomacy and bringing a more inclusive group of community members to participate in exchanges.
I will always value the opportunities that were offered to me through my work at GlobalPittsburgh and my participation in the Global Ties Network. Thank you, and I hope to see many of you again.