Pura Vida-Learning From Costa Rica’s Sustainable Development Success

by Citizen Diplomacy Program Director at International House

With my job overseeing the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program for Charlotte and the surrounding areas at the International House, I get to meet a wide variety of interesting and knowledgeable individuals from all corners of the globe. One of the “perks” if you will, is the tremendous learning experience that comes with having tea with the guy who is responsible for the digitization of Zimbabwe’s Stock Exchange or discussing regional politics with a future candidate for the Mongolian Presidency. Every day I get to learn something new and extremely interesting, and after the learning, the inevitable slap of inspiration.

On this particular day, I was sitting in a conference room at the Charlotte Westin, eating grilled chicken and asparagus and listening to the most fascinating luncheon speech given by President Luis Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica, courtesy of the Charlotte World Affairs Council. As far as luncheon speeches go, this one was exceptional. He was not trying to fill the 15 or 20 minute obligation with the usual talking points given to diplomats and heads of state, he was speaking passionately about something that not only he believed in, but what was the mantra of an entire nation – Pura Vida. Translated it means Pure Life and represents the key to Costa Rica’s economic and political success.

Costa Rica is enjoying a rate of 3.02% in annual GDP growth. A growing economy coupled with a very stable government makes Costa Rica a stand out in the Central American Region. What’s the secret to the country’s success? It’s none of the usual suspects like manufacturing, energy or even off shore banking. Costa Rica has emerged as a world leader in eco-tourism. Yes, a country that designated 23.4% of its land area for national parks and protected sites (the largest in the world as a percentage of the country’s territory) now boasts one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment in Latin America. President Solis then went on to describe a government structure that very few countries could even dream of.

Costa Rica has become the first country in the modern world to constitutionally abolish its military, funneling the entire military budget into healthcare, education and physical infrastructure. For a country that is located in a previously volatile and politically unstable region, this is truly amazing. President Solis then astounded me even further when he said he would not run for re-election. I think I started to choke on a small piece of asparagus at this point. An incumbent politician who had no intentions of running for re-election… was there a scandal of some sort in the offing? Not at all. Costa Rica’s President cannot be elected for consecutive terms. This enables the President to act in the best interest of the country without seeking popularity; after all, he only has four years to cement his legacy.

I am by no means, making a statement that we need to do exactly what Costa Rica is doing. It would not work. But, we can learn from a successful case study in sustainable development. This is proof that economic growth does not have to come with a disastrous environmental cost. An entire country working together for “Pure Life” with a growing economy, a stable government with low corruption, and a focus on health and education. Instead of destroying and overusing resources to increase profits, Costa Rica puts the focus on development and growth through preservation. Charlotte is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the nation and recently ranked number 4 on the Forbes list of “Happiest Cities for Young Professionals”. We need to work hard on keeping the happy balance with growth and quality of life. After all, we know that “Charlotte’s Got a Lot” and we have tremendous potential for expanding our tourism sector. We are living in a great city, in a great country, but every once in a while it’s good to get a slap of inspiration.

At left, Johnelle joins members of the Young Professionals @ IH board of directors at a networking event.

At left, Johnelle joins members of the Young Professionals @ IH board of directors at a networking event.


Volunteer as a Home Host for Our International Visitors

International House is delighted to be hosting a group of Turkish judges and lawyers through the Charlotte School of Law (Aug 17-22) and a group of disability rights and healthcare advocates  from Georgia through the Open World Program  (Sept 19-27).

 As part of their experience in Charlotte, they are eager to spend time with American families, and we are seeking families and individuals to host these distinguished guests.   It’s a wonderful way to experience new cultures and make friends from around the world!

Home Hosts - CopyIn addition, we will soon host nine high school Youth Ambassadors from Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia who will visit Charlotte through the Youth Leadership Program between September 5th and 17th.  Their program will focus on youth empowerment, environmental leadership and public speaking.

We will need families with teenagers to home host during this time.  Hosting teens are welcome to participate in all meetings and workshops.  Our experience with past Youth Ambassadors has been delightful – expect  energy, smiles, and laughter, and lots of cultural exchange!   This is a highly selective program and each of our visitors are highly accomplished teenagers.

Individuals and families  serving as host families will assist with transportation on the weekdays with drop-offs at International House around 9:00 am and pick-ups around 5:00pm (carpools can be arranged) as will also provide breakfast and dinner.  A Home Host Orientation will be arranged prior to your guest’s arrival.

