Amy Potthast first wrote about the British Council’s event and because I live in the nation’s capital, where the event was held, I had the good fortune of attending.
Admittedly, I was still reeling from Michelle Obama’s visit to CNCS — so the British Council event was yet another highlight on my calendar which made that week unforgettable, to say the least.
An impressive crowd gathered—approximately 50 attendants—at the Rayburn House Office Building for what was absolutely a lovely affair. Lovely is not a word I usually use to describe a professional engagement, but I think this word comes to mind because of my British, or as I say, Bree-teesh, bias. Yes, I’m a sap for their accents and covet their seemingly inborn urbane manner.
Prior to the event, I was only loosely familiar with the work of the British Council—the United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities—so the occasion was enlightening on several fronts.
The event was held to:
(1) Celebrate the launch of their book, Volunteering: Global Citizenship in Action.
(2) Develop partnerships between the British Council and Peace Corps, and to generate greater awareness of the British Council and its work
(3) Draw attention to Trans-Atlantic Network 20/20—an initiative where rising American professionals are paired with their European counterparts to create cross-cultural understanding, and to address global challenges by generating dialogue and ideas.
After being warmly greeted by several British Council staff members, I had the pleasure of conversing with the genial Professor Mike Hardy, head of the British Council’s Intercultural Dialogue Programme, where he mentioned the passage of the Serve America Act and how excited he was about it. During our conversation and several times that evening, he proudly stated that he would never forget that day because, “The bill was signed three days before my birthday!” His enthusiasm for the Act and its far-reaching implications for citizen service, in America, across the Atlantic and beyond, was incredibly contagious.
Professor Hardy opened the event, followed by remarks from Jody Olsen, Acting Director of the Peace Corps and Marc Hanson, Legislative Assistant to Representative Sam Farr (who was unable to attend the event). Olsen and Farr, both Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, referenced their Peace Corps service and expressed the benefits of and continued need for cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.
A current of palpable energy infused the room, I think entering through Professor Hardy. His fervent passion for the future of global service spread like a wildfire. As a result, following the speakers’ remarks, attendees representing Peace Corps, Volunteer Service Organisation, Brookings Institution and many other pre-eminent volunteer and service advocate organizations, engaged in lively conversations about how their respective organizations can collaborate on projects or co-ordinate their efforts to increase global action and citizenship to bring about the social changes we’re all working diligently to achieve.
Thus, it’s fitting that in President Barack Obama’s December 5, 2007, Call to Serve, he states:
“To restore America’s standing, I will call on our greatest resource not our bombs, guns or dollars—I will call upon our people…We will double the size of the Peace Corps by its 50th Anniversary in 2011. And we will reach out to other nations to engage their young people in similar programs, so that we work side by side to take on the common challenges that confront all humanity.”
The British Council has been reaching out to other nations for 75 years and the nature of their deeds speaks to their firm belief that the foundation of any collaborative impact begins with genuine dialogue and mutual understanding. Thereby, setting the stage for effective change.
America, with its increased focus on service, is aptly positioned to take its global outreach efforts to another level. I’m no prognosticator, but feel certain that partnering with the British Council is one of the many strategies we’ll use to make that happen.