70 years of focusing on diplomacy, global affairs

  • Ideas and Voices staff
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 Opinion
DCOWA board member Carolyn Rice

For 70 years, the Dayton Council on World Affairs has been working to engage and educate in our region on the intricacies and importance of global events. As the group readies for its anniversary celebration, we spoke with Monica Schultz, its board president, and board member Carolyn Rice about the history and mission of the council. To learn more, visit www.dcowa.com.

Q: To get us started, tell us about the Dayton Council on World Affairs – what is the organization, and what’s its mission and purpose?

Monica Schultz: DCOWA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to educating and engaging our community on global issues. We do this by providing programs that bring leading experts on topics of diplomacy and international politics, economics, trade and cultural trends to Dayton.

Q: Just for adults?

Schultz: No. In fact, the core of our organization is our Junior Council on World Affairs, which reaches hudreds of high school students in the greater Dayton area. Our goal is that these programs lead to more informed discussions and actions on these topics, especially as they relate to our lives now and in our increasingly globally connected future here in Ohio.

Carolyn Rice: Dayton Council on World Affairs is one of nearly 100 councils in the United States that make up the network of World Affairs Councils of America, also known as WACA (www.worldaffairscouncils.org). As stated on its website, “The World Affairs Councils of America is an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to engaging the public and leading global voices to better understand the world, America’s international role, and the policy choices that impact our daily lives and our future.” Each council is independently governed and financed and offers its own choice of programs, but can also take advantage of speakers and programs WACA makes available.

Q: How did DCOWA get started?

Rice: WACA was founded in 1918 at the end of World War I, and DCOWA was started in 1947 after the end of World War II as prominent Daytonians grappled with the question of how to ensure peace in the years ahead. They decided educating the public on world events was the way to go. DCOWA has been pursuing its mission to educate and engage our community on global issues ever since.

Schultz: So that means DCOWA is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The initial founder, Louise Mead Walker Resor (daughter of Dayton industrialist George H. Mead, who was the group’s first chairman), was looking for a way to help the greater Dayton community find its role after having been a key player during the war. Additionally, the group believed that encouraging citizens to be more aware of what was happening around the world would go a long way in avoiding another great war.

Q: So, was this part of a larger national movement after the wars?

Schultz: After WWII many other organizations around the nation and around the globe were also grappling with the issues of how to avoid another great war, as well as how to shift economies from war-time to industrial. Dayton’s founding council leaders looked at quite a few of these, but after determining they would make better served as an educational organization, rather than a political one, they quickly aligned to follow the World Affairs Council of America guidelines as inspired by their research into the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, which was established in 1923 to help promote world peace after WWI.

Rice: It’s worth noting that today there are also councils in Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus and Stony Ridge, in northwest Ohio.

Q: How many members, and how regularly does it meet?

Schultz: DCOWA has 100 members. We host programs and partner with like-minded organizations frequently throughout the year. For example, in 2018, we are planning four adult programs (Topics: Free Trade as seen through Coffee, Korea, China, and our first Adult Quiz Bowl Trivia event!), but we also are partnering and participating in many other events. In addition, DCOWA partners with the University of Dayton to host the Great Decisions course through the Osher Lifelong Learning program. Check out our website dcowa.com for more information about our adult programs.

Rice: Also, there are 345 high school students in the region who are members of the Junior Council on World Affairs (JCOWA). DCOWA is an all volunteer organization with a board of directors that meets monthly and holds its Annual Meeting each January.

Q: Has interest and engagement in the organization evolved over time, in response to interest in national and world events and what’s happening in the news?

Schultz: DCOWA, like many organizations that have lasted a long time, has experienced both ups and downs – not necessarily based on community interest, but rather business interest in world affairs. Throughout the industrial booms of the 1950s through the 1970s, DCOWA was hosting hundreds, if not occasionally thousands, of people at their programs. In 1953, DCOWA hosted former first lady and chief delegate to the U.N. Eleanor Roosevelt in Dayton to speak about foreign affairs. In 1954, the Foreign Policy Association recognized DCOWA as one of the most active organizations in the nation. DCOWA had its own TV program called “It’s Your World” on WHIO-TV in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1958, DCOWA hosted Sen. John F. Kennedy to Dayton to speak about the growing threat of the Soviet Union. In 1965, it’s estimated that more than 9,000 Daytonians participated in just the DCOWA Great Decisions discussions alone.

Q: How about more recently?

Schultz: Well, in 1974, DCOWA founded the World A’Fair, bringing more than 20 ethnic groups to the Dayton Convention Center for three days of festival and cultural exchange. (World A’Fair became its own organization in 1977.) Local businesses knew it was vital that their employees knew what was going on in the world to help their businesses and lobbying for policies adjust. But during the recession of the 1980s, education and civic engagement was beginning to be cut from corporate budgets, and without their employers’ backing, citizen engagement also began to wane.

During the 1990s, DCOWA’s popularity increased along with the Gulf War. Membership, engagement and JCOWA programs posted strong showings for both adult programs and JCOWA. In fact, I was a member of Carroll High School’s JCOWA program from 1989 through 1993 and even sat as the model U.N. representative for Iraq as part of our JCOWA programming. I wasn’t very popular at the event, but it was one of the highlights of my entire education. Finally, as big businesses began to leave Dayton, so too did our membership. That said, DCOWA remains very active in the community and continues to bring in impressive experts on all sorts of international topics, including members of the domestic and foreign press, government officials, official foreign representatives, academics and people actively making changes in the world around us.

