Exchange Matters / June 24, 2020

The Leadership Corner: April-June 2020

Dear Global Ties Network members,

A month ago, author Kelly Corrigan was on PBS NewsHour and offered her perspective on how to recast our thinking about the enduring COVID-19 crisis. Corrgian’s contribution was perfect. “Sometimes,” she said, “when I feel outmatched by something in front of me, I do a mental exercise: I tell myself the story of what happened as if it’s over, and I nailed it.” So she told herself “the story of the Pandemic of 2020, and how we nailed it.”

I couldn’t help but apply that thought exercise to the tremendous Global Ties Network. At first, it was a shock. As the virus spread, international exchange programs were postponed for 60 days as international air travel was discouraged, or outright grounded. We struggled with the short-term impact a lack of visitors would have on the sustainability of our organizations, our teams, and the businesses and resources we rely on.

All the while, we began to face the devastating reality of the virus itself. We lost friends, family, and fellow U.S. citizens who had changed our society in profoundly important ways. We applauded our teachers and healthcare workers, and redefined what being “essential” meant. We took care of our families, friends, and teams. And we re-adjusted, again and again, our operations and programs as the pandemic dragged on well past 60 days.

In nearly 100 cities across the country, we connected with our volunteers and resources through substantive online programs, which encouraged new dialogues on shared challenges. As you saw on the cover, we partnered with local organizations that manufacture surgical masks, that support the homeless, that support refugees, that feed and nourish those who felt the most severe economic effects of the pandemic. We re-invested in our communities, demonstrating the enduring U.S. values of volunteerism and philanthropy.

Our Network also became more of a community. We shared best practices on how to access relief funding and how to fundraise. We forced each other to get creative to think about the sustainability of our work. We found ways to communicate more than ever before. Global Ties Network members across the country started to log in to each other’s programs to support and learn from one another. (As one example, more than a dozen members nationwide joined forces on a WorldQuest global trivia tournament!).

We found ways not just for our missions to continue, but to make them even more impactful. As the pandemic endured, we re-invented the tactics for international exchanges and, as a result, we strengthened their transformative effects. We began to adapt — or to accelerate adapting to — virtual exchange programs with the promise that one day we would also get to come together again in person. We found new ways to connect with international alumni and the future leaders of the world on the myriad of issues that the pandemic laid bare, including the need to improve global health policy, institutional reform, and civil and human rights.

We helped to inspire new generations of leaders and alliances that we needed to help the United States and our world recover, and to emerge more peaceful and more prosperous. And we nailed it.



Katherine Brown, Ph.D.