Hundreds of foreign leaders and professionals from 134 countries ranging from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe came to Georgia in 2012-13 thanks to an Atlanta-based nonprofit that works closely with the U.S. State Department.
The Georgia Council for International Visitors hosted a total of 667 overseas visitors participating in 78 programs during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
The council helps administer the International Visitor Leadership Program in Georgia for the State Department. Established in 1940, the program brings promising leaders – from lawyers to bankers to public-health officials and beyond – to the U.S. for targeted programs that build capacity and international understanding.
With 166 visitors, the Middle East and North Africa topped GCIV’s list of source regions for fiscal 2013, followed by Europe and Eurasia (134), South and Central Asia (109), Africa (103), East Asia and the Pacific (94) and the Western Hemisphere (61), according to the council’s annual report.
In addition to the State Department programs, the council also hosted delegations funded by outside organizations.
Shell Stuart, GCIV’s executive director, told Global Atlanta that the programs provide great exposure for Georgia to some of the “best and brightest” leaders from around the world.
“It’s really a great way to promote our state and the companies and people in our state – really everything that the state has to offer,” Ms. Stuart said.
The council’s leaders actively lobby agencies in Washington to bring more programs here because they believe that “citizen diplomacy” helps create a more peaceful, better integrated world, Ms. Stuart said. She estimates that GCIV is squarely in the top 10 by visitors of the 95 similar councils across the country by visitors hosted.
It helps that Atlanta has a major airport for easy entree and exit, since most groups are visiting four or five cities during their U.S. experiences, but Atlanta draws visitors in its own right as a key hub for global health and corporate headquarters.
“We have so many resources and connections that we can make for our visitors because Atlanta has so much to offer,” Ms. Stuart said.
Besides helping outsiders make inroads in Georgia, GCIV also seeks to boost Georgians’ level of international understanding.
The council hosts global lunch forums and an annual foreign-policy lecture series, as well as international dining experiences each month. Each year it holds the annual International Consular Ball, which honors the state’s diplomatic corps.
GCIV is often seeking host homes for global visitors and opens this opportunity to members who join at the “Citizen Diplomat” level of $50 and up. Young professionals – 40 and under – can join at the “Envoy” rate of $25 per year.