Rice: Years ago, DCOWA received significant funding from corporations in the region like NCR that allowed it to have full time paid staff, more than a thousand adult and youth members, and even more robust programming and events than it is able to offer today. Councils in cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., continue to have paid staff, large membership numbers, and outstanding programs and outreach. The bottom line is that DCOWA constantly needs to adapt the way we pursue our mission in order to reach people in the Dayton region because world events are as important today as they were 70 years ago.

Q: Does the group take political stands?

Schultz: DCOWA’s Code of Regulations prohibits our political advocacy of any kind. The founders determined in 1947 that we would be an educational organization, and we remain an educational organization. However, we believe the information we provide should be used by individuals passionate about those topics to be active, and perhaps, take a political stand.

Rice: DCOWA is nonpartisan. Our focus is to provide many perspectives on any topic or issue so that people can make their own informed decisions.

Schultz: For example, thanks to DCOWA and other World Affairs council programs I’ve attended, I know so much more about Japan, Korea, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and even the United States. This information helps me in my professional life and my personal life every day. And I will admit, individually (not as a representative for DCOWA), I have used some of this information to reach out to my congressmen with concerns.

Q: Talk about your upcoming anniversary event.

Schultz: Our Anniversary event happens Monday, Jan. 29, between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Dayton Racquet Club. We will have open bar, networking and silent auction starting at 5:30 p.m. Dinner will be served at 6:45 p.m. Our panel of speakers will speak around 7:45 p.m., followed by questions. Proceeds from this event will fund our Junior Council on World Affairs events for calendar year 2018. Our panelists include Amb. Heather Hodges, who is currently President and Ambassador-in-Residence at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and Bill Clifford, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of America.

Q: Talk about the Junior Council on World Affairs.

Schultz: JCOWA hosts six events each year, including an Academic Quiz Bowl, Geo Bowl, the Youth Forum, and an International Career Day. Thirteen schools have active JCOWA programs: Belmont High School; Chaminade Julienne; Dayton Regional STEM School; Dunbar High School; Fairmont High School; Lebanon High School; Meadowdale High School; Ponitz Career Technology Center; Springboro High School; Thurgood Marshall STEM High School; Vandalia-Butler High School; Wilmington High School; and Yellow Springs High School.

Rice: My first introduction to international affairs was through the Junior Council on World Affairs (JCOWA) when I was a student at Beavercreek High School more than 40 years ago. Our JCOWA chapter met at the high school and learned about current world events, and I was also involved in the club leadership. One of the highlights of my high school years was going on the bus trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City with other JCOWA members from throughout the Miami Valley over our spring break. Standing in the United Nations in that great hall where all the countries come together left me in awe.

Q: Discuss the subject at hand in the upcoming event – what is the importance of diplomacy in world affairs, and what does it mean to people here in Dayton?

Schultz: Diplomacy simply means “the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way” (Old English Dictionary). At a global level, it means working with peoples and governments of other countries to accomplish goals. While this may seem far reaching for people here, it actually continues to become a more important concern every year as new technologies make the separation between us and people a world away smaller and smaller.

Q: Talk about how.

Schultz: I would be hard pressed to find an area of someone’s life here that isn’t impacted by world affairs. From the food you eat and the clothes you wear (much of which is imported from foreign countries), to the car you drive (much of automobile manufacturing is a cross-border activity, not to mention the petrol you use to fuel your car), to your job (perhaps making products or providing services that are exported, or supporting WPAFB or any of the immigrants in our community), to the value of your money (which is determined by the value against foreign currency), to your neighbors (Dayton is a refugee hub for Catholic Social Services, as well as one of the first Welcoming Cities … and an International City of Peace), and your children’s education (learning a foreign language, interacting with exchange students/or being an exchange student) — all of these have impacts on the world around us and the world around us impacts those things.

This doesn’t even consider your online activities (such as online shopping, online baking, communicating and community building), which make global boundaries almost meaningless. Our success at navigating all these areas is dependent on our ability to understand the world — and people from other parts of the world — and act. This includes using this knowledge when we vote; it includes using this knowledge when you buy goods and services; it includes using this knowledge personally with the people in our community and professionally at our jobs.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that DCOWA has been working with the Montgomery County Economic Development team to see just how globally connected Dayton is. That report is expected to be released in 2018.

Rice: About 10 years ago, I heard former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska speak at the WACA National Conference held in Washington, D.C., each year. He emphasized the important role councils like ours play as “citizen diplomats” throughout the country in educating Americans on the importance of American foreign policy and the investments we make throughout the world that are in the best interest of the United States. I hear this theme each year at the conference and this past November was no exception. Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jeff Flake of Arizona appeared together to make the case for world affairs councils across the country to offer discussions and programs to the people in our communities on the importance of American diplomacy because military power is not enough to keep us safe. Diplomacy, or “soft power,” is just as important to find and keep the peace.

Q: Final thoughts?

Rice: DCOWA would like to connect with any JCOWA alumni who live in the Miami Valley Region. You can contact us by going to our website at www.dcowa.com, liking us on Facebook, following us on twitter @OhioDCOWA, or come to our 70th Celebration and Annual Meeting on Jan. 29 by going to www.eventbrite.com and registering online no later than Jan. 24. Our 70th Celebration is open to the public. If readers are interested in the topic, please sign up and join us.