Why the Upstate Needs a World Affairs CouncilSeptember 19, 2016
Business in the Upstate has been globally influenced as far back as the 1700s, but now it’s more important than ever that global connection and competitiveness are top of mind.
During our participation in the Global Cities Initiative, the Upstate SC Alliance conducted a market assessment that’s being used to guide Upstate export and FDI strategies. The assessment revealed greater need for global awareness among community leaders, a change that could be achieved with access to training and resources such as those provided by the recently established World Affairs Council of the Upstate (WACU).
Why a World Affairs Council?
The Upstate is already home to a non-profit organization, Upstate International, with roots back to 1997, whose mission is to empower people and businesses of all nationalities to thrive in the Upstate by connecting them through programs, events and initiatives – a program that’s been valued by foreign-owned enterprise employees and their families who make the Upstate home.
When our market assessment noted the need to raise awareness among Upstate residents and businesses for global engagement, the creation of a World Affairs Council of the Upstate seemed like an appropriate vehicle, and Upstate International an appropriate home.
Upstate International became an affiliate of World Affairs Councils of America (WACA) in March. Director Tracie Frese says research shows that when businesses come to a community, they’re more likely to stay if their leaders can engage at the highest levels.
As the Regional Export plan notes, top-level trade representatives like consuls and ambassadors have bypassed the Upstate during South Carolina visits because of a lack of organized infrastructure to host them. Now, as part of the national WACA network, not only can the Upstate welcome delegates more efficiently, but high-caliber global leaders can include the Upstate on a circuit of cities with Charleston, Charlotte and Atlanta, significantly increasing our access.
Other South Carolina regions have benefited from these connections for some time.
There are 92 groups in the national network, with more than 1,200 events that attract more than 500,000 members and participants each year. South Carolina is already home to several WACA affiliates:
- World Affairs Council of Charleston formerly the Charleston Foreign Affairs Forum) was founded in the early 1980s.
- The Columbia World Affairs Council was founded in 1993.
- World Affairs Council Hilton Head was incorporated in 2004, the evolution of the small Foreign Affairs Seminar group that had been meeting at the library since 1981.
What does WACU do?
Each chapter’s activities tend to reflect the flavor of the place where they are founded, but certain activities can be expected from all affiliates. Speakers series, group visits, and education are key. WACA, though heavily focused on political issues, is nonpartisan.
The Charlotte World affairs council is an example of a business oriented group, and often brings in heads of major organizations. Columbia’s activities include happy hours and ethnic restaurants, while Hilton Head offers audio recordings as far back as 2011.
Influential and interesting people already visit already the Upstate, but visitors through WACU are more accessible to the public. They go deeper into the community, lecturing at places like community colleges and other public venues.
What do members experience?
Think tanks, foundations, publishing companies, and government agencies are all part of the network. In addition to seeing speakers locally, WACU members can attend the national conference for chance to build relationships and network with other internationally-connected colleagues and experts. Monthly conference calls on varying topics also offer direct access. One recent topic was “The Party Conventions & the Presidential Election” with Former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle.
As local volunteers, WACU members can interact with guests by helping arrange meetings and shuttling them from one place to another.
Travel opportunities are also available. On the list of destinations this year are Cuba, France, Tanzania and Qatar. During WACA Leadership Missions, groups of 10 people learn about a location or international organization and meet with experts in economics, education and defense, as well as people in media, think tanks, and foundations. They visit foreign ministries and the local U.S. embassies as well.
How can you join?
Joining Upstate International makes you an automatic member of the WACU, and is a great way to get the benefits of cultural connections in the Upstate and the international WACA platform.
WACU also still has a few spots left on the volunteer steering committee for next year to support the nuts and bolts of developing the program.
Local programming kicks off this month with a focus on Canada, the Upstate’s biggest trade partner. On Sept. 30, the Consul General of Canada, Louise Blais, will present in a joint event with Clemson University on the theme of SC – Canada Relations in Innovation and Trade. The Consul General will be accompanied by her Senior Trade Commissioner, Georges Lemieux.
See more details and events at the Upstate International website.
For more about how the Upstate builds business through global ties, read about our connection to Belgium through the Sister Cities program.