Through Open World, an amazing international exchange program, the Rotary Club of Concord hosted six young civic officials from the Ukraine May 31-June 9.
Open World brings current and future leaders from post-Soviet countries to the United States, where delegates complete an intensive, short-term program that relates to their professional or civic work. By observing professional counterparts, they get a first-hand look at the American system of democracy and free enterprise.
The program emphasizes accountability, transparency and citizen involvement in government. The goal is to develop a network of leaders who understand how American communities tackle contemporary issues.
Yana Litvinova says she uses “openness, transparency and community unity” as the foundation for her work as mayor of Starobilsk, a city of about 17,000.
“I believe that this new experience will allow me to improve my skills as a manager, introduce new approaches in the work of the City Council and assist me in further development of democracy,” Litvinova wrote in her application essay.
Pavlo Vandzhurak, head of the Kosiv Raion Council, said he was interested in learning about regional development between Ukrainian and American local governmental bodies.
“I would like to establish partnerships with local government offices in the United States and participate in joint projects funded by the U.S. government,” he wrote.
The delegates especially enjoyed in-depth visits with city officials from Concord and Clayton.
In Concord, the Ukrainians attended a presentation by city manager Valerie Barone, City Councilman Edi Birsan and Andrea Ouse, the city’s director of Community and Economic Development. Birsan said he described to them how the Concord council has open meetings, with public comment and discussion amongst the council members.
“Apparently, they do things by party,” he said. “So they’ll have 10 people on the council from two or three different political parties. And then they have a meeting between the party leaders, so when it comes to the council meeting everything is basically decided. We don’t do that and, in fact, we have a law against it.”
Birsan said the delegates appreciated the American political process. “But at the same time,” he noted, “this is a very entrenched system that they have over there.”
Clayton Councilwoman Julie Pierce said the visitors had a short tour of downtown and City Hall. “We talked extensively about the job of a mayor in a town like Clayton in the U.S. vs. the job of a mayor in a like-sized town in the Ukraine,” she said. “Their job is not just as the head of the Town Council, but they also serve as the chief administrator or city manager.”
For the exchanges, Rotary clubs prepare an eight-day program that’s part professional and part cultural. Club members host the visitors in their homes, so the delegates experience American family and community life and the Rotarians broaden their international understanding.
In addition to the time in Concord, the group also spent two days in Washington, D.C.
Last year, the club hosted a delegation from Tajikistan. Delegates come from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Ukraine. Men and women are equally represented, and the average age is 37.
Michael Barrington is president of the Rotary Club of Concord. Staff writer Bev Britton contributed to this story.