|Academician Dmitriy Sergeyevich Likhachev (left) and Dr. James H. Billington discuss Open World in 1999.|
In April 1999, Librarian of Congress and noted Russia expert James H. Billington shared his vision for a large-scale U.S.-Russia leadership exchange in talks with Members of Congress. A bipartisan, bicameral effort led by Sen. Ted Stevens (AK) made this vision a reality within weeks. Congress authorized Open World as a Library of Congress–administered pilot project that May, and in July 1999 the first delegations of Russian political and civic leaders began arriving in the United States.
In December 2000, Congress set up a separate legislative branch agency to conduct the program, which had already hosted some 3,500 Russians in 48 states. What is now the Open World Leadership Center opened its doors at the Library of Congress in October 2001. Also in 2001, Open World launched a specialized rule of law program through which U.S. judges host Russian jurists for targeted professional exchanges.
Legislation enacted in February 2003 made the 11 other post-Soviet states eligible for Open World exchanges, and expanded the program with Russia to include cultural leaders. The Open World Leadership Center Board of Trustees selected Lithuania, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan to pilot new exchanges, and delegations from these countries began traveling to the United States in December 2003. The program for Russian cultural leaders got under way in November 2003. In December 2004, Congress enacted legislation authorizing Open World to operate in any country.
Open World began offering specialized rule of law exchanges to Ukrainian jurists in March 2005, and welcomed its 13,000th participant in 2008.