Exchange Matters / July 8, 2024

Strengthening Democracy Through Exchange

Compiled by Kathryn Lakin, Communications Intern

Through exchanges like the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) the Global Ties Network connects U.S. and international counterparts to promote democratic values, strengthen civic engagement, and create a peaceful and more prosperous world for all. Recent programming connected leaders from across the world with U.S. government and human rights experts to discuss strategies for ensuring accountability, equality, and open communication. From exploring the need for civil rights advocacy and government transparency in Minnesota and Iowa to the role of media and electronic communications in Colorado and Missouri, read on to discover how citizen diplomacy shapes democracy. 

Global Minnesota 

IVLP: Human and Civil Rights for Marginalized Communities  
NPA: IIE 

By Karen Baumgaertner, Professional Exchanges Manager   

In January of 2024, Global Minnesota hosted a group of human and civil rights advocates from the Middle East and North Africa. The leaders’ program started with a City Opening led by staff from Global Minnesota and the University of Minnesota. In addition to sharing the IVLP schedule with the visitors, the city opening provided a safe space for additional dialogue on human rights in Minnesota. Global Minnesota hoped that by discussing local topics affecting our community, such as Native American relations and the murder of George Floyd, the visitors might have deeper and more mutually satisfying conversations with local experts. 

Šišóka Dúta presents sweet grass to an indigenous visitor.

The first professional meeting was with Šišóka Dúta, a Native American leader who is revitalizing the Dakota language. Šišóka presented the visitors with a gift of sweet grass, a sacred plant for the Dakota people, and introduced them to a prayer in Dakota. The group discussed the importance of native language and culture to human rights.  

Since the IVLP project coincided with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Global Minnesota organized a community service activity for the group. Specifically, the visitors baked pies with Sweet Potato Comfort Pie . President and Founder Rose McGee said, “The visitors were surprised by the ‘sweet potato pie’ and why it was so powerful in our community. It was fun to see them enjoy eating the pie…even the ones that were over cooked. One gentleman said he preferred the darker ones, because it reminds him of how his grandmother used to cook.” 

These pies, one for every year since Dr. King’s birthday, are given to community members who are healing racial relations in Minnesota. The visitors were given an opportunity to gift two pies as well. 

Rose McGee makes sweet potato pies for MLK Day with IVLP visitors.

Rose continued, “Experiencing pie-baking was very engaging for them, but the public program left them amazed by how it all comes together for the good of the community.” The visitors even had an opportunity to speak at the MLK celebration and meet choir members visiting from South Africa. 

In addition to visiting with local organizations including Advocates for Human Rights, CLUES, Islamic Resource Group, Mapping Prejudice and Indigenous Roots, the IVLP leaders visited George Floyd Square with a local guide.  

Many international guests request a visit to the location where Floyd was murdered in 2020, but do not realize it is an active protest location and entirely outdoors. After explaining the realities of the visit—in Minnesota, in January—our foreign visitors still asked to visit the site in -14 F (-10 C) weather.  Despite the cold weather, the visitors were moved by the experience and appreciated the opportunity to learn more from guide Georgio Wright, a neighbor of George Floyd’s.  

At the end of the visit, the IVLP visitors decided to give sweet potato pies to Šišóka Dúta, the Dakota educator, and Georgio Wright, their George Floyd guide; a fitting ending to an incredible human and civil rights visit in Minnesota.  

Global Ties Iowa 

IVLP: Transparency and Accountability in Government 
NPA: Meridian International 

By Hannah Huisman, International Programs Manager 

The Iowa International Center welcomed a delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo May 4-9, 2024, for an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) titled “Transparency and Accountability in Government,” in partnership with Meridian International Center.  

The delegates visited multiple state and local agencies dedicated to maintaining transparency in government and election data. Their first day included a visit to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, where visitors and staff connected over ensuring fair campaign and election results. They also enjoyed a visit to the Iowa Judicial Building and spoke with Justice Matthew McDermott about Iowa’s court system. Later, the visitors went to the Capitol Building to meet with the Auditor of State’s Office, to discuss how the State of Iowa protects against financial mismanagement on a state and local level. 

Visitors at the Iowa Judicial Building with Justice Matthew McDermott.

