Message from the Executive Director

Message from the Executive Director

Photo of John M. O'Keefe, Executive Director, Open World Leadership Center.
John M. O'Keefe, Executive Director, Open World Leadership Center.

Before assuming his duties as Executive Director in August 2007, Ambassador O'Keefe had a long and distinguished career with the U.S. Department of State. As U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic from 2000 to 2003, O’Keefe negotiated the treaty allowing Coalition forces to establish a base there in support of operations in Afghanistan, set up an investment advisory council headed by the President of Kyrgyzstan, and worked with Kyrgyzstan’s President and Minister of Education to make university acceptance merit-based, and created an outreach program to the Muslim community. O’Keefe also served as Director of Career Development, principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Resources and as Acting Director General of the Department of State. Ambassador O’Keefe has had a distinguished career as diplomat, serving in Belgrade, Moscow, Oslo, and Kyrgyzstan, where he was the U.S. Ambassador.  While there he negotiated a security agreement with the Kyrgyz government and worked with President Akayev to make university acceptance merit based.  As Director of Career Development and then acting Director General of Department of State, he lead an effort to revise standards for professional development and promotion for Foreign Service personnel. He speaks Russian.

How does the Open World Leadership Center directly support Congressional interests? In two ways: First, many constituents are involved in service clubs and international outreach. For example, one of our best partners is Rotary international, and local Rotary clubs host our delegates, retain ties with the guests and Rotary clubs in Russia and elsewhere, and nominate participants from these countries. We link similar organization, sister cities and sister states such as Iowa and the Republic of Kosovo, and support community colleges and medical centers throughout the U.S. who wish to broaden the experience of their students and professionals.

For example, Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) wrote on behalf of former Majority Leader of the Senate, Dr. William “Bill” Frist, to arrange a program on delivery of medical services to rural areas. We arranged for 18 doctors, one half to Knoxville, one half to Memphis with the last three days in Nashville where Dr. Frist was host and guide through the Vanderbilt Medical Center.Second, we introduce to Members and their staff participants directly involved in activities of interest to Congress, and more broadly, to the U.S. A recent group of newly-elected members of the Ukraine parliament included a former soldier who was elected while serving on the front in Eastern Ukraine. He brought firsthand accounts of the challenges in confronting highly trained Russian military despite a lack of modern equipment, as well as the spirit of resistance among young Ukrainians. This practical information, that they would otherwise have not been privy to, is useful to Members and their staff.

How can a member of Congress get involved in the Open World program or request programming? Located on Capitol Hill, Open World is always available to stop by and meet with members or staff to discuss their priorities for the program and initiatives we might support. We link Members to the leaders of countries and regions they are most interested in. Members can request that a delegation be hosted in their state or district, or that we schedule an in-depth briefing by our participants. We can tailor a visit by rising leaders of countries important to U.S. policy tailored to a Member’s particular interest.

How does Open World ensure that it is a resource, an asset, and a sound investment for Congress? It’s not easy. While we have the lowest cost, and most efficient exchange program in the U.S. government, with a staff of six, we don’t always broadcast as well as we might the kind of targeted, results oriented programming we do. As an example, when Members of Congress, and of the Ukrainian Caucus in the House and the Senate, noted the very human consequences of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, we responded with a Post-traumatic Stress Disorder program with Yale Medical School ( who contributed pro bono). The result was the participants set up clinics in their region, and others brought the training they received to colleagues on the front lines. Along those same lines, the Russian Federation is waging a very successful information war. Our Board Trustees approved more delegates who are engaged in on-line response to Russian disinformation.

How do host communities help shoulder the cost burden of hosting the delegations? We have triple the number of communities requesting to be part of the program as we have slots to give them. Our host communities cover 20% of our costs, meals, transportation, cultural events. But even more than money, they show our delegates the spirit of volunteerism, the hospitality that our visitors remark is the best part of the program. Our surveys show a significant change for the better of perceptions of the U.S. Since delegates stay with families, they see the U.S. from the inside out. Priceless.

What is the future of the Open World program? Open World continues to fulfill its mission to serve Members of Congress who desire to both better inform their own foreign policy formulation, and inform other nations of U.S. values. Under the guidance of our Board of Trustees, which includes six Members of Congress, we will continue to introduce young foreign leaders to the American democratic governing systems and free market operations at every level: federal, state, and local. Open World will continue its relationship with the network of leaders it has enlisted, especially with those from countries crucial to American national security interests.