By Lulu Bonning, Program & Communications Manager
Looking back on 2023, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity San Diego Diplomacy Council has given me to further my career, grow my capabilities, and explore my passions. A highlight growth opportunity from this year came from my experiences in Burlington, Vermont, attending a Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summit with the Vermont Council on World Affairs.
What is a Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summit?
Coordinated by Global Ties U.S., Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summits “bring together leaders in business, government, and nonprofit organizations to forge new connections with local communities around exchange programming and issues.”
Through Global Ties U.S., San Diego Diplomacy Council is part of a national network of programmers and global changemakers, all of whom have unique ideas and innovative ways that we can improve our work. We have the chance to gather annually during the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, which is always a worthwhile opportunity. However, what the National Meeting doesn’t allow, and where the Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summits come in, is the chance to open conversations to the broader community, connect informally with peers, and visit unique cities throughout the U.S.
My Time in Vermont
I had little to no expectations of what I might discover during my time in Burlington, Vermont. A vibrant and diverse city on the shores of Lake Champlain, I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of industry and exploration Burlington had to offer. Church Street Marketplace was a highlight, as was my bike ride along the Burlington Bike Path, which led me to the middle of Lake Champlain.
Why Were We Gathering in Vermont?
The purpose of this Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summit was to focus on “Building an Inclusive Climate Movement”. Faced with extreme weather conditions and recent flooding, climate action is a topic of immense importance for many Vermonters. It was insightful to hone in on Burlington, and wider Vermont, when discussing climate action during the Regional Summit. The work that we do at the San Diego Diplomacy Council is global by nature. However, an in-depth case study of a city also facing climate issues, albeit very different issues to those we see in San Diego, was immeasurably useful. Contextualizing the topic in a real-world location, and connecting with the local leaders at the forefront of Vermont’s climate movement encouraged Summit attendees to focus on building solutions, and contribute to tangible change.
I particularly appreciated that this Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summit focused on building an inclusive climate movement. The impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on vulnerable communities. It is integral that when we talk about climate action, we focus on addressing disparities, to create a more sustainable future for all people.
Building Diverse Networks
I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on building diverse networks. I was presented with this opportunity through my position with the Global Ties U.S. DEIA Working Group. Panelists for this conversation included:
- Yacouba Bogre, Executive Director of African Americans Living in Vermont;
- Dr. Virginie Diambou, Director of Racial Equity and Community Inclusion at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity;
- Rhoni Basden, Executive Director, Vermont Works for Women.
The opportunity to learn from these community leaders was truly an honor.
We discussed many important topics, to spark intentional thought while programming for international visitors, and connecting our local communities with global networks. We focused on organizational management and building diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility into IVLP programming.
Challenges to ensuring all programs prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility vary from city to city. Our landscape here in San Diego is vastly different to that in Vermont. However, what is prevalent across all cities in the Global Ties U.S. network is a conversation on how to prioritize diverse voices and perspectives into the experiences we give our international visitors.
I look forward to continuing to prioritize this question in all programming that we do at the San Diego Diplomacy Council.
There were so many insightful conversations that took place over the Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summit, and so many key takeaways that have shaped my work and worldview post-Summit. Here are a few standouts.
Environmental Justice: The Impacts of Climate Change on Indigenous Populations
The importance of empowering everyone to have a voice in the protection of the environment. How do we encourage people that the use of their voice is welcome, once they have been invited into a space?
The natural world is part of our community, and was intentionally designed to serve the needs of animals and humans. There is much to learn from Indigenous practices on building partnerships with local resources.
Cultural competency goes hand-in-hand with environmentalism.
The Importance of a Green Economy
Mary Powell, CEO of Sunrun, led this session. Sunrun operates in 22 states, and employs over 13,000 people. They aim to harness one of the most powerful resources on the planet – the sun.
The future should be consumer led, abundant, and powered by clean energy.
We need to move from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset, through radical collaboration, to ensure resources are available to all households.
Creating Accessible Climate Solutions
During this session, an important question was asked: how are unsheltered people, and those with complex needs, able to access the resources that they need amidst climate crises?
Vulnerable infrastructure usually houses vulnerable communities.
Efficiency is a source of power. By using less resources, we need less infrastructure to support consumption needs.
The Impact of International Visitors on Small Communities
International visitors are often impressed and surprised by American’s abilities to admit that they’re a large part of the problems facing the world today.
One of the benefits of having international visitors go to small cities is that the visitors do not have any preconceived notions about what they’ll find there. This leaves abundant room for unbiased learning.
I attended this Regional Summit back in August of this year. My experiences in Vermont have not led to drastic changes, per se. However, the experience has unequivocally altered my prioritization of inclusive climate action, and diverse intentionality when programing for international visitors. I’m grateful for the chance to connect with my Global Ties U.S. peers, and my SDDC colleagues for recognizing the importance of such events.