Citizen Diplomats Work to Strengthen Mutual Understanding and Engage Local Communities on Global Matters

Citizen diplomats working to strengthen mutual understanding, create personal connections across borders, and engage local communities on global matters.  This is work that is familiar and fundamental to those in both the Sister Cities International and the Global Ties U.S. networks.  It was a natural fit then, for these two communities to come together in a recent exchange through the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

In July, 16 mayors and city leaders from around the world gathered to explore the role that cities play in diplomacy, foreign policy, and global engagement. This IVLP exchange, implemented by World Learning, took the participants to Baltimore, Maryland and Milwaukee, Wisconsin for customized programs hosted by members of Global Ties U.S. The group then traveled to Houston, Texas to participate in the Sister Cities International Annual Conference. Through their city visits, they had an opportunity to examine models for municipal, academic, civic, and business partnerships in person. The conference complemented this by providing vast networking opportunities and discussions of trends and cutting-edge issues in city diplomacy.

While in Houston, the group attended plenary events, learning more about the mission and work of Sister Cities International. During breakout sessions, they pursued tracks that aligned with their own work at home. On Thursday, these included seminars on music festivals, sports diplomacy, and entrepreneurship. On Friday, sessions focused on content for mayors, for organizations implementing Sister Cities relationships, and for those seeking partnerships with international organizations.

Throughout the conference, the international visitors networked with their counterparts from across the United States, finding common ground in their commitment to international engagement. They were pleased to connect with Sister Cities International Board Chair and Mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, and President and CEO, Roger-Mark De Souza.  They also met with Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce for an important discussion of their work and were thrilled to attend the Annual Awards Dinner and Gala with keynote speaker President George W. Bush speaking in his hometown.

The IVLP exchange benefited from two robust citizen diplomacy networks, Sister Cities International and Global Ties U.S. At the same time, international visitors shared their perspectives, experiences, and ideas, enriching discussions about critical global issues. This kind of meaningful collaboration and exchange is at the heart of what we do as citizen diplomats and it was heartening to see it in action in Houston.