Now More than Ever

World Learning CEO Donald Steinberg

San Francisco

[Remarks as Prepared]

Good evening. I’m Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning, and it’s my pleasure to kick off this evening’s program with a few words of welcome. It is great to be in San Francisco – then again, with 14 inches of snow on the ground in Vermont, it is great to be any place else.

San Francisco has become a third home to World Learning, in addition to Brattleboro and Washington, DC. We have often held board meetings here; we launched our flagship Advancing Leaders Fellowship here; and we have a number of current and former board members, a half dozen members of our Global Advisory Council, and a large contingent of dedicated alums here. Equally important, the Bay Area has always epitomized the diversity, cross-cultural communications, and international perspective that is at the root of World Learning’s global mission.

One theme of this evening’s program is “Now More Than Ever.” At a time of historic uncertainty in our country and beyond, the mission of World Learning to empower a new generation of global citizens to build peace, social justice and inclusive societies has never been more important. Indeed, we’re all using the phrase, “now more than ever” now more than ever. 

World Learning began as an idea of Donald Watt in 1930 to respond to growing international tensions, the rise of authoritarianism in Europe, military rearmament and protectionist trade policies. Sound familiar? Four score and seven years ago, Dr. Watt brought forth upon this world a new Experiment, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. Gee, the guy grows a beard and suddenly he thinks he’s Abraham Lincoln.

Dr. Watt had the audacious belief that direct contact on a people-to-people basis could counteract these dangerous global trends and that the world could learn to live together by living together. And thus was born the notion of international homestays, community service, language studies and value-based experiential learning.

Today we face similar challenges: xenophobia, isolationism, racial and religious intolerance, sexism, economic inequality between and within nations, and now we throw terrorist threats into the mix.

As committed global citizens, we cannot afford to give into to despair and inaction. And if you’re looking for a channel to fight against these trends, if you’re seeking a conduit to turn your concern into action, consider World Learning.

If you want to build international peace, work with us. We are training peacebuilders in Vermont, Nepal, Rwanda and beyond in conflict transformation, mediation practices, and post-conflict reconstruction at our Graduate Institute. It is no coincidence that four Nobel Peace laureates in the last two decades alone have roots in our programs:

  • Jody Williams, who led a global movement to ban landmines, attributes much of her success in grass-roots organizing to what she learned at SIT.
  • Wangari Maathai, who brought together women in her native Kenya and throughout Africa to protect the environment and promote civil society through the Green Belt movement, served on our board.
  • Yemeni journalist and women’s rights advocate Tawakkol Karman got her first international experience through a World Learning in-bound exchange program. 
  • Kailish Satyarthi developed his techniques to fight for children’s rights in India while working with the faculty at our Graduate Institute.

If you want to fight international terrorism, work with us. We are training 90,000 teachers in Pakistan to build a literacy system for 3 million children to provide a quality secular alternative to the radical and dangerous ideologies of the madrassas. And our schools are open to girls.

When we first decided to pursue education programs in Pakistan, my Board of Trustees was understandably concerned over security and other threats that might arise. I went out and bought 25 copies of the book, I Am Malala, about the young girl was shot in the head for daring to attend school in Pakistan. I sent each Trustee a copy and urged them to read it before making a decision on the program. To their credit, support for our program was unanimous.

If you worry about American youth surrendering to isolationism and xenophobic ignorance, work with us. We send thousands of American high school and undergraduate students to more than 60 nations each year through The Experiment in International Living and the SIT Study Abroad program, after which they can no longer look at foreign people with fear and trepidation.    

And work with us to build bridges to bring to the United States a flood of international visitors to watch American democracy in action, including Cuban and Mexican high school students, Iraqi teachers, Iranian climate change experts, and Israeli and Palestinian early education specialists together. 

If you fear that our country will backtrack on our commitment to diversity and inclusion, work with us.  World Learning recently brought together a dozen civil society organizations with annual budgets totaling $3 billion to prepare a “Global Call to Action on Disability Inclusion,” including groups from across the political spectrum.  

The manifesto has been shared with key policy makers at the White House, United Nations, World Bank, and beyond, and a U.S. government director of disabilities recently called it the most significant, practical guide to international disability inclusion she has seen. This agenda has a special meaning for me, as I was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but never forget that 1 billion people in the world have physical or mental disabilities, and unless we are taking full advantage of their skills and talents, we leave a tremendous resource on the table.

Finally, if you’re concerned about the refugee crisis, work with us. We are helping 320 communities in Lebanon that are welcoming hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Our programs are expanding schools, social services, and dispute settlement mechanisms, as well as psycho-social support to children whose have already seen a lifetime of tragedy.

This January, we welcome to our campus in Brattleboro five Global Scholars forced to flee violence in their countries. They are each working on masters degree in sustainable development, peacebuilding and conflict transformation, or international education under full scholarships. One fled the aftermath in the Congo of the Rwandan genocide; another, the ethnic cleansing in Darfur. The others are refugees from Uganda, Syria and Yemen – and they have all pledged to use their education to help rebuild their countries once the fighting is over. 

And no, it is not true that the gentleman from Syria, when faced with the prospects of spending the winter in Vermont, said, “My goodness, haven’t we suffered enough?” Okay, yes, he did say it, but he didn’t really mean it…

Normally at this point in the program, we introduce a group of 20-somethings who have just completed their Experiment, Study Abroad, or masters degree programs to reflect on their experiences. Instead, tonight I am pleased to welcome three remarkable change leaders who did their World Learning programs in the 1980's and 1990’s – and have had time to reflect fully the impact of their experiences. 

You have their full biographic sketches in your programs, so I will simply introduce:

  • Amy Logan, former Experiment participant and group leader, Global Advisory Council member, and award-winning women’s rights activist;
  • Brandon Lee, former Experimenter, SIT Graduate Institute alum, and founder of Training for Transformation; and
  • Jennifer Dulski, SIT Study Abroad participant, Global Advisory Council , and president of Change.Org, the world’s largest platform for social change with 175 million members

Many thanks again for your participation in this program this evening, and I am please to welcome to the podium Amy Logan. 

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