International Visitor Leadership Program – Belarus meets Cincinnati
The Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council (GCWAC) hosted an international delegation from Belarus traveling on the U.S. Department of State’s premier exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program. These international visitors are leading social entrepreneurs desiring to gain a deeper understanding on how non-profit organizations can use business models to further their mission. These individuals are pioneers with different backgrounds, well-versed in many languages, and have an abundance of exposure with international travel. Most importantly, they enhance the social well-being of the Belarusian people. By spending time in the U.S. and meeting with distinguished business owners, community leaders, and innovators, these global leaders had the opportunity to learn and digest the mechanisms behind social entrepreneurship in the U.S.
As an intern with the GCWAC, I had the privilege of spending the day with them and attending their professional meetings. The day was complemented with scenic routes and lunch at a restaurant frequented by many locals. They first met with Flywheel, which is an organization that helps nonprofits develop a social enterprise. Using the mission as put forth by nonprofits, these organizations can create for-profit entities which will expand social change.
Why a meeting to discuss social enterprise?
A few of the delegates inquired about the stages of development in building a social project. Bill Tucker, the Executive Director, emphasized that support from the community and strengths that differentiate one’s organization from others are crucial to development. In order to run a successful social enterprise, one must remember that social return is as important as a financial return.
Bill gave a tour of Union Hall, an urban and edgy building located in Over-the-Rhine. The high point of the tour was the rooftop, which had views of Cincinnati Music Hall and the rest of downtown Cincinnati. The international delegation was very impressed with the success of Flywheel in not only providing services to nonprofits, but also in branding themselves as a premier organization in Cincinnati.
After a tasty lunch, we headed to our next professional meeting with WebFEAT, a web design startup company started by Michelle Selnick. Michelle provided great context on what makes her company a success and how she shaped the techniques needed in order to become the best website design company in Cincinnati.
The Belarusian visitors had knowledge of computer programming and have previously incorporated software language in their organizations back in Belarus. In fact, one of the visitors brought with him a prosthetic arm of his own design. The arm is significantly cheaper than other prosthetic arms available, and with continued work on improving it, he can eventually start selling it. The juxtaposition of the software behind creating the prosthetic arm and the software of website design served as a great focal point of the meeting. While WebFEAT is a for-profit organization, Michelle explained how it is still possible for them to help social causes. This is mainly done by donating their services, which is something WebFEAT does often.
Last, but not least…
Before heading to the third and final meeting for the day, we stopped for a photo opportunity at Eden park and to take in the view overlooking the Ohio River. Our final meeting was with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber: Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) which provides services and mentorship to minority business owners on how to start a business and how to increase profits and revenue.
Here the visitors had the chance to discuss the issues in their home country, and how they could potentially resolve them. Rodney Swope, Director, who met with the group, was interested to learn the political climate for minorities in Belarus, as MBA was created after the 2001 race riots in Cincinnati, where minority citizens grappled with discrimination by law enforcement officials. The delegates delivered an explanation of Belarus’s rich and diverse history. Belarus’s unique past has led to friendly relations amongst the ethnic groups in the country. However, in recent times, there has been an increase in racial tensions, which the Belarusian delegation expressed concern over. Thus, the visitors were all the more eager to learn about the mission of the MBA.
The MBA provides mentors and financial advising, as well as other services, for people of color in Cincinnati. Most of the businesses in Cincinnati are owned by white people, with 0.5% of businesses owned by minorities. Seeing that 15.6% of the total population are minorities, this illustrates the huge disparity between different racial groups. Another important piece of data Rodney showed the visitors was the average incomes of different racial groups in Cincinnati. For white people, the average income is $57,000, while for black people it is $24,000. The data studied the unequal distribution of wealth within Cincinnati’s population allows the Chamber to devise tangible solutions that will allow minority people to have greater access to capital and economic opportunities. Dialogue between Rodney and the Belarusian delegation was constructive and the visitors seemed impressed with the work the MBA does. Afterwards, Rodney gave the visitors a tour of the building and introduced them to other organizations within the building, including REDI Cincinnati. The Chamber even had an office area devoted to leading a healthy life with exercise equipment and health monitoring machines.
Finally, after saying our goodbyes, we returned back to their hotel. While I only had one day to come to know this delegation, they really took it upon themselves to be friendly and engaging, even offering me suggestions on best places to work in Europe, and how I as an American citizen, can go about doing so. This day was an experience I’m glad to have been a part of, as not only did I learn about Cincinnati and the brilliant work that’s being done here, but I was presented with a rewarding opportunity to meet talented international leaders!
Written by Reda Baig, Global Exchange Intern Summer 2016