For further questions or to volunteer as a home host, please contact Johnelle Causwell at jcauswell@ihclt.org  (704) 342-2248 ext. 121.

For more information, click >>here.  Thank You!



Citizen Diplmacy in Full Action!

By: Jennifer Watson Roberts
Board President, International House

Jennifer Watson and Johnelle Causwell in Washington, DC.

Jennifer Watson and Johnelle Causwell in Washington, DC.

Last month, I joined Johnelle Causwell and Carole Ward, International House’s staff for Citizen Diplomacy Programs, at a conference in Washington, DC for the annual meeting of Global Ties US. This organization, formerly known as the National Council for International Visitors, is a group that works closely with the US State Department and its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to host foreign leaders in cities around our country, including Charlotte. These visitors travel here to learn about everything from US law to court operations, banking regulations, social capital, and small business networks.

Many speakers underscored the importance of citizen diplomacy as a tool for furthering US interests on a personal, grassroots level that can have far-reaching impact.  Johnelle, Carole and I met with Embassy representatives, business leaders, non-profit executives from around the country, and former Citizen Exchange participants, gaining insight into program opportunities and emerging issues. There were over 700 in attendance at the conference, including representatives from states all over the US as well as several foreign countries.

Connecting our communities with leaders from other countries supports economic opportunity and citizen diplomacy, important and powerful tools for advancing US interests throughout the world in a peaceful, economical way. Did you know that 54 current heads of state have traveled to the US on these exchanges? These visits have impacted the development of constitutions, legal systems, non-profit outreach, small business, and social justice programs in countries around the world. They have also supported peaceful resolution of conflict. If you would like to be involved in future programs here in Charlotte, please contact Johnelle and let her know you are interested in meeting some of these international leaders as they travel to the Queen City to learn from our best practices.

International House was featured at the conference. One of the sessions, led by Johnelle Causwell, showed the documentary made by Charlotte’s Tom Morgan about Pushpa Basnet and her orphanage in Nepal.  Tom first met Pushpa, who was later named a CNN Hero of the Year, through an International House exchange program. Johnelle led a discussion after the movie about the lasting impact of citizen diplomacy and International visitor programs, clearly evident in this award winning film and the heroic tale it tells.”

International Visitor Leadership Program Group from Thailand signs Agreement During Visit

International Visitor Leadership Program Group from Thailand signs Agreement During Visit


What started as a typical International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visit ended as an extraordinary event. International House (IH) was asked to coordinate the visit of nine park managers from Thailand through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a premier professional exchange program coordinated by the U.S. Department of State’s. When IH Program Director Johnelle Causwell arrived at the Knoxville Airport to pick up the group, which included Superintendent Krissada Homsud of the Khao Yai National Park, no one knew that the trip would end with such exciting news. Unbeknownst to the group, officials in the Thai and US governments were finalizing wording for the first Sister Park agreement for both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and The Khao Yai National Park.

Although not exactly twins, the two parks share a number of similar resources and protected area management and operational concerns. The significant biodiversity of both Khao Yai and Great Smoky Mountains is at the center of their mission and programs. Both parks are the most visited National Parks within their respective countries, which presents similar challenges associated with high visitor use, along with potential impacts due to adjacent land use and development. Both parks are popular for spectacular wildlife viewing, streams and waterfalls, and lush mountain forests.

“We are honored to form this unique partnership with Khao Yai National Park which shares so many similarities with the Smokies,” said Park Superintendent Ditmanson. “There has already been an incredible exchange of information among our staff and Superintendent Homsud and we look forward to continued sharing and learning through this relationship.”

During their visit, the Khao Yai National Park delegation met with GSMNP Park managers, biologists, entomologists, educators, historians, and facility managers offering the opportunity to learn about resources in the field and to cultivate relationships for future information exchange.

Recap: “Who’s in the House” Event with the Rumsfeld Fellows

From April 20 to 24, 2013,  International House hosted five dynamic business leaders from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan through the Rumsfeld Foundation Fellowship Program. The Rumsfeld Foundation Fellowship cultivates a cadre of rising young leaders in politics, business, and academia from the Central Asia-Caucasus region. Rising leaders from the government and private sectors are invited to apply for the Fellowship and only the top tier candidates are chosen to participate in a six-week program. This Fellowship is a program of the Library of Congress and builds linkages between the U.S. and Central Asian countries by developing young leaders from the region. They Fellows were in  Charlotte to learn about the theme of economic development in the U.S.

