Global Networks

TIM BAKER

September 30, 1991|By TIM BAKER

Leningrad. -- Imagine the United States breaking apart along ethnic and racial fault lines that were territorial. Suppose most of the Irish in our country had always lived in one state, say Massachusetts, where they now made up 75 percent of the population. Imagine that they decided to secede and declared their state a sovereign, independent nation.

DTC Suppose most of the Germans in America had lived in Wisconsin for 200 years and that now they too voted to pull out of the union, over the frightened protests of a 20 percent English minority.

Imagine that most African-Americans lived in one southern state, say Alabama, where they made up 80 percent of the population. Suppose they voted to secede, invalidated federal laws, planned to issue their own currency, began to organize their own army, and demanded that all U.S. military personnel stationed in Alabama take orders from the governor rather than the Pentagon.

Suppose all these newly independent states disputed their borders with neighboring states controlled by different ethnic groups. Suppose Africans in Alabama resented the way in which the English majority in Mississippi oppressed an African minority there. Suppose the U.S. military stored nuclear weapons in both states.

Imagine that the federal government could not control or even mediate ethnic disputes, that it had virtually ceased to function. Suppose the U.S. Congress had voted itself out of existence and that the nations' governors told the president what to do.

Imagine rising inflation, growing unemployment and over-crowded, dilapidated apartment buildings that all looked like our worst public housing. Suppose you know what comes next -- poor harvests, fuel shortages, and a Russian winter.

This is what the disintegration of the former U.S.S.R. looks like from Peter the Great's capital in the Baltic Sea. For ten days this month a group of over 120 Americans, including 20 Marylanders, from selected professional, academic, business, and governmental fields discussed these grim circumstances with a large Soviet delegation drawn from the same fields.

We held our first meetings in Moscow and then moved here to the once and future St. Petersburg. We divided ourselves into panels and met with our Soviet counterparts to discuss subjects such as human rights and ethnic minorities, business and trade relations, our different legal systems and traditions, urban ecology and city management, health care and children, military and security issues, and even spiritual values.

A new and little-known Baltimore organization arranged the conference. The American Center for International Leadership moved into the World Trade Center in the spring of 1990 with a major grant from the Abell Foundation and a trickle of support from a few local corporations like the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company.

Since its founding in 1985, the center has put on a number of conferences in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and now in China. It has built a substantial network of Americans with expertise and experience in what used to be called the communist world. The center's mission is to identify emerging leaders in those nations, to engage them in dialogues with Americans in the same professional and business fields, and to create new national and international networks.

As the Soviet empire falls apart and its many diverse people embark on the tumultuous path to self-determination and independence, where will their new leaders come from? How can American businessmen identify the new entrepreneurs from the

factories of Kiev or the oil fields of Bashkiria? How can Hopkins doctors find the medical leaders who will begin to rebuild shattered health-care systems?

The American Center for International Leadership has developed process to create the necessary networks. Its alumni already hold important positions in America and in other countries. Margaret Tutwiler, the State Department's press secretary, went the Soviet Union with an ACIL group in 1986. Sergei Stankevich, deputy mayor of Moscow and one of Boris Yeltsin's top aides, participated in a 1988 U.S.-U.S.S.R. Emerging Leaders Summit.

So far, the center has received little attention in Baltimore, but it can play an important role in helping the city achieve its aspirations to become an international center. Networks increasingly characterize the global economy, and the center's networks can make Baltimore a hub.

This fall, the center will sponsor conferences in Baltimore with professionals from Leningrad, China, Mexico and Azerbaijan. It will soon begin Governor Schaefer's Eastern Europe intern programs under which 60 business managers from former Soviet-bloc countries will come to Maryland to work for 3 months in our corporations.

The center's president, Stephen Hayes, sees a bright future for his small but growing organization. In the next few years he will add programs in the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia. Within 5 years he expects the center to be a worldwide organization headquartered in Baltimore and working with emerging leadership networks shaping policies all over the globe.

Baltimore's own leadership networks, emerging and otherwise, will come to see these programs as complementary efforts which enhance and assist, rather than threaten, the international efforts of the governor's trade initiatives, the World Trade Center Institute, the Visitors' Center and other organizations.

In a world of sudden and often shocking change, the American Center for International Leadership offers a resource which our city and state cannot afford to ignore.

Tim Baker writes on issues of city and state.

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