Above: Delegates from Kenya visited key U.S. cities as part of an IVLP exchange in November/December 2019.
For the last 80 years, the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) has brought thousands of professionals to the United States to cultivate relationships with their American counterparts and address a wide variety of foreign policy issues. We look at two recent trips made by Strong Cities Network members to the United States as part of the programme and their lasting impact.
Kenya – U.S.A
The first visit took place on 30 November – 11 December 2019 as delegates from SCN cities from Kenya visited key U.S. cities, including Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and San Diego, to learn more about their work at the international, national and grassroots level to prevent violent extremism. The IVLP seeks to promote international understanding through the exchange of people and ideas, and the visit encompassed a broad range of cultural centres and organisations.
Over the course of two weeks, the group visited and spoke with 14 organisations for a range of discussions and demonstrations, including the U.S. Department of State, Search for Common Ground, the Mayor’s Office of Pittsburgh, San Diego University and the Office of Homeland Security.
Discussions were broad, ranging from drivers of violent extremism and radicalization with Mohamed Ahmed of San Diego University, to good practices on countering violent extremism (CVE) at the U.S. Department of State, to how interfaith, youth and community prevention efforts dovetail with national CVE work with Interfaith Community.
The group also met with a rich sample of civil society, academia and faith organisations, each of which embodied the ‘whole of society’ approach to countering violent extremism that has become the global gold standard. From learning about global coordination of projects from Search for Common Ground, to how leadership development programmes for youth by the Pittsburgh Project are helping to change lives, and how former convicted gang members are redirecting their lives through Rise Up Industries, there were several important good practices to delegates took away which could be applied to the Kenyan context.
Delegates visited several U.S. county and state authorities, including Montgomery County (MD).
The group also visited Rise-Up Industries, an organisation in San Diego, CA, which helps former convicts and gang members redirect their lives.
Among the lessons the group took away was the importance of bringing people of different faiths together to work and even share prayer spaces, which helps to create a space of mutual respect to followers of all religions, as well as opportunities for dialogue and understanding.
Establishing local plans to respond to acts of violent extremism or terrorism before they occur was also cited as an important lesson for county governments, in place of reacting to events in a manner which could harm existing relations with communities. Instead, publicizing these plans and providing free phone numbers provided for communities to call for information or support can help to break the isolation that some communities feel.
Philippines – U.S.A
The second trip took place on 22-25 January, and saw SCN members from The Philippines welcomed to Washington D.C. and meet with representatives of the U.S. Department of State, including Ambassador Nathan Sales of the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Ambassador Atul Keshapt of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Among the topics discussed included efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines archipelago. The region has suffered from devastating attacks by Islamist insurgencies since the 1990s, including city-wide sieges in cities such as Marawi by ISIS-affiliated groups.
The visit also included the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 88th Winter Meeting, held in Washington D.C. from 22-24 January, where they were joined by several active Strong Cities Network members, including Los Angeles (CA) Mayor Eric Garcetti, Chattanooga (TN) Mayor Andrew Berke, Louisville (KY) Mayor Greg Fischer, and Pittsburgh (PA) Bill Peduto.
Filipino delegates spoke with Law Enforcement official Charles Ramsey (right), who recounted his time as Washington D.C.’s police chief during 9/11.
This year the meeting paid great attention to the subjects of gun violence, homelessness and youth engagement. Important contributions were made, particularly by Mayor Andy Berke and Mayor Bill Peduto, on the vital role that cities and their mayors play in the aftermath of violent extremist attacks by bringing people together and galvanizing local responses. The full video and other sessions can be viewed to the left. After visiting Washington, the delegation travelled to Los Angles to learn about best practices on building social cohesion and protecting soft targets from terrorist attacks.
Special thanks to the U.S. IVLP and the U.S. Conference of Mayors for hosting the honourable delegates from Kenya and The Philippines, and for the many organisations who offered up their hospitality and time. We hope the visit was informative and enjoyable, paving the way for further international collaboration and exchanges.