Friday, March 09, 2007

GMF 25th Anniversary take-aways

The reception last night was a wonderful experience and introduction to the GMF network. One of the first speakers talked about the genesis of the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship in the early 1980's. It was envisioned as a way to re-establish what were perceived to be the fraying strands connecting the U. S. and Europe after decades of close cooperation. The founders pushed for a trip of at least six weeks to accomplish a depth of understanding necessary to build relationships.

Germany and France were the first countries to be involved. Denmark and the Netherlands were brought on board because there was, at the time, an element of anti-Americanism taking root there. The GMF founders thought it important to bring Europeans to the U.S. to help them understand America, its people, and institutions.

As our group prepares to leave, we met some of the European fellows who have just arrived in the U.S. They are doing the same thing we are in Europe, but visiting U.S. cities like DC, Raleigh, Montgomery, Phoenix, Dallas, Pittsburgh, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Pierre (S. Dakota), and Spanish Fork, UT.

Several former European Fellows spoke and talked about their appreciation for meeting American civil rights leaders, community activists, and business leaders who gave them a view of the U.S. from people who are currently shaping it. Others complimented the program for not just exposing them to the bright side, but also to America's challenges, dark sides and problems. They said this authenticity is what makes the program work.

One of the great things about this program is how it brings diverse people together. I struck up a conversation with a woman at the reception who is an intern for the GMF studying its use of public relations, technology and communications - areas of interest to me too. So we talked a lot about that and how my employer, a government agency, has been using technology to do outreach to the community and media. She was particularly interested in the use of podcasts and blogs and whether anyone listens to/reads them and whether they're worth effort. We had a great discussion: I learned about her foundation and the work they're doing and challenges they're facing, and I hopefully provides some insights from my experience using and considering the use of various technologies in public relations and media relations. That kind of conversation and interaction is why I'm even more excited about the days ahead and the experiences to come.

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