Washington, DC - A delegation of emerging Russian women leaders is visiting Kalamazoo and Portage, MI, from June 29 to July 7, 2002, on the U.S. Congress-sponsored Open World Program. Managed by the Center for Russian Leadership Development at the Library of Congress, the Open World Program brings young Russian political and civic leaders to communities across the United States for in-depth exposure to American democratic and economic institutions. Open World is the only exchange program housed in the U.S. legislative branch. Senator Carl Levin (MI) represents the U.S. Senate on the board of trustees that oversees the Center and its Open World Program.
"Women as Leaders" is the theme of the Russian group visiting the Kalamazoo area. The five-person delegation includes a director of a library consortium in Bashkortostan (a republic in the southern Urals and adjoining lowlands); a representative of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organization; an executive with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Krasnoyarsk (a territory in Asian Russia that stretches from the Arctic Ocean to southern Siberia), and an NGO executive from Khabarovsk (a territory bordering China and the Pacific).
The Center has awarded a grant to the Academy for Educational Development (AED) to administer this and similar exchanges in 2002. AED is an independent nonprofit organization with expertise in education, social marketing, research, training, policy analysis and innovative program design and management. AED's Kalamazoo-based partner, Colleagues International, Inc., has arranged the Russian delegation's professional program, accommodations in private homes, meals, local transportation, and cultural activities. The local contact for the delegates' Kalamazoo/Portage schedule is Colleagues International Director Jennifer Lang, Tel: 616-341-9494, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Colleagues International's office is located in the Kalamazoo Chamber Building, 346 W. Michigan Avenue.
Highlights of the Russian delegation's Kalamazoo schedule include participating in a round table on women's leadership with former State Representative and Kalamazoo resident Mary Brown, Portage City Councilmember Betty Lee Ongley, Kalamazoo City Commissioner Linda Teeter, and Healthy Futures Director Rebekah Fennell; discussing city government with top city officials; attending a meeting of the Kalamazoo City Commission; and meeting with representatives of the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce and the Volunteer Center for Greater Kalamazoo.
Highlights of the group's July 3 Portage schedule include participating in a round table with Portage city leaders (during which Councilmember Ongley will brief delegates on the council's functions) and attending a meeting of the Portage City Council.
A trip to Lansing to tour the State Capitol is also planned. Rotary clubs in both Kalamazoo and Portage will host the delegation at luncheon meetings. (Rotary International has been involved with hosting Open World delegations since the program's inception.)
The Open World Program aims to foster understanding between the United States and the Russian Federation and to assist Russia's democratic and economic reforms. Up to 2,500 Russian leaders will participate in Open World this year. More than 4,000 Open World visitors from all 89 Russian regions have been hosted in 49 states since the program began in 1999. Participants are drawn from a wide range of political parties and ethnic groups, and about a third are women-a high percentage compared to typical Soviet-era exchanges. There was a similar program with West Germany under the Marshall Plan after World War II, which helped that country's transition to democracy.
Librarian of Congress and Russia expert James H. Billington, whose vision of a program for young Russian leaders inspired Congress to initiate the Open World Program and who chairs the Center's Board of Trustees, said recently, "Now is an especially important time for Americans to reach out to the Russian leaders participating in Open World. People-to-people diplomacy at the local level can definitely reinforce the new partnership that seems to be developing between our two great nations."
Before traveling to Kalamazoo, the Russian delegates visited Washington, DC, for briefings at the Library of Congress. The nonprofit American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS is handling the logistics of the Russians' visit on behalf of Open World.