2014 Sister Cities International Annual Conference Recap

Sister Cities International hosted the 58th Annual Conference in San Jose, California from July 31-August 2. Over the course of three days, elected and municipal officials, engaged citizens, diplomats, and business leaders gathered in the exciting capital of Silicon Valley to discuss “The Power of Digital Diplomacy.” There were over 500 delegates in attendance from 26 different countries including 107 high school students participating in the Youth Leadership Summit.

Day 1

The Conference got off to a great start with a day full of cultural tours, including a Pacific Rim & Asia Connections Track, Latin America Track, and Geek Track (tech company tours), which allowed attendees to immerse in the many cultures of San Jose.

Finding Samuel Lowe family

The day culminated with a documentary screening of Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China. Members of the Lowe family joined in at the end of the screening for a Q&A with the audience. 

Day 2

Opening Ceremony & Parade of Flags

In a salute to Sister Cities International’s heritage as the oldest and largest national movement of citizen diplomats in the world, the Parade of Flags was combined with the City of San Jose Sister Cities Flag Raising Tradition to officially open the 58th Annual Conference. Over 110 flags from cities across the U.S. were marched in a beautiful display around San Jose City Hall by Youth Leadership Summit participants.

 Flag panorama

Silicon Valley native, Manuel Romero, serenaded the crowd in his rendition of the John Denver song “Sister Cities: We are One.” In addition, Sister Cities International’s President and CEO, Mary D. Kane, Chairman Tom Lisk, Councilman Ash Kalra, Vice Mayor of San Jose, Madison Nguyen, and Honorary Conference Co-Chair, Norman Y. Mineta, warmly welcomed all to the tech capital with promise of great things to come over the course of the Conference. 

Luncheon Keynote: Digital Technology, the Enabler of Today’s Citizen Diplomat

Digital Technology Luncheon Keynote


  • Carl Guardino, President and CEO, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group


  • Dan Gordon, CEO, Gordon Biersch in San Jose
  • Ken Kannappan, CEO, Plantronics in Santa Cruz
  • Steve Milligan, CEO, Western Digital in San Jose

Leaders in the Technology field joined together for a dialogue on tech companies, their role in digital diplomacy, and their impact on communities. Steve Milligan noted, “Tech has changed rapidly over the years, the public is now constantly engaged in a vast amount of data…we can use this to share information globally and diplomatically.” In terms of using social media in diplomacy, Ken Kannappan said, “Social media in the context of diplomacy is crucial. It helps to be a responsible, engaged steward to your community.” 

Green Growth: Using Green Technology as a Sustainable Tool for Economic Development 


  • Linda LeZotte, Director, District 4, Santa Clara Valley Water District


  • Doug Davenport, Executive Director, Prospect Silicon Valley
  • Consul General Dong-Man Han, Consulate General of the Republic of Korea
  • Kim Kwi-Gon, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Seoul National University and Secretary General, UEA Secretariat
  • Dorsey Moore, Director, District 4, Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, and Executive Director, San Jose Conservation Corps and Charter School

Green Growth panelists discussed how green technology is becoming a necessary concept to implement in a community’s sustainability goals. Communities are working together with their international partners to study, teach, and implement alternative energy methods into their framework. 

Vulnerable Populations in the Middle East


  • Johnny Khamis, Councilmember, San Jose City Council District 10


  • Dr. Persis Karim, Professor of Department of English and Comparative Literature, Director of Persian Studies, and Coordinator of Middle East Studies, San Jose State University


  • Aysha Hadi, Member, Karadah District Council and Baghdad Provincial Council
  • Mohammad Qayoumi, President, San Jose State University

Experts discussed the best approach to gain valuable relationships for U.S. and Middle Eastern communities. With political turmoil in the Middle East, now is an important time to reach out to Middle Eastern communities, with both old and new relationships. Sister cities can help further peace in can incorporate them into our current programs. 

Always ready always there: Connecting Your Program to Federal, State and Municipal Governments


  • Lorraine Hariton, Former Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State


  • Burga Santiago, Former Vice Chair, Santa Clara County/Region of Moscow 
  • Tracy Settle, President, Global Partnership Alliance
  • Lori Cooper, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of the European Union, U.S. Department of Commerce

Panelists conferred the best ways to connect sister cities to military organizations as well as federal, state, and municipal agencies and their programs. Partnering with such programs can help enhance international security and defense, public safety, and economic initiatives, as they establish trust. 

