The Open World Leadership Center administers the Open World program, one of the most effective U.S. exchange programs with post-Soviet countries. Begun as a pilot program in 1999 and established as a permanent entity in late 2000, the Center is the first and only international exchange agency in the U.S. Legislative Branch. Through Open World, more than 19,000 current and future leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have meaningfully engaged and interacted with Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and thousands of other Americans, many the direct professional counterparts of these Eurasian leaders.
Open World both supports Congressional outreach to Eurasia and conducts 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 Open World countries are important to U.S. strategic interests, many also have growing economies with important opportunities for foreign investment and trade. 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 Americans across the country.
Delegations consist of political and civic leaders selected through a competitive vetting process. Open World has always focused on recruiting leaders who came of age in the post-Soviet era—a goal that was reemphasized in 2011, when the program launched an initiative to have 30 percent of each year’s delegates be younger than 36.
While in the United States, delegates take part in tailored, in-depth exchanges 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, and provide opportunities for the delegates to share their expertise with their U.S. counterparts and host communities.
Since its 1999 inception, the Center has awarded hosting 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 the end of 2011, some 800 local host organizations—including universities and community colleges, Rotary clubs and other service organizations, sister-city associations, local government agencies, 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 6,700 American families have hosted participants in 2,000 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 Open World’s appropriation is plowed back into the American economy every year. The program benefits not only the Eurasian participants, but also the individuals, organizations, and communities across the United States that are involved in the exchanges.