By Selina Tran
Engagement with international visitors does not have to end when visitors return home. The seeds of international understanding planted during programs can and do blossom into strong cross cultural connections between people and nations. The Office of Alumni Affairs in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) plays a key role in making sure those seeds grow. The Office of Alumni Affairs has been dedicated to engaging alumni of international exchange programs for the last 10 years, and under their new director, Karen Robblee, they will continue to engage alumni groups organized by embassy posts all over the world as the number of alumni associations grow and alumni continue to impact their local communities.
The Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF), which offers teams of alumni small grants to carry out public service projects, is one way the Office of Alumni Affairs empowers international visitors to use the skills and knowledge gained from an exchange program after they return home. The story of Ricardo Vanella is just one example of the partnerships between IVLP Alumni Associations that flourish and touch many lives, both in the U.S. and abroad, beyond the immediate participants in programs.
Ricardo Vanella, President of the Argentine-American Network for Leadership (REAL), an alumni association, has worked hard to collaborate with his own community as well as the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Vanella was an IVLP participant who visited Ohio with the support of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs surrounding the topic of agribusiness.
In 2011, REAL won the State Department’s AEIF competition and was able to bring together members of the community as well as others under one cause. Partnering with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), IVLP Alumni Network of the Americas (IANA), fellow IVLPs, several companies, and officials of the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, REAL was able to design an agenda surrounding the topic of agribusiness and the food industry. With the sponsorship of Agropharma, a major Argentine Veterinary laboratory and El Bahinese, a leading argentine operator of food ingredients, REAL was able to put on two events: the “Conference on Innovation, Applied Science, and Technology in the Food Industry” on September 27, 2012, and “Argentina and the United States, Key Players for World Food” on October 10, 2012; both were held in Buenos Aires.
These events were organized with the participation of REAL members, the Science and Technology Park of the University of Buenos Aires, and the University Austral Agribusiness Center. The U.S. Embassy of Argentina also made their agricultural, commercial, technology, and environment counselor available to REAL. With the participation of USAID and top specialists from Argentina, the United States, Italy, and Chile, the two events resulted in a great impact on the community and Argentine media. From the seed planted in Mr. Vanella’s initial trip came a mighty oak of cross-cultural cooperation and enrichment.
Commenting on his efforts within the past year, Ricardo Vanella said “this has been the confirmation of what we talked in Ohio: the bilateral approach will bring concrete benefits to both U.S. and Argentine people.
The kickoff has been given, in an industry that can unite us because we share common interests and the ability to create extraordinary synergies with global impact. The moral of this story is clear, our countries can make a lot working together, both economically and geopolitically. REAL members are working for such a goal and maybe in some time we’ll be back meeting again with institutions and producers from Ohio, and most probably also from other U.S. states, thanks to the great NCIV network.” ✯