International Visitors Leadership Program. What I Did in the United States

And an overview of what I did in the trip

The program is called ‘International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP)’ that, according to a description provided by the State Department which hosts it, “seeks to build mutual understanding between the United States and other nations through carefully designed professional visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.” There are many specialized programs under the IVLP banner. Let me complete the introduction of IVLP. “These visits reflect the visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the U.S. government,” states the same description paper.

“Each year over 4,500 IVLP participants from all over the world are selected by U.S. embassies to travel to the U.S. to meet and confer with their professional [American] counterparts. Over 225 current and former heads of government and state and many other distinguished world leaders in the public an private sectors have participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program [that was] launched in 1940.” So, does this means I have the chance to become the head of government (or even the State by then, who knows) in future? Just kidding..

I mentioned earlier that there are specialized programs under IVLP banner. I was invited to take part in an IVLP project entitled “Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists” which was administered by Delphi International Program of World Learning, a private sector company that works with the U.S. Department of State, from April 3-21, 2006. “This is what is called public-private sector partnership,” said someone associated with the State Department on the relationship with Delphi. “We create the plan and objectives of the program and they organize it on our behalf.”

Indeed, that was a wonderful example of the public private partnership: state funding some parts of the program and where as the private sector contributing the state’s goal by organizing programs. Universities organized seminars and discussions (in our case, the University of Southern California) and newspapers welcomed visiting reporters in their offices. (In my case LA Daily News in Los Angeles). Those meetings and seminars were interactive and revealing. Especially our visit to the newspapers office and press of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (in Milwaukee) were very informative.

What were the objectives of the program? The Department of State, states the same program paper, has outlined the following specific objectives of the project:

1. Examine the rights and responsibilities of a free press in a democracy;

2. Observe operational practices, standards and institutions of the media in the U.S.;

3. Gain insight into the social, economic and political structures of the U.S.; and

4. Participate in academic seminars and a professional development symposium highlighting current trends and challenges in the media profession.

There were 129 journalists from 105 countries. They were divided into several groups like South Asian, South East Asian, English Speaking African, Arabic Speaking African (I am not sure about the last one but there were others like Arabic Speaking Europeans etc.) I think there were about 8 such groups (who cares about the number of groups by the way) and they were assigned to different cities separately or combined. For instance, the South Asian, South East Asian and English Speaking Africans went to Los Angeles and participated in seminars and discussions organized by the Annenberg School of Communication in University of Southern California. At times they were divided into smaller groups.

We also visited offices of different media organizations (job shadowing which I did for Los Angeles Daily News in San Fernando Valley). After spending a week in LA, the South Asians went to Wisconsin (Milwaukee and Madison) where as others went to other different cities.

We visited mosque and church in the city of Milwaukee where Harley Davidson is headquartered. We visited the Municipal office and interacted with officials. We visited the state capitol in Madison and talked to two senate members from Democratic and Republican parties. We also visited private house where a wonderful group of musicians organized a live show for us.

All groups came together in Washington D.C. in 21st April to take part in an international symposium organized by the Aspen Institute. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice also addressed the meeting and responded queries filed by journalists on behalf of each group. Indian journalist on behalf of South Asia asked a question about the then political situation in Nepal.

On a critical note, I think, they could have let us stay in less expensive hotels (or university facilities) so that we could have made our stay more interactive. To be honest, informal meetings that I did on my personal capacity were more fruitful and interesting than some of the formal programs and schedules. It would be even better if the organizers let the visitors spend more time on their own.