This June (2018) I'm in a United States' on an International Visitor Leadership Program exchange scholarship. This post gives a little context about the remarkable program, diverse participants, and activities spread across the country.
Since 1948 the United States’ government has facilitated a version of this program, aligned with its other diplomacy activities (e.g. Voice of America) and to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and other nations. US State Department representatives described the target audience for the program as: rising leaders, at a pivotal moment in their career who can immediately make use of what they learn. They also emphasised the program as “the most altruistic they have”. In return for an all expenses paid exchange participants are simply invited to apply the learning, grow their networks, keep an open mind, and “pay it forward”...."it's explicitly not quid pro quo".
With more than 200,000 past participants over its 75 years or operation, including 500 heads of state, the program is unique and remarkable. Thanks to the US Consulate in Perth, Western Australia and connections through Pollinators Inc, West Tech Fest and great people including Paula Taylor, I am one of those lucky 200,000. I was invited to apply in 2017, successful and invited to join a multi-regional program focused on Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development.
Twenty-two of us met in Washington this week to commence a 3-week multi-city tour to learn and share knowledge and connections relevant to the topic. While together through Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento and Chicago, for a 3-day period we split into smaller teams and travel to different cities: Austin, Denver Detroit and Portland.
The group is absolutely diverse in location and professions, from modest fashion designers from South Africa, youth political representatives from Uganda, entrepreneurs from Jordan, incubator founders from Mongolia and policy-makers from Cyprus. From the first few days it’s evident we will likely learn from and assist each other as much as learn from US hosts and programs, though only made possible through their generosity.
The organisations and speakers we are set to visit are similarly diverse:
- Government and academics sharing overviews and insights into Federalism, policy and international aid programs
- Incubators, accelerators and investors with a focus on tech, social and international markets
- Social ventures, programs for women, minorities and programs linked to city revitalisation
Personally and professionally, this is absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and very timely. It has similarities to my 2005-6 Masters studies in Sweden with an international cohort focused on social and ecological sustainability, and is the perfect opportunity to learn more about innovation ecosystems, what a good one is, and how to grow them well (as per the sort of motivation articulated in this previous post).
It also pulls and pushes me further, to work with more responsibility and effectiveness as: a very fortunate Australian, a representative of the Australian government, leader in the startup sector, and an individual with every opportunity and reason to dedicate oneself in service to principles and ideas of benefit to humanity’s trajectory.
To learn more about IVLP: http://exchanges.state.gov/ivlp
To follow the trip on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arouthwaite