Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress and Founding Chair of the Open World Board of Trustees
"Since 1999, Open World has brought more than 17,000 young leaders to the United States from the countries of Eurasia. Through Open World, mayors, legislators, judges, civil servants, educators and entrepreneurs from across the former Soviet Union have come to know the real America. And whether the ideas they take home are practical, such as publishing city council meeting times in the local paper, or more abstract, such as understanding the importance of judicial impartiality to the rule of law, the net effect of Open World is to strengthen the democratic process in their countries."
The Open World Leadership Center administers the Open World program, one of the most effective U.S. exchange programs for countries of the post-Soviet era. Begun as a pilot program in 1999 and established as a permanent agency in late 2000, the Center conducts the first and only international exchange agency in the U.S. Legislative Branch and, as such, has enabled more than 17,000 current and future leaders from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to meaningfully engage and interact with Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and thousands of other Americans, many of whom are the delegates’ direct professional counterparts.
The Open World program focuses both on assisting the Congress in its oversight responsibilities and on conducting exchanges that establish lasting professional relationships between the up-and-coming leaders of Open World countries and Americans dedicated to showcasing U.S. values and democratic institutions. While all the countries of the Open World program are strategically important to the interests of the U.S. government, many also have growing economies where opportunities for foreign investment and trade increase yearly. Program results include new Congressional and other legislative relationships, and foreign partnerships with American government officials, jurists, nongovernmental organizations, universities, and sister cities. In this way, Open World supports the Eurasian-related interests, projects, and partnerships of American citizens around the country.
Open World delegations consist of committed leaders (average age 38) who experience in-depth programming in themes of interest to Congress and of transnational impact, including human-trafficking prevention, government and court transparency, nuclear nonproliferation, and environmental protection. Most Open World hosting programs examine the role that legislative bodies play in these issues and in democracies.
Since its 1999 inception, the Center has awarded grants to 61 organizations headquartered in 25 different states and the District of Columbia. These grantee organizations host delegations themselves or award subgrants to local host organizations to do so. By 2010, almost 800 local host organizations—including universities and community colleges, Rotary clubs and other service organizations, sister-city associations, and international visitor councils and other nonprofits in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—had conducted Open World exchanges for the Center. Some 6,500 American families have hosted participants in more than 1,900 communities around the country.
Open World offers an extraordinary “bang for the buck” in terms of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and value. The Center boasts an overhead rate of about 7 percent, every grant contains cost-shared elements, and more than 75 percent of our appropriation is plowed back into the American economy every year. The Center might best be described as both a mini-stimulus plan as well as a true international exchange program.