About Open World
The Open World Leadership Center administers the first and only international exchange agency in the U.S. Legislative Branch that is completely controlled by Congress. In 1999, Congress authorized the creation of Open World as a Legislative Branch agency that offers bipartisan support to Members of Congress in creating cultural exchanges for Eurasian leaders to witness democracy building in action. The founders of Open World were united in the belief that widespread, direct contact between American leaders and those of other nations would greatly benefit all involved. Since then, Open World has expanded its reach to over twenty countries. With Congressional vision and leadership, Open World continues to be one of the most important U.S. exchange programs with post-Soviet countries. The program is a long-term investment in U.S. relations with Eurasia and is a demonstrably a cost effective tool of public diplomacy and Congress.
Open World and Congress
Open World supports bipartisan Congressional outreach to Eurasia. Our independence from the priorities of any presidential administration is an important asset for the program and has allowed it to continue exchanges with Russia. Aimed at establishing mutually beneficial relationships between future leaders of other nations, Open World is a value-added program that permits practical and depoliticized options for engagement.
Open World’s Programs and Countries
Open World’s work in Russia, Ukraine, and other Eurasian countries supports the rising post-Soviet generation’s desire for rule of law, less corruption, and more accountability of elected officials. Open World has brought over 26,000 current and future leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to the United States. All Open World participants have engaged and interacted with Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and thousands of other Americans, many the direct professional counterparts of these Eurasian leaders.
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 30.
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, Open World awarded 61 hosting grants to organizations headquartered in 25 different states and the District of Columbia. These grantee organizations host delegations themselves or award sub-grants to local host organizations to do so. By the end of 2016, over 600 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. Over 8,000 American families have hosted participants in 2,400-plus communities around the country.
Additional 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.
Open World alumni have made tremendous accomplishments in their respective countries. Alumni results include the creation of foster care systems for orphans, promoted healthy lifestyles for young and old alike, improved case management in courts, opened city council meetings to the public, founded hospices, increased services to disabled citizens, veterans with PTSD, trafficking victims and many others, and continue to advance in their careers.