The Montana World Affairs Council, founded in 2000, enables Montanans to appreciate the relationship of foreign policy and international issues to their lives in the Rockies. The Council offers opportunities to better understand world events through people-to-people diplomacy, distinguished speakers, overseas visits, and educational outreach programs. As globalization reaches into all corners of the Big Sky, the Council seeks to help educate citizens about their increased political, economic, and cultural integration into the world community.
Sixteen years ago, Ambassador Mark Johnson (ret.) founded the Montana World Affairs Council. After returning home to Montana after a 30-year career as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department, Mark had one simple goal, to give something back to the community by offering opportunities for Montanans to better understand the world around them. He focused on demolishing two myths. First, that the world was some far off distant place with little relevance to us here in the Rocky Mountains. Second, that even if the world did somehow matter, there was no real way for someone in a remote location far from the world’s ‘hot spots’ to have any meaningful impact. Inspired by the words of Senator Mike Mansfield, the Council has come a long way in dispelling these myths, “Montanans have room to live, to breathe, and above all to think – to think with a breadth of view which goes to the far horizon and beyond.”
The Montana World Affairs Council is a member of the National World Affairs Councils of America, the largest international affairs NGO in the U.S.. When the Council in Missoula was founded, it was the only Council between Minneapolis and Seattle. A dedicated group of community volunteers and University of Montana students helped Ambassador Johnson get the Council up and running.
Over the past sixteen years, the Council has grown into a valuable resource for communities and schools. The World Affairs Council has hosted or co-sponsored over 300 community and school programs across the state. We have traveled around Montana to promote global awareness, speaking to students and communities in Wolf Point, Poplar, Fort Peck Community College, Gardiner, Livingston, Big Fork, and more. Council events have seen audiences of more than 600 Montanans. In 2002, the Council received an unprecedented visit by a senior Iranian official resulting in national and international press, and we have continued that tradition of excellence in programming ever since. Education programs have grown outward from Missoula, reaching schools in thirty counties and five reservations around the state. As the only non-partisan organization promoting global education, demand for school programs has grown nearly beyond our reach.
We have learned some valuable lessons with our success over the years. Most importantly, Mark’s hunch was correct! Montanans do care deeply about global issues, as evidenced by the engaging discussion that ensues at events, and by the many Montanans who drive hours to attend programs. While focusing on building a sustainable organization that can continue to provide these unique opportunities, we take a moment to look back on some of our accomplishments. We are making a difference and helping to create a corps of citizen diplomats who are interested in engaging globally. As President Eisenhower said 50 years ago, “When people come together peacefully, eventually so will nations.” These accomplishments do not belong solely to the Council, they are the result of the dedication and generosity of our members, loyal supporters, and our founder Mark Johnson.