Six years ago, I, along with Melissa Golladay, Partners' then Director of Youth Exchanges, had the honor of joining an amazing group of young leaders at the VII Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Our visionary, proactive, curious, fun and high performing delegation carried the Youth Forum declaration to the foreign ministers of the Americas, reaching out and meeting nearly all of their presidents and heads of state. Together, we had the pleasure of bringing together people, governments and businesses that believe in the potential of the Americas as a positive, growing, amazing neighborhood.
Just a few weeks ago, I returned from the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama, where I spent a week with Partners of the Americas, as well as partners from the White House, U.S. Department of State, NAFSA: Association of International Educators and many others. Our mission was to celebrate and increase support for President Obama's signature educational initiative in the Western Hemisphere: 100,000 Strong in the Americas.
While there, we met with President Obama, who reiterated his support for the initiative and intention to ramp it up, acknowledging the critical importance of education and study abroad in the Western Hemisphere.
The President and our team share the same understanding: the Americas are too interconnected, destinies too intertwined,
not to have greater higher educational collaboration. Our communities, our workforces and our peace-building efforts all need deeper and broader educational partnership, and with great urgency.
President Obama launched 100,000 Strong in the Americas out of a belief that greater educational opportunity and exchange will make our region more competitive – by helping youth develop new skills, building bridges across borders and ultimately improving relations between the United States and our neighbors.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of meetings at the Summit of the Americas, as they involve several dozen presidents and prime ministers, as well as 500 university presidents and almost as many CEOs from national and multinational corporations. However, our core public-private partnership – Partners of the Americas, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the U.S. Department of State, and the White House – worked together as an amazing collaborative team.
Secretary of State John Kerry not only mentioned 100,000 Strong in the Americas, but he spoke to education first in his keynote speech, which was centered on three themes – Education, Innovation and Conservation. "The United States isn’t just continuing the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative. Guess what – we’re doubling down on that initiative. We’ve already raised millions of dollars from the private sector for the Innovation Fund, which awards grants to universities to promote study abroad and programs between the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere." View a clip here and full speech here.
President Obama joined six members of our team, together with 12 CEOs and corporate leaders, for a round table discussion on education in the Americas. On the same day that President Obama joined Cuban president Raul Castro for an historic handshake, I also had the honor of shaking the President's hand to thank him for his support for educational collaboration in the Americas.
And the President didn't just engage around education in private meetings – he challenged private sector leaders publicly at the CEO Summit, attended by leadersranging from Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) to Coca-Cola to Google, as well as the leaders of all the countries of the region. From the White House: "President Obama also encouraged the region’s business leaders to get involved in advancing the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative to prepare young people with the linguistic and cultural competencies they will need to succeed in our increasingly interconnected region. The President applauded those of his counterparts who have adopted their own national plans to increase student exchanges within the hemisphere, and urged those who have not, to do so as well."
A fantastic reception for 100,000 Strong in the Americas that we hosted with NAFSA, the White House and the State Department at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. At this reception we honored our current contributing partners as well as new commitments to the initiative, such as the government of Puerto Rico.
There will be much more to share, but I return thrilled and exhausted, and full of hope.