Ten Year Anniversary Series: Cincinnatians make global local

In 2018, global geopolitics has become a hot button issue for many Americans. From immigration to trade deals, people in our country have strong opinions about international relations. According to 2018 Gallup polls, more than seven in ten Americans agree that the U.S. should play a leading or major role in trying to solve international problems. But where do Cincinnatians turn for up-to-date and accurate information about global affairs?


In 2008, Soapbox reported on the World View radio show on FM 89.3 (WMKV), which sought to be exactly this kind of resource for curious Cincinnatians. The program ran on Sunday evenings and was facilitated by host Pat Niskode, with the mission of reporting on global news with a local flair. The program no longer airs on WMKV but, as part of our continuing Ten Year Anniversary Series, Soapbox explores how the Cincinnati landscape of international exchange and education has changed in the past decade, and what resources exist today to keep Cincinnatians plugged in to an increasingly globalized world.


Though World View no longer exists, dozens of Cincinnati nonprofits continue to work at the intersections of global issues and local affairs. For James Buchanan, Director of Xavier University’s Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, this intersection has been his main focus for 16 years. “We live in a globalized and globalizing world, no matter how nationalistic we may try to be,” says Buchanan. “To be against globalization is like being against air.”


Under his leadership, the Brueggman Center and the related Foreign Policy Leadership Council of Greater Cincinnati host a regular speaking series and dinner event at the University Club of Cincinnati. The series has featured high-profile speakers and experts, including Madeline Albright, the first female United States Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, and former CIA and NSA Director, General Michael Hayden. The events are designed to stimulate dialogue between the speakers and attendees.


“What we’re trying to do is help people see the relevance of foreign policy initiatives for those of us that live in the Midwest,” says Buchanan.

Kim Harp, REDI Cincinnati, World Affairs Council Advisory (right) and Catharina Toltzis, UN Consultant, World Affairs Council past board president.

Like the Brueggman Center, the World Affairs Council is also helping to fill the gap in global education for local citizens. As their executive director Michelle Harpenau explains, “World Affairs Council is an international nonprofit focused on cultural awareness and international understanding.”


The council works towards this mission in a few different ways, including educational outreach from kindergarten through the university level, an international visitors exchange program, and a foreign affairs event series called Global Chatter. This event series is free, ongoing, and open to the public, and past topics have included everything from Chinese geopolitics to global health.


“Our angle is always global but local,” says Harpenau.


Both organizations not only facilitate public events to promote intercultural awareness, they also foster person-to-person international exchange. Through the Brueggeman Center’s Winter-Cohen Family Fellowship program, eight to ten university students each year are funded to travel abroad for two to nine months and study another culture, conducting hands-on research and bringing their findings back to the local community. To date, students have visited more than 61 countries around the world. The Brueggeman Center also regularly welcomes international visitors, having hosted people from upwards of 121 different countries.

Attendees mingling at China's Geopolitics event.

The World Affairs Council is actively involved in fostering what Harpenau refers to as “people-to-people diplomacy.” Each year, the council receives 250 or more international visitors on an exchange program through U.S. State Deptartment, with the goal of building global ties to the region. These visitors are typically professionals such as engineers and lawyers, and they are introduced to Cincinnati via meeting with nonprofits, civic organizations, and businesses with international interests including Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati and The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.


Visitors not only have opportunity to learn about commerce and politics while visiting the Queen City, they meet regular Cincinnatians through informal social opportunities. The council offers a home visitation program, in which locals have a traveler over for dinner, share a meal, and talk about life in the U.S.


The efforts of World Affairs Council and the Brueggeman Center are just a small piece of the larger effort to bring greater international consciousness to the Cincinnati region. International companies based in Cincinnati encourage the exchange of international workers, and Cincinnati also boasts a strong network of specialized business chambers that promote strategic international business relationships, including the European American Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and the Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA. Organizations such as the Sister Cities program help to strengthen Cincinnati’s ties to the world and aid in the creation of mutual understanding amongst local governments. Cincinnati has nine sister cities scattered around the world including Liuzhou, China; Munich, Germany; and Mysore, India.


Taken together, these organizations are creating a lively dialogue and opportunities for Cincinnatians to plug in to the global conversation. But both Harpenau and Buchanan agree there is more work to do.


“We aren’t out of business because there is still a gap within people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world,” says Harpenau.


“People don’t have a deep understanding of the complexities of [international] issues,” explains Buchanan. “What we try to do for those that are interested is bring people in that can unpack those complexities.”


For more exposure to international happenings, check out the World Affairs Council culture guides and their up-to-date events calendar, which covers a broad range of local events with a global focus.



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Read more articles by Kamal Kimball.

Kamal Kimball is a freelance writer and co-founder of Ampersand Creative Services.