In the heartland of the United States immediately following the Road to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kansas City, Missouri, 37 alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs met for the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES) on the topic of “Stronger American Cities: Closing the Skills Gap and Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” in late March 2019. The participants represented 21 states and the District of Columbia, and 12 exchange programs. Seminar participants represented a variety of professions, including university professors and administrators, CEOs of small businesses and nonprofit organizations, and local government employees. During the seminar week, they shared professional perspectives, experiences, and expertise to strategize ways of promoting effective and successful entrepreneurial ecosystems in their communities.
As the seminar began, Alumni TIES participants exchanged stories about their international exchanges, home communities, passions, and skills. Thirteen participants attended the Road to Global Entrepreneurship event the day before, met with public and private sector leaders to learn about innovative solutions in agriculture, health, and connectivity, and discussed their takeaways with fellow participants. Inspired by each other’s entrepreneurial ventures, the alumni participants established significant connections on professional and personal levels. In a video message to the TIES participants, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recognized the knowledge and expertise the alumni brought to the table. “Both at home and abroad, you are citizen diplomats who are building stronger communities. We know this group has the talent and ideas to succeed, so we’re happy to invest in you.”
A highlight of the week was a networking reception with local Kansas City alumni and Global TIES Kansas City board members. After the networking reception, a group of participants and local alumni continued their conversations at a special Jazz performance at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In addition to sharing their aspirations and forging a community of educators and entrepreneurs, participants discussed topics such as best practices in securing investment opportunities, leveraging public and private partnerships, advancing workforce development programs, addressing systemic challenges within urban revitalization and entrepreneurship, teaching 21st century skills, supporting economic growth in underserved communities, technological connectivity and access in cities, and much more. This wide array of topics allowed for comprehensive coverage of a broad topic, exposing the participants to new and creative strategies, and equipping them with tools to build entrepreneurial agendas in their communities.
Throughout the seminar week, participants advanced their knowledge of urban revitalization, workforce development, and incubator/accelerator programs by attending meetings at five local organizations. At KC Startup Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting a thriving and inclusive entrepreneurial environment, participants learned the history of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and how KC Startup Foundation is helping local entrepreneurs identify investors and grow their businesses in that ecosystem. Staff at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation presented on how they are kickstarting community initiatives, such as “1 Million Cups,” and providing leadership training and professional development opportunities to various community organizations. Participants also toured the Metropolitan Community College (MCC) Business and Technology campus, observing students weld, climb telephone poles, repair HVAC equipment, and design models through 3-D printers, underscoring the importance of apprenticeship programs and relationships with businesses in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Local artists from the Kansas City Artists Coalition shared how their community initiatives are contributing to arts education and urban revitalization. Finally, participants explored how KC Source Link is connecting local communities with business development resources to create jobs, accelerate business, and build supportive entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Alumni TIES participants can apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to implement a community project related to the seminar topic. In Kansas City, participants started to plan the structure, direction, and mission of their own community initiatives. They then showcased their ideas during a dynamic pitch competition. Some of the project ideas included building a micro-credentials tool that creates accredited electronic badges for skills, a lean startup model empowering young women in entrepreneurship, and an initiative to build more inclusive spaces within art entrepreneurship for refugee artists.
The World Learning Alumni TIES team departed Kansas City confident that participants made meaningful professional and genuine personal connections with one another that would last beyond the seminar. During the final reflection session, participants remarked on the importance of the exchange alumni network and their access to critical professional resources as alumni. Returning home to their regular routines, this group of co-creators, educators, and collaborators are prepared to tackle challenges to economic development in their communities, developing more vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems for generations to come.
The Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.