Publication Date: June 24, 2022
Publication Location: Washington, DC
Contact: Abby Henson   |   communications@worldlearning.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – World Learning, a global organization that advances peace through education, development, and exchange, celebrated its 90th anniversary on June 23 with a reception at the downtown museum Planet Word.

On June 23, 1932, sociologist Donald Watt launched World Learning’s flagship program, The Experiment in International Living, which focuses on intercultural exchange. This program led to the establishment of both School for International Training (SIT) and World Learning. The anniversary’s theme, “One World, Learning,” highlights how the organization’s distinct yet interconnected branches work to create a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world.

“We are all here to celebrate an organization that has made such a huge difference in our lives and the lives of lots of other people around the world. It has been a force for good and for peace for 90 years,” said Ann Friedman, an educator, conservationist, and philanthropist who participated in the Experiment as a student and group leader and served on World Learning’s board of trustees.

World Learning CEO Carol Jenkins and Board Chair Lawrence Cooley welcomed more than 100 guests at the museum, which was founded by Friedman in 2020.

“With each year, my belief in World Learning’s work to solve our time’s most pressing problems grows ever greater. We serve individuals around the world, in fragile and conflict areas, with different cultures, policies, governments, ideologies, resources, and risks,” said Jenkins. “Addressing complex issues through a framework of human connections and education is an effective and powerful way to make lasting change.”

Lee Satterfield, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department, was also a featured speaker. Both Satterfield and Cooley noted that exchange programs are often born from conflict.

“Public diplomacy, through people-to-people exchanges, is more important now than ever, as our world continues to evolve and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing threats of the climate crisis, the current war in Ukraine, and threats against democracy,” Satterfield said. “Program participants and alumni are confronting these issues head-on and are real leaders in their communities. We need these informed citizen diplomats to fight for change and build a more stable and prosperous world.”

Satterfield specifically noted World Learning’s Digital Communications Network, citing it as one of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ “flagship projects to counter disinformation and build healthy, resilient communities.”

“The network’s superpower is bringing organizations and governments together around this shared goal,” she said.

World Learning began with Watt’s modest vision – that people could learn to live together by living together. He promoted peace through intercultural understanding by taking young Americans abroad to live with and learn from people of other cultures.

“I think it was a foresighted notion that somehow he knew that the world was either going to grow together or grow apart, and he was going to do his part to see that it grew together,” Cooley said. “He saw that somehow it is harder to hate people that you really know. And if you really put the extra effort in seeing the humanity in another person, there are possibilities that open up that just wouldn’t be there.”

Cooley also highlighted several milestones throughout World Learning’s history in his remarks but concluded with a reflection on today’s world.

“I think we’re in a situation where polarization is poison, where people think the worst possible things about the other. But if we are going to find our way through this, we need organizations as well as individuals that are willing to lead. And I can’t think of one that’s positioned themselves better to do so than World Learning,” he said.

Today there are more than 130,000 Experiment and SIT alumni. They include SIT Graduate Institute alumna Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines. World Learning Trustee Wangari Maathai won the prize in 2004 as the founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement. The founder of SIT’s CONTACT peacebuilding program was recognized by the Dalai Lama, and World Learning and SIT are currently partnering with a national refugee resettlement organization to house and teach Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban regime.

World Learning is based in both Vermont and Washington, D.C., and works in more than 150 countries worldwide. The Washington, D.C., event was one of several planned this year to commemorate the organization’s anniversary. Prior to the speakers, attendees toured Planet Word’s exhibits which aim to explore cultures and show how language has shaped the world.

“If The Experiment had taught me anything, it was that interaction with others and using words and language in authentic situations could help build bridges and create empathy. Those were the tools that could bring people closer and develop understanding across cultures,” Friedman said.

World Learning Inc. is a thriving global organization made up of World Learning, a global development and exchange nonprofit organization, The Experiment in International Living, the nation’s most experienced provider of intercultural exchange programs abroad and virtual for high school students; and School for International Training, offering accredited undergraduate study abroad programs through SIT Study Abroad, including the comparative International Honors Program, and internationally focused master’s degrees, certificate programs, and a doctorate through SIT Graduate Institute. The organization is now in its 90th year delivering international education, cultural exchanges, and sustainable development. For more information, visit worldlearning.org.