By Natalia Kunzer, Open World Program Officer at Rotary International, and Claudia Urbano, Rotary Service & Engagement staff
If your Rotary club is in the United States and is looking for service opportunities, there is a terrific program available to you: the Open World Program. Operated by the Congressional Office for International Leadership (COIL), an independent U.S. federal agency, this is a special program available to Rotary clubs in the United States through a grant secured by Rotary International. Designed to give emerging Eurasian leaders a firsthand look at the U.S. political system, business environment, and community life, the program aims to forge bonds of friendship and promote understanding by opening up new avenues of dialogue between U.S. political and civic leaders and a new generation of Eurasian leaders.
Rotary clubs have hosted nearly 12 percent of all 30,000 Open World participants throughout the past 23 years. Rotary International is proudly continuing its relationship with the COIL and serves as a local hosting organization with Rotary clubs serving as local hosts for Open World Program delegations.
The program allows American leaders, including Rotary club members, and their counterparts from the following participating countries to engage in meaningful and unfiltered dialogue: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
The program has resumed its in-person programs this year, and it offers the following benefits to hosting Rotary clubs:
It gives hosting clubs and communities a broader perspective of the world
“Our communities, both Rotary clubs and the Honolulu community at large, benefitted from learning about Ukrainian culture, people, practices, medical facilities, and standards and, of course, the invasion of their country by Russia” says Past District Governor Winton Schoneman, reflecting on their host experience. “To be honest with you, few of us knew much about Ukraine. It has inspired us to learn and know more and then to advocate and take action.”
Rotary clubs receive media and community recognition
“In hosting the delegates, the club received a good deal of recognition – both via media (press release and social media posts) as well as in working with local businesses and schools,” says Rotary Coordinator Rachel Tolber, from Redlands Sunrise Rotary Club, about the club’s participation in the program.
Educational institutions are exposed to diverse ideas
The organizations participating in the program can benefit from sharing perspectives, thoughts, and practices. Likewise, they can generate exchange opportunities for educators and students.
Hosts gain international understanding and establish lasting friendships
Hosts spent a good deal of time interacting with the delegates and program facilitator. According to host family member Jimmy Bacca, “much social discourse these days focuses on the real or unreal differences among us and sows mistrust, closed-mindedness, discrimination, and hatred. Open World allows people to meet others from another part of the world and demonstrates what we all share in common. We all enjoyed learning about another culture and recognized how many similarities there truly are between us. I believe many of us made lifelong friends.”
Be a host
In anticipation of its 24th year, the Open World Program has developed a robust plan for local programs to be hosted in 2023. Is your Rotary club interested in hosting six Open World participants (emerging and/or current Eurasian leaders) for eight days, and willing to develop an intensive week of programs based on a selected Open World theme? If yes, fill out the Host Registration Form and email it to OpenWorld@rotary.org by Monday, 3 October 2022.
Find out more about the Open World Program by visiting www.rotary.org/rotary-clubs or by sending a message to the email address above.
The Open World Program was originally established as a Library of Congress–administered pilot project in 1999 to give emerging Eurasian leaders firsthand exposure to the American system of democracy through visits to local governments and communities in the United States. Today the program focuses primarily on developing a network of leaders who understand how American communities deal with contemporary issues and who want to maintain contact with their new American contacts and other counterparts.