Cities Leading the Way: 2018 Annual Conference

Roger-Mark De Souza with Attendees

from Roger-Mark De Souza

Dear Fellow Citizen Diplomats,

I have just returned to D.C. from Aurora for our 2018 Annual Conference, “Cities Leading the Way.” We had more than 500 attendees, including the students who attended our Youth Leadership Summit. For those of you who came, I cannot thank you enough for sharing with me the experience of my first Annual Conference. I hope you all learned a lot and, most of all, had fun with your Sister City counterparts from around the world. I invite attendees to take our post-conference survey to share your feedback. We want to hear from you!

For those of you who were unable to join us, let me share with you just a few of the wonderful things that went on in Aurora:

The Future of Sister Cities: NextGens and the Silk Road

The Women Entrepreneur Panel
Photos by Michael Chansley Photography,

This year, we brought an extra full day of conference sessions to our members in two concentrated tracks: our NextGen/Entrepreneurship track and our Silk Road track. The NextGen/Entrepreneurship track explored several fascinating topics, ranging from women’s leadership in the private sector to the power of sports diplomacy—all from a Sister Cities perspective. Attendees also gained insight into how entrepreneurs can play key parts in the growth of Sister City programs.

The Silk Road track featured several high-level speakers including Former Ambassador John O’ Keefe who provided an overview on the Silk Road region and how the area will expand in the coming years. Grassroots level speakers from our network discussed the work they are already doing in the region and how other programs can get in on the action! Our Thursday keynote speaker, Derran Moss of the United Nations, spoke to us about global communities and cultural exchange. To read his remarks, please visit the conference resources page on our website.

Continuing Traditions and Changing for the Future

Julián Castro Gives Remarks at the Opening Ceremony
Photos by Michael Chansley Photography,

On Friday, we commenced with our traditional Opening Ceremony and Parade of Flags. Flags from Sister Cities members were put on display in front of all conference attendees against the backdrop of Aurora City Hall. Our speakers, Lt. Governor of Colorado Donna Lynne, Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare, Colorado 6th Congressional District Representative Mike Coffman, and Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro all spoke to attendees about the importance of Sister Cities in bridging connections and stepping up to the plate locally in order to address international issues. We also honored the life of former Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, for his dedication to the city of Aurora and to Sister Cities.

As we returned to the conference center to commence with our Smarter Cities track, experts from all over the world shared how Sister Cities can contribute to the modernization of their local communities. Sessions covered the nuts and bolts of successful Sister City models for mountain cities, the Smarter Cities initiative in India, and the positive impact of migration on U.S. cities. Our keynote speaker on Friday, John Thon Majok of the Wilson Center reminded us that we need to turn to each other in times or crisis, and in so doing we build community resilience. You can find his remarks on our Conference Resources page.

We were also honored to welcome our 11 new Board Members to Sister Cities International’s Board of Directors at the end of our Annual Business Meeting. Congratulations to Edmund Adams, Sheri Capehart, Alix Desulme, Shin Koyamada, Roger Lawrence, Ginger Moxey, Carolina Rendeiro, Helene Schneider, Christine Warnke, Polly Yu, and our Young Professional Candidate Courtney Bennett.

Networking on Nuts and Bolts, and Saying Thank You and Goodbye

How To Roundtables
Photos by Michael Chansley Photography,

In our final day of Cities Leading the Way, our members were able to network and brainstorm during several roundtable opportunities. Select Country and Regional Representatives shared current opportunities and programs internationally, while State Representatives and other members got into the nitty-gritty of how to strengthen local Sister City programs. Attendees walked away with real how-to experience on jump-starting stalled programs, hospitality, organizing a diplomatic mission to D.C. Our Saturday fast track sessions also gave Sister City volunteers strategies for fundraising, giving presentations, working with other local organizations, and more.

We wrapped up our conference sessions with a presentation from this year’s Youth Leadership Summit attendees, who shared with us the results of their diplomatic simulation on refugees and what they most enjoyed about their experience in Aurora.

Finally, we thanked everyone for coming at our Annual Dinner and Gala, where we gave out Best Overall Annual Awards, our Corporate Citizen Diplomacy Award to Union Pacific Railroad, the State Representative Distinguished Service Award to Larry Uebner, the Ruth Hashimoto Award to Kathleen Roche-Tansey, President’s Awards with a special award to our own Adam Kaplan for more than 10 years of service to SCI, and our Chairman’s Awards. We also thanked Chairman Tim Quigley for his service with a farewell video, and welcomed our new chair, Ron Nirenberg to give remarks on Tim and share his vision for the future of Sister Cities International.

The gala ended with a rousing performance from the Sister Cities jazz ensemble, recreated from Musical Bridges Around the World’s International Jazz Festival earlier this year and incorporating the steel pan from Trinidad and Tobago. The night ended with 500 of us dancing in a conga line and attendees danced together to a variety of international music before saying goodbye. What rich content, networking, and fun!

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I could not have asked for a better first conference experience. Thank you! I hope you found it as informative and fun as I did. I invite you again to provide your feedback on this year’s conference by taking our post-conference survey.

I also look forward to seeing you next year in Houston, Texas! To register at our special early-bird rate, please send your information to [email protected].

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