They came from near and far – Maryland, Indiana, California, Pyatigorsk, Irkutsk, Arkhangelsk and beyond.
They are lawyers, professors, teachers, journalists, NGO staffers, think-tankers, and social entrepreneurs.
For up to eight weeks, these passionate US and Russian professionals will serve at organizations in the opposite country to propel specific two-country initiatives, build connections with local experts, and share their own best practices. They are the first class of 74 fellows under the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE).
On January 23, 2014, the fellows gathered in Washington, DC for the formal launch of SEE’s fellowships program. To greet them and offer a proper send-off, members of SEE’s working groups, along with Eurasia Foundation’s board of trustees and advisory council, toasted the group. Among the attending guests were the Hon. John Beyrle, former US Ambassador to Russia and to Bulgaria, the Hon. Richard Kauzlarich, former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan and to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Hon. Ross Wilson, former US Ambassador to Turkey and to Azerbaijan. .
Fellowships are SEE’s newest component and are designed to identify and integrate a broader spectrum of talented social actors into the bilateral work of SEE’s 12 working groups.
In September 2013, SEE put out an open call for applications from early- to mid-career professionals engaged in the fields connected to its working groups. Nearly 300 applicants from Russia and the US competed for 43 Emerging Professional fellowships. In a parallel process, Advanced Practitioner fellows, who are seasoned experts in specific fields, were nominated by working group members.
The group convened at the Pew Charitable Trusts Conference Center for a day of orientation that included overviews of more practical fellowship details as well as particular cultural aspects to be aware of while on their exchanges. The fellowship launch was also the first time many of them met each other.
“I was blown away by the wealth of professional spheres [represented by the other fellows]… and… how amazing they are as individuals, with such interesting academic and professional accomplishments,” said Maria Mikhaylova, an Education and Youth Emerging Professional originally from Kirov.
Over dinner, EF President Horton Beebe-Center and Chairman of the Board Jan Kalicki welcomed the fellows and spoke to the importance of exchange programs.“My vse v odnoy lodke – we’re all in the same boat,” Mr. Beebe-Center said. “As our government leaders work at the summits, all of you are working at the grassroots, across vast regions in both of our countries.”
Ariuna Namsrai, a senior vice president of government relations at APCO Worldwide and a member of EF’s advisory council, offered a personal story of exchange from the early 1990s in her native Mongolia to emphasize that human connections and shared experience transcend language, political, and geographic barriers. “Learn a lot, share a lot, and laugh together,” Ms. Namsrai said. “The trust [you build] is the essence of this exchange program.”
Concluding the evening’s formal program, Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and a member of EF’s advisory council, talked about the lessons and trends she discovered in her just-published book “The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century.”
Following the launch, the fellows departed Washington, DC and many have traveled to their assignment destinations, ranging from Novosibirsk to Wichita. The fellows will gather again at the end of March for a closing conference to share what they have learned with each other.
You can meet all of our fellows on our website. To keep track of what they’re up to, check our website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed for the latest activity.