On April 23, International House hosted a “Who’s in the House” event to introduce the Rumsfeld Fellows to the public, as well as learn about their backgrounds. Below are pictures from the event!

Ms. Nargiz Nasrullayeva-Muduroglu giving an overview on her country, Azerbaijan.


Mr. Dulguun Baasandavaa speaking about the economy in Mongolia.

The Rumsfeld Fellows with International House staff at the Rotary Club of Charlotte.

Meet A Legislative Fellow: Prih Memon

International House has had the pleasure of hosting special visitors from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Nepal through the Legislative Fellows Program, a program that brings emerging leaders from around the world to the United States for intensive fellowships designed to broaden their professional expertise. International is currently hosting six female Legislative Fellows from April 17 to May 8. The Fellows are receiving hands-on exposure to various levels of government through full-time fellowships in legislative offices, local government offices, advocacy groups, and various other institutions. The Fellows have been placed with various Charlotte organizations, such as: the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Latin American Chamber of Commerce, and Hand on Charlotte.

One of these accomplished Fellows is Ms. Prih Memon. Read our interview with her below!


Prih Memon

Can you tell us more about yourself?

My name is Prih, and I am from Sindh, Pakistan. I am currently doing a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), and I have a Bachelors degree in Business Administration with a specialization in HR. During my undergraduate studies, I was always involved in extracurricular activities as an event organizer and trainer focusing on education and advocacy. For example, in my final year of college, I organized and led a national mega conference for Hyderabad youth with 250 people in attendance.

I started my job as Program Officer at the Civil Society Support Program. The Civil Society Support Program (CSSP) is a nonprofit organization that emerged as a response to the challenges facing by Pakistan, including: poverty, social injustice, and governance issues. I’ve also been working with Drug Free Pakistan as a youth mobilizer and volunteer. Soon after, I was selected to work for project called Alif Ailaan, which focuses on transforming education in Pakistan. For example, one of Alif Ailaan’s goals is to help bring education to rural areas that do not have access to proper education.

Talk to us about Alif Ailaan. What is your role with the organization?

In a nutshell, Alif Ailaan is a Pakistani alliance for education reform led by a communications campaign. We campaign as a broad coalition of people and organizations committed to getting more of our children in school. Alif Ailaan selects regional coordinators to work with rural communities. I am currently a regional coordinator  and my role is to recruit and interview youth activists. I have a team of 30 youth activists working with me now. My team and I visit schools and teachers to learn about core education challenges. In our campaign, we bring in political leaders, media contacts, NGO’s to learn about their views on education, which helps us highlight core issues in communications campaign. We also use marketing materials to spread the word about our campaign and bring to it to different institutions like universities. Our vision is to campaign for education reform in time for elections in 2018.


Prih cooking a traditional Pakistani meal with her host mom, Ann Wood.

How has your experience been in Charlotte?

We love Charlotte! Everybody is so kind, and our hosts families are loving. We are learning so much about American culture, politics, and education. We had many opportunities to explore Charlotte. We visited the Mecklenburg County Court, Levine Museum of the New South, and Crisis Assistance Ministry. We are enjoying our visit very much, and we hope we can come back again!

Who’s in the House? April/May Edition

On Tuesday, April 23rd, International House will welcome international visitors from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Tajikistan, who will be showcased at our “Who’s in the House” event from 6:30pm – 8:00pm. The Rumsfeld Fellows are high ranking government and private sector executives. They will be in Charlotte from April 20th – 24th and will focus on learning about finance and foreign investment.


Who’s in the House: Rumsfeld Fellows 
Tuesday April 23, 2013
6:30pm – 8:00pm
International House (1817 Central Avenue)
Cost: FREE!

We are also hosting Legislative Fellows from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal who will be in Charlotte from April 17th – May 8th participating in internships and learning about human and women’s rights issues. International House is hosting another “Who’s in the House” event for these Fellows on May 6th from 6:30pm – 8:00pm at 1817 Central Avenue.

Who’s in the House: Legislative Fellows
Monday, May 6, 2013
6:30pm – 8:00pm
International House (1817 Central Avenue)
Cost: FREE!

Questions?  Contact Johnelle Causwell at 704-342-2248 or jcauswell@ihclt.org. We look forward to seeing you there!