Program year concludes with Dutch Ambassador, annual meeting and discussion on COVID-19 and immigration

June 5, 2020

Closing a year like none before, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan (WACWM) concludes its program year with a conversation with another ambassador, its annual meeting of members, and a late-add partnership on COVID-19's impact on supply chains, agriculture, and immigration.


The Dutch Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency André Haspels, will converse with West Michiganders in a livestream format on Thursday, June 11, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. EST. Information on free access is available here.

Presented in partnership with the Netherland-America Foundation due to the number of Dutch-Americans in West Michigan, this program should draw a sizable viewing audience.


When COVID-19 disrupted everything, including civic engagement, WACWM was five weeks into its annual eight-week Great Decisions series, with Monday evening presentations at Aquinas College and Tuesday noon reprises (livestreamed throughout the state) at Calvin University.


Obviously, our programming format had to change immediately, and it did, with the remaining three speaker-experts—Lindsey Sheppard on artificial intelligence; Margaret Myers on China in Latin America; and Pultizer Prize-winner Sonia Nazario on Central American immigration—agreeing to present virtually.


“I’m grateful to my colleagues, Erica Kubik and Emily Smith, for quick thinking and innovation as we needed to immediately shift from in-person events to digital presentations,” said executive director Michael Van Denend.


“We really didn’t miss a beat, pivoting in the middle of our Great Decisions series to the use our new YouTube channel to keep our promise to the community to provide global insights and information,” he added.


The Council had recently developed a YouTube channel for rebroadcasting its first-ever Vandenberg Prize event honoring former Ambassador to China and Russia Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. The channel provided an accessible place to access Council experts so as many in the community and region could participate.


“We’re pleased with how the technology enabled us to continue providing Great Decisions to our members, particularly our university partners, since their faculty and students were counting on these topics as part of curriculum and course content,” said Kubik, WACWM’s director of programming.


After Great Decisions concluded, WACWM traditionally partners with the Kent District Library (KDL) on a series for the community’s benefit and this year’s topic was “The Future of Work.” Once again, the Council partnered with friends at KDL to make certain the three presentations were livestreamed and available to all.


Kristen Sharp of Entangled Solutions, Attah Obande of Spring GR, and Dr. Bill Pink, president of Grand Rapids Community College gave their perspectives on the forces changing the workplace and work life, including some thoughts on the curve ball thrown us a by COVID-19.


Finally, former U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Honorable Bill Garvelink, a Michigan native, gave a timely primer on pandemics and what needs to be done nationally and globally to prevent a disaster such as the one currently being experienced.

Garvelink had a front-row seat to the Ebola epidemic and unpacked the complicated process of mitigating and preventing such viruses.


In addition, WACWM conducted its annual WorldQuest global trivia game on-line, with kudos to Melanie from Steelcase for winning first place. And the national World Affairs Councils of America asked the Council to host a conversation with China expert Sarwar Kashmeri on that country’s global Belt and Road initiative.


“What has particularly impressed me is the readiness of our community members to engage in a new format, as well as the flexibility and wisdom of our amazing presenters,” said Smith, the Council’s community engagement specialist.


Many of the presentations listed above remain available to those interested at WACWM’s YouTube channel. At this writing, the presentation by Ambassador Garvelink has received over 500 views.


Besides the conversation with Dutch Ambassador on June 11, the Council will hold its annual meeting of members via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 10. Election of new board members, changes to By-Laws and a summary of the year is on the agenda. Members were sent electronic invitations late last month.


And, just added, the Columbus (Ohio) World Affairs Council asked WACWM to invite members to a dialogue with Alfredo Corchado, Mexican City Bureau Chief of the Dallas Morning Star from 12 noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 25. Mr. Corchado will lead a discussion around immigration, COVID-19 and the impact that the pandemic is having on agriculture and supply chains in the United States. This event is also free and details are available at the Columbus Council’s site.

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