Partners of the Americas Brings a Half-Century Experience Building Lasting Partnerships to the U.S. and Cuba

Steve Vetter, President and CEO, Partners of the Americas

It was in 1964, during a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, that Partners of the Americas (Partners) was born.  As part of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, local community organizations – Partners chapters – emerged in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the majority of the 50 United States.  These grassroots organizations were the building blocks of what is today a half-century of collective work to connect people and organizations across borders, and to serve and change lives through lasting partnerships.  Because of the historical context, a local chapter in Cuba never emerged, but Partners’ commitment to the island nation is deep. Now that engagement has been facilitated by a historic bilateral vision, Partners is bringing 52 years of lessons learned to creating sustainable partnerships between the U.S. and Cuba.

Through exemplary long-term partnerships such as the Kansas-Paraguay Partners and the Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners, Partners has leveraged the good will of citizens across the Western Hemisphere to create the strategic links that provide value to communities both inside and outside the U.S. In the case of many of these links, higher education has played a central role, and in fact served as the impetus for Partners’ leadership in creating the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, a cornerstone of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative. 

The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund is a public-private collaboration of the White House, U.S. Department of State, Partners, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators that was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in January 2014. Since then, 70 Innovation Fund grants have been awarded to teams of 153 higher education institutions from 19 countries in the Western Hemisphere.

In the months following the historic announcement of the opening of U.S.-Cuba relations in December 2014, Partners leveraged support from private contributors to the Innovation Fund to support the first-ever U.S.-Cuba innovation partnership, which tookplace between Northwestern University and Universidad de las Artes. Northwestern University student Georgia Pettibone took beautiful photos during her exchange in Cuba, which can be viewed here. Two more winning partnerships have since been supported by Partners and the initiative (Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico with Seminario Evangelico de Teologia Cuba; Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico - Facultad de Derecho with Universidad de La Habana, Cuba)Northwestern University, Cuba Northwestern University, CubaNorthwestern University, Cuba 

And in 2015, Partners’ Senior Vice-President for Public-Private Partnerships and Senior Director of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, Matt Clausen, traveled to Cienfuegos, Cuba to attend Cuba TIES 2015. This four-day conference focused on three primary goals:  Foster the current debate over the sustainability of internationalization at Higher Education Institutions; Exchange criteria and find work strategies to further integrate international development in university communities; and Contribute to the professional and scientific development of university staff responsible for international relations. Matt’s time in Cuba showed him that Cuban and U.S. higher education institutions were ready to deepen their collaboration now, and that Partners had the tools and lessons learned to help make it happen.

Today, as part of President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, Partners is proud to announce – in partnership with the White House, the U.S. Department of State, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators – that we have raised more than USD $1 million to support U.S. – Cuba higher educational partnerships as part of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative.

Recognizing that increased, bidirectional student exchanges will foster a new era of relations, with generous support of $1 million from the Cuban American community, the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund will sponsor competitions in 2016 and beyond to advance student participation in entrepreneurship. Cuba-specific rounds will support bidirectional student exchanges across a wide range of areas of mutual interest, such as entrepreneurship in business and social innovation, TIC, environmental and sustainable energy, language learning, international trade and development, study abroad infrastructure, and cultural collaboration, while helping overcome decades of misperceptions and mistrust.

The new commitment to President Obama's historic initiative is already mobilizing additional support. CAF Development Bank of Latin America has agreed to expand its existing support for the President's 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative by joining the U.S. - Cuba Innovation Competition. All of this good news comes in the context of overall public and private support raised for the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which has nearly doubled over the past year and is now close to $10 million.

As we have for more than a half-century, Partners  and our thousands of committed members, volunteers, and organizations stand ready to roll up our sleeves and work together to transform the lives and communities of the peoples of the U.S. and Cuba.  After all, we do believe that partnership changes everything.

Learn about Partners' work in Cuba.