When a community of any size or character joins with a community in another nation to learn more about each other and develop friendly and meaningful exchanges, the two may propose a formal affiliation leading to the official designation as “sister cities”. This interchange helps to further international understanding at all levels of the community on a continuing long-term basis. It enables the citizens of both communities to become directly involved in international relations in unique and rewarding exchanges.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sister Cities International (SCI), a major presidential initiative by President Dwight Eisenhower which would eventually become one of the largest networks of citizen diplomats in the world. Conceived at a White House conference on Citizen Diplomacy, SCI was founded on the idea that by forming community-led relationships, people of different cultures could appreciate their differences and build new partnerships to lessen the chance of new national conflicts.
“Originating as a post-WWII initiative, SCI was founded with a mission to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation – one individual, one community at a time,” says Mary Kane, President & CEO of Sister Cities International. “The intention was that sister city partnerships, largely driven by local communities, would cultivate more mutual understanding and cooperation between people all over the globe through planned programming such as cultural, educational, business, and community development exchanges.”
Over the past 60 years SCI has growth dramatically, with 570 member countries forming 2,300 partnerships in 150 countries on six continents. And on June 9 th , 2016, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and our very own Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) introduced legislation to recognize Sister Cities International Day.
San Antonio has been a very active member of the sister cities network for decades and even hosted the SCI annual conference in 2013. We have a robust youth program and most recently assisted our sister city Kumamoto, Japan in its earthquake recovery efforts. “San Antonio’s international profile is on the rise, and our sister city relationships have helped make that possible,” said Representative Castro. “Through these partnerships, San Antonio has been able to build strong cultural, educational, and economic ties with communities around the world. This engagement has led to student exchanges, non-profit collaboration, and foreign direct investment that benefit our city’s economy. In today’s tumultuous world, the mutual understanding and respect that SCI fosters is particularly valuable and worthy of special recognition.”
So it was aptly fitting that on June 14th , 2016, the City of San Antonio’s International Relations Office hosted the “San Antonio Sister Cities International 60 th Anniversary Celebration & Reception” at the International Center downtown. The event was attended by any array of individuals who value the importance of citizen diplomacy, from young people and students of local high schools to elected officials and community leaders.
Mayor Ivy Taylor gave opening remarks and introduced a city proclamation. She discussed the vital role our sister cities play in cultivating strong international economic relationships and fostering peace and understanding around the globe.
San Antonio currently has nine Sister City relationships: Monterrey, Mexico (1953), the first Mexican city to have a US Sister City; Guadalajara, Mexico (1974); Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain (1975), recently visited by the Mayor; Gwangju, South Korea (1981); Kaohsiung, Taiwan (1981); Santa Cruz, Canary Islands, Spain (1983); Kumamoto, Japan (1987); Chennai, India (2008); and Wuxi, China (2012). Our city also has four Friendship Cities: Suzhou, China (2010); Tel Aviv, Israel (2011); Windhoek, Namibia (2015); and most recently, Darmstadt, Germany (2016).
Councilman Ron Nirenberg added to the Mayor’s endorsement of Sister Cities International. “Since its inception, SCI has played a critical role in sustaining global relationships by connecting cities through civic, educational, and cultural exchanges. We know that when citizens create diplomatic relationships that cross borders, conflict is replaced by understanding and paths toward economic partnerships,” said the Councilman. “When cities work together and when communication among business and civic leaders is active and collaborative, opportunity among nations is born.”
As a Board Member of SCI, Councilman Nirenberg also discussed how “facilitating these and new relationships among global cities is an ongoing effort because cultural understanding, quite simply, creates the bridges between communities that we cross in order to make partnerships possible. In an increasingly connected world, relationships like these are critical to the health and prosperity of local communities, and each one is a measure of peace among nations. Sister city partnerships across the country have translated into opportunities for the next generation. They inherit a world where communities are connected in real-time with a simple keystroke, so citizen diplomacy must be a shared priority.”
Mary Kane followed his remarks, adding that “the concept of citizen diplomacy – that citizens have the right, if not the responsibility, to help shape foreign relations – is a helpful reminder that diplomacy does not begin and end at the federal level. People-to- people exchange has always been an essential first step to building mutual understanding and respect between nations and their citizens. As we’ve seen time and again in the years since Sister Cities International was founded, governments (and even countries) come and go, but cities and their people remain.”
In an article for Cities Today in April 2014, Jonathan Ballantine discusses how the concept of sister cities was born from the need to rebuild diplomatic relationships and reconcile citizens through cultural and educational exchanges in the aftermath of the Second World War, but is now being increasingly used to forge strategic trade and economic ties. “The sister city relationship sets the foundation for diverse participants form each city to come together to promote engagement and mutual understanding,” he says. This is important in the modern area of globalization, as cities are driving the world economy. In fact, by 2030, it is projected that he global urban population will reach 75 percent and over 90 percent of global GDP will result from urban activity with one-third of the world’s GDP coming from just 100 cities.
“Global economic factors such as globalization and urbanization are opening up new markets, intensifying competition, and adding new layers of complexity to global supply chains,” Ballantine explains. “Therefore, it is critical for city leaders to understand how global economic factors can affect the competitiveness of their city and determine how their unique assets can service the impacts of globalization so that they can become beneficiaries of new trade flows, direct investment, job creation, and innovation and remain an attractive proposition in a world economy.”
Inspired by the remarks of various leaders and youth, who shared words of wisdom about the benefit of sister city relationships, the event instilled in the attendees that we must connect globally in order to thrive locally.