New, expanded programming will tie together politics and economics for a greater appeal to international trade and business organizations.
For the past 43 years, the mission of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council has been promoting understanding of international affairs and their implications in central Illinois. Many would agree the council has fulfilled its task through its cooperative educational approach to world problems. But now, PAWAC is looking to broaden its focus on international trade to have greater appeal to companies and the business community.
“We’ve always wanted to provide as much information as possible, but it is not always something that a businessperson could translate to his or her business,” said Angela Weck, executive director of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council. “The programs we’ve provided have always been for anybody who wants to learn about U.S. policy. People who travel or look overseas to do business also come to our programs, but we haven’t succeeded yet in providing international education for trade or other kinds of business activities.
“We’re not going to be experts at it, but we need to look beyond the academic, cultural and social issues,” she continued. “We also have to look at the whole world and how policies affect businesses.”
Highlighting International Business
The gap in its programming was highlighted when PAWAC collaborated with the Korean Economic Institute to conduct a program last year. “Korea and the United States are huge trading partners,” Weck explained. “It drove home to us we are missing the economic aspect. People in Illinois need to know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, and the impact on Illinois when there’s such a great deal of foreign trade and investment involved. We’ve partnered with them last year and that made us aware that we need to look at the economics of more than just Korea.”
To that end, an upcoming program in August will highlight the business aspect of world affairs when Iwona Bochenska of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity addresses the council. Bochenska is the senior international trade specialist for Europe and Russia and helps develop strategies and recommendations for promoting Illinois companies internationally and encouraging direct foreign investment.
“She’s going to talk in particular about the Euro zone and whatever crises might exist there, and how the impact of countries like Greece and Spain, who are struggling with their local economies, affects their trade issues and how it affects us and how we’re all tied together,” Weck said.
The August program leads a slate of speakers who will address economic and political issues in the coming months. In September, PAWAC’s program will examine how the pursuit of domestic energy sources affects the United States and impacts the rest of the world. Then in October, Robert Kimmitt, past U.S. ambassador to Germany and former undersecretary of the treasury, will discuss the state of the economy as a national security issue.
“That is how we’re going to tie politics and economics,” Weck explained. “We’re hoping to have some partner[ship] with the [Peoria Area] Chamber of Commerce and others,” though Weck noted that no discussions with the Chamber or other organizations had taken place as of yet.
“They do good programs but they’re usually geared towards individuals, so I don’t really know how they plan to reach out to businesses,” responded Roberta Parks, president of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, when asked if PAWAC’s plans were a step in the right direction.
“Is there a benefit? I’m sure, but I don’t know how,” she said. “But certainly the world gets smaller every single day. Some businesses are going to be impacted more by global policies than others. For instance, if you import goods, you’re going to be more affected than if you were a small deli in Peoria.”
“Since the economic downturn, I have noticed that our clients have become more interested in international affairs,” said Jim Ryan, international trade specialist at the International Trade Center at Bradley University. “I imagine part of this comes from business slowing with their traditional trading partners pushing them into markets they were less familiar with, particularly in regions where growth remained high, such as Southeast Asia.
“As businesses become more active in these markets and more educated on the broader global economy, environmental scanning becomes an increasingly important tool for identifying threats and opportunities that are going to affect business here in central Illinois,” Ryan explained. “As a result, we have seen clients reacting quickly to events, such as the Arab Spring, the earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan and, more recently, political changes in Mexico. This is going to make local businesses more competitive.”
Outreach & Experts
Even with its new focus on business, PAWAC does not plan to reduce its emphasis on previous priorities. Educational outreach is a strong area where the organization partners with local high schools. Every year, PAWAC hosts the International Affairs Scholastic Bowl in Peoria, an annual event that includes 24 teams from throughout the region and has become one of its most effective efforts for educational outreach. Winners progress to the national Academic WorldQuest competition in Washington, DC. Additionally, educational outreach provides teacher training workshops and curriculum materials to prepare students for their future in the global economy. PAWAC also offers teacher credits for its various programs.
“We just sent our team to the [Academic] WorldQuest in Washington, DC last month, and they did very well,” Weck said. “They also had a good time with Illinois [Congressman] Aaron Schock’s staff, who showed them around the Capitol building.”
PAWAC also organizes an annual conference bringing prominent experts to central Illinois to discuss various global concerns or to focus on the political, economic, social and geographic facets of various regions of the world. Under its Speakers Series, ambassadors, statesmen, academics and other professionals address a wide range of international topics in an interactive format, usually over dinner. Another discussion series, Great Decisions, studies and debates foreign policy issues, and participants use a briefing book prepared by the Foreign Policy Association.
In addition to CEFCU, PAWAC’s sponsors include Bradley University, Eureka College, Illinois Central College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Journal Star’s Newspaper in Education program, and Caterpillar Inc. To learn more about the Peoria Area World Affairs Council, email [email protected] or visit pawac.org. iBi