Exploring economic development in Alaska through the Open World program

By Natalia Kunzer, Open World Program Officer

In May, I had the opportunity to observe an Open World Program prepared by the Rotary clubs of Homer-Kachemak Bay and Anchorage International in Alaska. Clubs hosted a Russian delegation of six participants for an eight-day program focused on “Regional Economic Development with emphasis on Sustainable Fishery and Tourism.” Visitors were nominated by Rotary clubs of Far East Russia, which helped rekindle a long-established relationship between Rotary in Alaska and Far East Russia.

The visitors began their trip in Washington, D.C., where they spent a day and met with Mr. Larry Burton, Chief of Staff for Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan. The delegation was impressed by the U.S. government’s openness and dedication to their people.

In Homer, visitors were introduced to the mission and community improvement activities led by the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay. Delegates expressed keen interest in Rotary and were genuinely surprised by the number and size of projects local Rotarians have undertaken. The local clubs support schools and students and fundraise significant amounts of money to remodel the Homer History Museum among many other projects. Open World delegate Oleg Ivanov, a member of the Rotary Club of Chita (Eastern Russia), has been inspired by the work of Rotarians and is planning to increase activity of his club back at home. Other delegates also made plans to work with local Rotary clubs more closely once they returned back home. Overall, participants were fascinated by Rotary’s role in promoting dialogue, mutual understanding and friendship in the international community. Now, after the program, most of participants are visiting local Rotary clubs on a regular basis.

Rotarians in both Homer and Anchorage prepared robust programs for the delegation that showcased the tourism industry, entrepreneurial venues and collaboration between the nonprofit, government and private sectors. The importance of working together on economic growth, sustainability and protection of the environment was emphasized at every meeting.

The group visited an oyster farm, explored challenges of farm keeping and environment preservation, and toured the Port of Homer where they saw fish dock and high-capacity ice planting. They learned about the key role the Port of Homer played in supporting the regional economic drivers of fishing and tourism, and received their first understandings of Federal and Alaska fisheries sustainability regulations.

The delegation was impressed at the ease of reaching out and meeting local officials. Mr. Seaton is a fisherman and educator, who served on the Special Committee on Fisheries and on the Commerce, Community & Economic Development subcommittee while a member of the Alaska Legislature. Mr. Seaton’s background in Alaska’s governance and as approach to regional development and sustainable fishing provided valuable insights to the delegation.

Delegates met with the Executive Director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and received information on how Homer promotes regional tourism by using fishing and the area’s natural beauty to attract visitors. Delegates were able to relate to this strategy and saw parallels where it could be applied in their communities back home.

Meeting with local entrepreneur Mrs. Kate Mitchell, Founder and Matriarch of NOMAR, a company that makes unique products catered to Alaska’s assets and needs. Mrs. Mitchell demonstrated that initiative, persistence and hard work leads to success. Delegates toured the NOMAR facility and were very curious about the process of how materials for products were researched.

Gatherings with hosts and local community members were very lively. Visitors and hosts regularly exchanged stories about their hometowns, work and families. It seemed as if old friends gathered together rather than strangers meeting for the first time.

The Open World Program, operated by the Open World Leadership Center, an independent U.S. federal agency, is a special program available to Rotary clubs in the United States through a grant secured by Rotary International.

Rotary International serves as a national hosting organization, with Rotary clubs serving as local hosts for Open World delegations. RI is able to reimburse clubs for many of their hosting expenses through Open World grants. Learn more about hosting an Open World Delegation.

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