ABOVE PHOTO: Citizen diplomacy international of Philadelphia recently hosted a group of international leaders, entrepreneurs and policy makers from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Pakistan and Taiwan. Visitors toured science and technology centers and returned home with life-changing inspiration and a hunger for knowledge. (Photos by Mauel Yepez)
Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia arranged visits for 19 entrepreneurs, leaders and policy makers who toured local science and technology centers.
They may come from disparate walks of life and live in dissimilar cultures in countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Pakistan and Taiwan, but they will return home with a common goal – to change their communities and their respective countries for the better through science and technology.
Recently, Citizen Diplomacy International of Philadelphia hosted 19 men and women entrepreneurs, leaders and policy makers as part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Citizen Diplomacy partners with the U.S. Department of State, as well as various other entities, to provide emerging foreign leaders with unique educational and cultural visits to points of interest in and around Philadelphia.
The visitors were among the roughly 1,300 participants that Citizen Diplomacy International hosts each year.
“Citizen Diplomacy prides itself on connecting Philadelphia to the world, through person-to-person interactions with business leaders and a real-world view of our city as a global community,” said Citizen Diplomacy International president and CEO Siobhan Lyons. “Our visitors gain a better understanding of the United States, returning home with fresh inspiration and ideas to further their interests and causes.”
A recent delegation was comprised of international guests with backgrounds in science and technology. During a visit to the University of Pennsylvania’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology, the group marveled at the successes and innovations at the state-of-the-art Singh Center (and likewise, in return, Singh Center program coordinator John Russell marveled at the needs and breakthroughs each guest faced in their own countries.)
Following the Singh Center visit, while traveling to the Comcast Center for lunch, a handful of visitors chanted, “Thank you, IVLP!” from their seats on the chartered bus.
A day before, the group gathered information from the DowDuPont Inc. Experimental Station, learned about U.S. government policies via the offices of U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D- Del.) and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D- Del.), and further enriched their science knowledge about life-changing technologies at the University City Science Center.
They were only halfway through their travels in Philadelphia, and the vision of Citizen Diplomacy — enabling individuals to make international connections and collaborations to further enhance educational, economic, and technological opportunities abroad, — was evident and clear.
These international leaders were ready to take on new roles – that of community influencers and world changers.
“The reason why I wanted to get involved is the huge opportunity for knowledge sharing, to enrich us with knowledge,” said Ellen Fischat, who oversees Innocircle in Cape Town, South Africa, a business whose focus on consultancy and integration helps companies take products to market. “The reason for doing this is peer learning and sharing of resources, and to be inspired and see what is happening with the high-end technology.”
Fischat summed up the IVLP and Citizen Diplomacy experience as a “knowledge expedition.”
“It’s really been my goal to create partnerships and collaboration and take back home information that can help the African continent, as far as innovation,” she said.
“I cannot describe what I have been privy to,” Fischat said of the IVLP program. “The people I’ve met, the organizations I’ve visited – it’s been really life-changing.”
Femi Oye is CEO of SME Funds in Nigeria, which provides small loans to emerging businesses.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to leave where you work and make an income. It’s about the sharing, the networking, and, of course, learning about new cultures,” Oye said. “You learn about how to solve problems from a broader perspective.”
The main thing Oye said he thinks is missing among development and advancement in the world today is being able to collaborate and partner and find alignment with various industries and technologies. Citizen Diplomacy and IVLP are helping to fill that void.
“That’s why it’s good to collaborate with Citizen Diplomacy International,” he said.
When he heads back home, Oye hopes to change the way women in his community live. He doesn’t want them to live with the respiratory and health problems like his grandmother faced from cooking with charcoal and firewood.
“Understand that we have other cultures and environments that are advanced far beyond cooking on charcoal firewood. We can understand that Africa can get to a level where we can experience cleaner, safer and better kinds of energy,” he said.
For Zimbabwe’s Mpi Ndebele, of Innovation for Africa, science and technology is a big issue in the world over.
“It’s the present and future,” he said. “For a country as mine, which is not as developed as other countries we are interacting with, I can get my horizons expanded and learn from technology and make contacts to take back and develop my country.”
The experiences through Citizen Diplomacy and IVLP had changed him already.
“No man is an island. No nation is an island,” Ndebele said. “To be able to come over and see others from other nations, it really opens my eyes. We can collaborate across borders and across seas. I can encourage people back home to have that mindset and work with others.”
The world is an increasingly smaller place, he added. The best we can do, with the aid of Citizen Diplomacy, is encourage a culture to learn from one another.
“It’s a support system,” he said. “It’s sharing of ideas across all sorts of frontiers. We make the world a richer place.”
EjaadTech co-founder Zaid Pirwani, of Pakistan said the IVLP experience is about exploring America and meeting people who are on the cutting edge of science and technology. He knew people back home that would benefit from the connections he made through the program.
“Philadelphia has been very good to us,” he said.
The visit gives an opportunity to see how America is, as everything his country sees about America focuses on the Oval Office.
“I learned a lot of different things about how America works and what it is,” Pirwani said. “It’s important for people to open up. I know many people who came to America for work, and they come back and share experiences.”
If Pirwani had not come to America through the IVLP, it would have been another decade before he made the trip alone.
“I have a different view on America than I normally would have,” he said, adding there are already many collaborative businesses between Pakistan and America, specifically in the medical field. “When I go back and help my community, I can pass things on to other people. I realize the potential in opportunities like this and making more friends and connections.”
The experience helped Pirwani have a greater understanding about America.
“It expands your horizons,” he said. “I didn’t know much about the University of Pennsylvania, and today I learned about large opportunities and that there are scientists here looking for international collaborators. There is an international aspect to technology.”
Maria Florencia Forciniti is a senior advisor on International Affairs and secretariat for Public Management and Innovation in the Ministry of Modernization in Argentina. She said the experience allowed her to get to know people who have expertise in her own field.
“We have an exchange of ideas and share knowledge in our own background in science, as well as government,” she said. “We have very similar portfolios. We are very different from different countries, but we all get to have something in common.”
She called the experience “nourishing.”
“You will get reminded that, when you are searching for some information, or if you want to work in some field, ‘Oh! I know someone in the program’ or ‘Someone I met is doing this and I can call them and collaborate,’” she said. “One of the things that surprised me is we are all very, very alike.”
For more information about Citizen Diplomacy International, visit: www.cdiphila.org.
About the International Visitor Leadership Program:
The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Each year Citizen Diplomacy International coordinates programming for over 400 IVLP participants. Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience this country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts, individuals volunteer s called “Citizen Diplomats”. Professional meetings reflect the participants’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.
Each year, Citizen Diplomacy International showcases the best of the Philadelphia region to more than 1,200 international visitors through leadership and educational exchange programs of the U.S. Department of State and the City of Philadelphia’s Sister Cities program. As a key partner in setting international relations strategy for the City, Citizen Diplomacy convenes internationally minded people to promote Philadelphia abroad and connects Philadelphia to the global economy and international best practices. We make it possible for all Philadelphians to see themselves as global citizens.