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“Since the advent of nuclear weapons, it seems clear that there is no longer any alternative to peace, if there is to be a happy and well world,” said the 34th President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954.
In the aftermath of a world war in the which the atomic bomb exhibited both mankind’s ingenuity and its capacity for self-destruction, those words could have rung hollow. But Eisenhower, whose wartime legacy culminated as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, planted seeds of peace that continue to bear fruit today.
In 1956, Eisenhower convened a White House conference on citizen diplomacy to “help build a road to an enduring peace,” and from it Sister Cities International (SCI) was born. SCI is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization intended to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation — one individual, one community at a time.
This year, the organization is celebrating its 60th anniversary and San Antonio is eager to recognize its unique role in that legacy next week. On Tuesday, June 14, community and student leaders along with national representatives will come together to support the work of SCI. We will honor five local leaders who have exemplified the mission of Sister Cities International, while underscoring the importance of youth engagement in the future of a global community.
Since its inception, SCI has played a critical role in sustaining global relationships by connecting cities through civic, educational, and cultural exchanges. We know that when citizens create diplomatic relationships that cross borders, conflict is replaced by understanding and paths toward economic partnerships.
SCI facilitates global city exchanges in four main areas: arts and culture, business and trade, youth and education, and community development. The organization connects a network of more than 2,100 communities in 145 countries.
In 2013, San Antonio hosted the 57th Annual Sister Cities Conference and welcomed visitors from all over the world to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its sister city relationship with Monterrey, Mexico, a partnership that pre-dates the formal organization of SCI. During that conference, we recognized the model efforts of San Antonio in demonstrating the importance of citizen diplomacy.
San Antonio currently has nine Sister City relationships: Monterrey, Mexico (1953); Guadalajara, Mexico (1974); Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain (1975); Gwangju, South Korea (1981); Kaohsiung, Taiwan (1981); Santa Cruz, Canary Islands, Spain (1983); Kumamoto, Japan (1987); Chennai, India (2008); and Wuxi, China (2012).
When cities work together and when communication among business and civic leaders is active and collaborative, opportunity among nations is born. You can see it happening between New Haven, Connecticut and Freetown, Sierra Leone, in a 2014 medical exchange to end the Ebola outbreak.
It’s also present in the six electronically-connected schools in Birmingham, Ala. and Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel, where students learn together and communicate weekly. It resonates here, through the walls of the Toyota manufacturing facilities that employ thousands of San Antonians, where friendship exchanges with Japan began decades ago.
As a board member of SCI, facilitating these and new relationships among global cities is an ongoing effort because cultural understanding, quite simply, creates the bridges between communities that we cross in order to make partnerships possible. In an increasingly connected world, relationships like these are critical to the health and prosperity of local communities, and each one is a measure of peace among nations.
Sister city partnerships across the country have translated into opportunities for the next generation. They inherit a world where communities are connected in real-time with a simple keystroke, so citizen diplomacy must be a shared priority.
This year, SCI youth delegates from around the globe will attend a four-day summit in Washington, D.C., teaching young people diplomatic skills to encourage peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.
Our world, particularly the nature of conflict, has changed profoundly in the six decades since President Eisenhower first paved the way for Sister Cities International. The critical role of citizen diplomacy in achieving prosperity and peace has never been clearer.
Top image: Students from the International School of the Americas visit San Antonio’s Korean sister city Gwangju to participate in a nine-day educational and cultural exchange program. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio International Relations Office.