Day two began with a visit to the Office of the Chief Information Officer, where visitors and staff discussed the various tools available to citizens to monitor state financial activity. In the afternoon, they traveled to Adel, Iowa, to visit with the Dallas County Auditor’s Office and see firsthand how elections are managed and votes are counted at the county level. The day concluded with a meeting with the Iowa Freedom of Information Council to discuss the role of a nonprofit organization in ensuring Iowa’s government remains transparent and trustworthy.  

In addition to the professional visits, the delegates also had the opportunity to experience Iowa’s culture. The visitors joined local Iowans for home host dinners, which one host described as one of his “all-time favorite dinners.” The group also traveled to nearby Milburn, Iowa, where they visited a local corn, soybean, and Christmas tree farm. Some of the visitors, having a background in agriculture, enjoyed discussing the differences in agricultural techniques between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iowa. The international visitors truly left a lasting impression on our community.  

WorldDenver 

IVLP: Diversity in the Newsroom 

By Keira Chandler, Mission Support Coordinator 

In May 2024, WorldDenver—alongside World Learning—was honored to welcome five Indigenous and Afro-Colombian Women for a “Diversity in the Newsroom” International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) that aimed to highlight the importance of inclusive news coverage and the intersections among racial justice, peace & democracy, and the press. 

As a city with a high population of Spanish speakers, Denver has a number of amazing resources that aim to fill the gaps in our news system. During the international visitors’ time here, they toured a local newsroom, visited an abolition garden, and had meaningful conversations on the successes and challenges of diversifying the news.  

Visitors speak with Sydonné Blake and Huệ Helen Nguyễn in the Abolition Garden

One such conversation took the visitors down an unconventional garden path. Hosted by Sydonné Blake and her colleague, Huệ Helen Nguyễn, the visitors were warmly welcomed to the Abolition Garden with a picnic of hibiscus tea and local treats. The garden serves as a place of healing, love, and protest for marginalized voices. During this meeting, Sydonné discussed her creation of the Youth Media Hub and the group worked through the importance of storytelling for individuals of all ages, but particularly youth. 

Visitors also met with local publication Denver Urban Spectrum, whose mission is “to educate, inform, and enlighten by spreading the news about people of color.” The conversation included how the publication selects stories to publish and how the visitors can increase representation back home in Colombia. Participants also brainstormed how to center diverse voices as technology and society advances. Denver Urban Spectrum’s time with the visitors was so meaningful that they are working on an article to recognize the important work of these women. 

Upon the conclusion of the visitors’ time in Denver, it was clear they had left an impact on the community. This project was a perfect example of why these exchanges matter. Both parties were able to learn from one other and leave the meetings with new approaches to put into their work. These conversations will transcend the 90-minute meeting time to change the future of news around the world. 

Global Ties KC 

IVLP: Digital Government: Advancing Information Communication Technology for Democracy  

By Niyati Sethi, Program Associate 

From May 8-11, 2024, Global Ties KC welcomed one of the first International Visitor Leadership Programs from Libya in many years. Objectives of the program included illustrating the U.S. policy framework for advancing democracy and civic engagement in the digital age and showcasing the multi-sector public partnerships that have been key to e-government, digital inclusion, and technology advancements in the United States.  

Visitors at the Google fiber office in Kansas City, MO.

The group included the Libyan Minister of Communications and Political Affairs, Walid Ellafi. He was joined by six advisors and members of his network, who were invited to the United States to explore information communication technology’s important role in Kansas City and in a functioning democracy. While in Kansas City, the delegation met with Google Fiber, the UMKC Cybersecurity Center, the KC Election Board, the Mid-America Regional Council, DEPO-KC, and Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw. The group also participated in the Global Ties KC annual Heartland Pop-Up. This came on the heels of their visit to Washington, DC, to meet with organizations such as the Federal Communications Commission.

While many U.S. citizens still associate Libya with the Gaddafi-led dictatorship toppled in 2011, Libya has taken steps to democratize. Programs such as IVLP reinforce the value of relationship-building between leaders in Libya and the United States, and the impact that comes from professional exchanges. On their visit to the United States, these leaders participated in discussions on the importance of free speech and its role in a functioning democracy; election administration; and digital transformation, including digital community engagement, digital infrastructure, and cybersecurity.  

The visitors left the United States with a better understanding of information communication technology, and more importantly, an understanding of values and structures important in fanning the flame of a growing democracy.