One month ago, Global Ties KC partnered with USAID Belarus to facilitate a Community Connections Program (CCP) for teenagers interested in entrepreneurship. This program is the second of it’s kind this year, after Global Ties KC asked to host an additional program, following the success of its first back in June. As with the initial program, the CCP took place over the course of roughly four weeks and featured KC local entrepreneurship experts, who guided the 25 graduates of this program to its completion. The CCP culminated with the four groups of Belarusian students presenting business pitches they had been brainstorming and refining through the duration of the program.
This Community Connections Program, like its predecessor, was a success on all fronts. The translators were professional, friendly, and inspiring to work with. The students were engaged, curious, and excited to learn and create. And the hosts of the sessions were prepared, insightful, and instructed with knowledge and humility. The program was one of excellence, but it also had something more. There was a tangible feeling of significance that can’t properly be understood without some basic knowledge of what is currently happening in Belarus.
As our program was still underway, Belarus announced that it would be “forcing the closure of facilities that house key US Government operations” and “ending employment of all USAID’s local staff” effective Nov. 20. In fact, our USAID Belarus contact informed us just one day after the end of this CCP that her position had been terminated.
The program ran smoothly, but it had to. Given the diplomatic divide that is seemingly growing each day, this CCP needed to be more than an opportunity to provide young Belorussians a chance to learn some business skills and connect with leaders and thinkers here in the United States. It had to show these young men and women what should and can be possible if they choose to stand up as leaders among their generation. What they can accomplish when they have an idea they are passionate about and gather as a team to achieve something important.
As the last session wound down, the students were afforded an opportunity to speak before logging off, and what happened next captured the spirit of this last Community Connections Program in Belarus for the foreseeable future. For 15 minutes, many of the participants took turns raising their Zoom hands, unmuting their mics, and expressing their gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of the program. Some of these comments were translated from Belarusian, and others were given in accented English, in an attempt to use their own voice to give thanks for this chance to share ideas and culture.
It’s clear to see how programs like the Community Connections Program for Entrepreneurship Education in Belarus can provide inspiration for young people around the world, but it’s even more meaningful to see these programs provide significance in their lives. These are the things Global Ties KC exists for – to foster community and connections amongst different cultures and countries, even (and especially) when public diplomacy falls short.