Diplomacy in Action

The disheartening and tragic events of January 6, 2021, illuminated the fact that democracy is fragile, even here in the United States. Our country has long been a model that so many countries around the world aspire to emulate: the strength of our constitution, separate but equal branches of government, our free and fair elections are a few examples of the valued institutions that have withstood the test of time.

We, and many throughout the world, are grateful that our democratic institutions were strong enough to withstand a sustained onslaught of misinformation campaigns and a violent uprising. Our government remains intact and a peaceful transition of power is underway. Yet, this event did highlight an important point: democracy is a system that requires work, attention, the engagement of an informed citizenry, as well as transparency and accountability. “We the people” rings hollow without representation by and accountability to a nation’s citizens.

Through the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, the World Trade Center Northern California has hosted countless international delegations for open discussions about our democratic institutions, governance, and the importance of civic engagement. Located in Sacramento, the seat of state government, our organization is uniquely qualified to arrange professional meetings between visitors and federal, state, and local officials, educators, students, and activists. Our aim is to strengthen diplomatic ties and provide insight into policies and practices that can be replicated on a global scale.

The Gold Rush region is aptly home to a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and hospitality for our international visitors. Representatives from state agencies graciously meet to discuss their roles in preventing campaign fraud and government waste. Local election boards conduct tours of their facilities to showcase transparency in the elections process, from sorting and counting ballots to confirming voter registration. Community organizers share information about the various programs that engage young people in the civic process, creating life-long voters and empowering the leaders and bridge-builders of tomorrow.

Reflecting on these types of exchanges illustrates the strength of our systems and the extensive number of checks and balances we have in the U.S. They solidify to our international partners, and to our own citizens, that democracy is at work every day. While the politicians at a state or federal house may receive the most attention, it is the people who are the most important part of the process – the coordinators and volunteers at a polling location, the community organizers registering new voters, the auditors examining campaign expense reports, young people learning how to amplify their voices to impact policy change – this is democracy in action.

Democracy requires transparency and accountability to the people and engagement by the people, and achieving true democracy is a work-in-progress. We are honored to be part of that important work and to share our experiences with the world.

Learn more about our international exchange programs.

Expanding Global Connections for Young Leaders

On July 13, we launched Global Connections, an international leadership and diplomacy program for high school and college students. The goal of the 4-week virtual program is to provide students with leadership and communication skills by connecting them with international experts for engaging and informative discussions on important global topics. The program also offers insight into various international career options and expands the students’ personal and professional networks around the world.

The past two weeks were a time for relationship building, learning, and exploration. During meetings with international emerging leaders, the students engaged in conversation around important global issues and expanded their knowledge of current affairs. Many of the guest speakers included former participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. State Department’s premier citizen diplomacy and exchange program. Conversations were open and informal, allowing students the opportunity to learn about and discuss different approaches to addressing worldwide challenges such as climate change, global health, women’s issues, and COVID-19.

Participating students came from across the United States (and one from Kenya!) and are an inspiring and accomplished cohort. Involved in numerous extracurricular clubs and volunteer activities, the students were also busy this summer with new hobbies such as coding, cake decorating, and painting. Many speak more than one language, including Thai, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, and French.

The cohort included:
  • Annika Bjork, Rio Americano High School, 12th grade, Sacramento, CA
  • Savannah Bornheim, Pittsford Sutherland High School, 11th grade, Pittsford, NY
  • Samantha Butler, Oak Ridge High School, 11th grade, El Dorado Hills, CA
  • Jayesh Damaraju, Pittsford Sutherland High School, 11th grade, Barrington, IL
  • Lily Ergodan, Pennsbury High School, 10th grade, Fairless Hills, PA
  • Angelina Escobar, Modesto High School, 10th grade, Modesto, CA
  • Cooper Guggenhime, Crystal Springs Uplands School, 11th grade, Hillsborough, CA
  • Virginia Hernandez, The Westminster Schools, 10th grade, Atlanta, GA
  • Benjamin Liu, Memorial Senior High School, recent graduate, Houston, TX
  • Beth Solomon, Rio Americano High School, 12th grade, Sacramento, CA
  • Tomas Maravilla, Johansen High School, 12th grade, Modesto, CA
  • Haley Mattoch, Oak Ridge High School, 11th grade, El Dorado Hills, CA
  • Patrick Mooney, Georgetown University, Sophomore, Washington, DC
  • Kaleemah Muttaqi, UC Davis, recent graduate, Sacramento, CA
  • Charles Onyango, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, 4th year, Kakamega, Kenya
  • Evan Pearson, UC Davis, junior, Davis, CA
  • Abigail Portnoy, East Brunswick High School, 12th grade, East Brunswick, NJ
  • Kory Rosen, Grinnell College, first year, New Jersey
  • Ashely Salas, UC Irvine, recent graduate, Los Angeles, CA
  • Sergio Maravilla, UC Davis, 4th year, Davis, CA

So far my experience in the Global Communications program has been filled with engaging discussions, in-depth learning, and camaraderie. Through this program, I have learned so much about many paramount global issues and how countries work together to find solutions. We’ve had webinars on journalism, environmentalism, and healthcare (so far). Within the program, I’ve also been able to connect with other students–high school and college level– and share our perspectives on current issues today such as human rights and climate change. It’s engaging and inspiring to be able to discuss such relevant and mature topics among other youth. Our supervisor, Kim Todd, has also made the program very enjoyable and encourages everyone to engage in discussions, thus leading to not only stronger connections between the participants but deeper understandings as well. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks will teach me!”

Samantha Butler, Oak Ridge High School, El Dorado Hills, CA