Coronavirus, Brexit, the 2020 elections: Promoting awareness of international issues is as relevant a mission as it ever was.

The nonpartisan Columbus Council on World Affairs has had the same mission since its 1975 inception—to inform the public about global matters. A quest that’s remained relevant, to be sure, but by the early 2000s the group had faded a bit into the background. Patrick Terrien, CEO since 2004, acted on a vision for helping the average Central Ohioan understand why global awareness is important for every person to have, bringing it back into the spotlight. 

Here's the depth of Columbus' international business ties.

One major program working to that end is the Global Scholars Diploma, which was started in 2013 with the goal of giving high school students opportunities to have cross-cultural experiences, explore global careers, learn about and take action on global issues, and learn how to empathize with refugees. The last year of the three-year program, students are encouraged to identify an issue they are passionate about and act. This program is the first of its kind among the 90 World Affairs Councils of America.

A student from Columbus North International School is focusing on global poverty this year, says Terrien. “And so how is she taking action locally? She is developing a financial literacy program [for] her classmates and classmates’ families who are new Americans.” He shares how another student has created a program for young women with the goal of engaging them in STEM careers. The student was struck by how underrepresented women are in these fields. Right now, he is working on turning his program, WISE, into a nonprofit. 

Scott Reeves, the executive director of secondary academic affairs at Westerville City Schools, a program participant, tells the story of a Somalian refugee who hated living in the U.S. and was on the verge of dropping out of school in Westerville. A teacher suggested he join the program, and he flourished. 

“He gained relationships with some very influential people at Honda who offered that, as he graduated and kept doing the right things and improving, that they would look to employ him and maybe even [help] him go to college,” says Reeves.

Its first year, the Global Scholars Diploma had 40 students from two high schools—Granville and Columbus North International. Now, the three-year program boasts 1,200 students in 19 districts. The long-term goal to involve 3,500 per year by 2030.

The incoming chairwoman of the Columbus Council on World Affairs board, Vinita Mehra, leads Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter’s Global Business Practice and is the parent of a Global Scholars student.

“The timing couldn’t have been better for this organization to grow, just for the fact what we are seeing [with]the misinformation that’s happening domestically and globally on certain international issues,” Mehra says. “I think [it] provides the perfect platform to bring about a nonpartisan view of those issues, which is difficult to find these days.”

In addition to the student program, the council created Global Fluency Training in 2015 to instruct companies in diversity and inclusion, global teams and public service initiatives. The Columbus Foundation, Columbus Regional Airport Authority, Abbott Nutrition and Nationwide are just a handful of companies that have gone through the program.

The council also has provided a signature luncheon program since the 1970s and recognizes yearly contributions to global education and understanding at its International Awards Ceremony.

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Under Terrien’s leadership, the group has grown annual revenue to $987,618 in 2019 from $279,639 in 2004, doubled its staff of three and gone from 9 percent women representation on its board to 35 percent. 

“As our community continues to focus on workforce development, people and organizations want to be in diverse communities that are vibrant, thriving, global and like-minded, and so our work helps us position our community as a place to be,” Terrien says. “We would really like Columbus to be known as the most welcoming city in America.”

Chloe Teasley is former staff writer for Columbus CEO.