Intel’s the Internet of Things


  • Guy Allee, Smart America Challenge – Smart Cities USA, Intel Corporation

With the first Internet of Things presentation of the Conference, Guy Allee presented Intel’s technological advances and ways for sister cities to use them to their advantage in economic development initiatives. 

The U.S. Department of State’s Diaspora Panel 


  • Andrew O’Brien, Special Representative, Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State


  • Diana Campoamor, President, Hispanics in Philanthropy
  • Leigh Moran, Senior Officer, Calvert Foundation
  • Barry O’Sullivan, Co-Founder, Irish Technology Leadership Group
  • Stephen Ozoigbo, CEO, the African Technology Foundation

Diaspora Panel

The Diaspora panel focused on ways in which the Diaspora community can be used a great resource for international partnerships. Leveraging Diaspora communities in the sister city context was tackled from Irish, Nigerian/African, and Hispanic perspectives. Barry O’Sullivan explained the influence of philanthropic diaspora, in which diaspora groups can help get people to invest in their home country and use that as a strong business model. Leigh Moran encouraged groups to “Leverage digital infrastructure globally. Diaspora groups can use technology for exchange with their home countries.” 

Engaging Young Professionals


  • Jenelle Root Martell, Former Director of Programs and Grants, Sister Cities International


  • Vice Consul Kevin Byrne, Consulate of Ireland
  • Darcie Green, Community & Government Relations Manager, Kaiser Permanente
  • Barry O’Brien, Silicon Valley Bank, Diaspora Young Professionals

Young Professionals Panel

Engaging Young Professionals panelists delved into ways in which sister city programs can engage and attract the next generation of citizen diplomats. Yong Professionals themselves, the panelists suggested engaging with young people in the community to understand where their interests lie and how they would like to get involved with sister cities. Outreach to young professional groups, graduate programs, and young people who were previously involved with sister cities were suggested ways to actively pursue young professional engagement. 

The City of San Jose Welcome Reception & Dionne Warwick: Do You Know the Way to San Jose? Concert

The evening began with a reception at the Tech Museum of Innovation, where guests were able to explore the 132,000 square foot museum with food, drink, and entertainment highlighting San Jose’s eight sister cities. Mary Kane and Ash Kalra present Dionne Warwick with Global Ambassador Award

Concluding day two of the Annual Conference was an unforgettable concert experience. MGM Resorts International’s Inspiring Our World: A Musical Journey put on a moving performance as the opening act. Dionne Warwick’s headlining perormance was filled with memorable hits and kept the audience joyfully entertained. Mary D. Kane and Councilman Ash Kalra presented Ms. Warwick with the Global Ambassador Award, to recognize her for her humanitarian achievements. 

Day 3

Opening Keynote Remarks 

  • Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor

Secretary Perez

U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, opened up day three with a poignant speech about immigration, the workforce, and the importance of understanding international backgrounds in sister city relationships. He touched on how essential it is to work with young people to ensure that the next generation is ready to tackle challenges and become citizens of the world. When discussing sister city relationships, Perez highlighted, “…We need to work together with countries that are different from ours to form a more perfect global union.” 

Foreign Diplomatic Corps Panel


  • Mark Chandler, Director, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce 


  • Consul General Philip Grant, Consulate General of Ireland 
  • Consul General Tibisay Lugo, Consulate General of Venezuela 
  • Consul General Nuno Mathias, Consulate General of Portugal
  • Consul General Masato Watanabe, Consulate General of Japan
  • Consul General Andy David, Consulate General of Israel 

Foreign Diplomatic Corps Panel

A panel of embassy officials gathered to discuss the roles of sister cities in their countries’ bilateral ties with the United States. Consuls General brought several positive experiences with sister cities to the conversation including how similarities between a city and its sister city can help reengage local diaspora communities, how sister cities give opportunities to build vast global networks, and the importance of having consulates on board for sister city relationships to take advantage of a full range of opportunities. 

Show Me the Money: Grant Writing Workshop 


  • Dr. Carolyn Bishop, President, Consortium for Global Education and Board Member, Sister Cities International


  • Marianne G. Briscoe, Ph.D., ACFRE, President, Brakeley Briscoe Inc.
  • Melanie LeGrande,  Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility, Silicon Valley Community Foundation
  • Mary Schmidt, President & CEO, FireHorse Consulting

Show Me the Money: Grant Writing Workshop

This grant writing workshop gave attendees an opportunity to hear from experts on tips and tricks for strengthening grant applications. Panelists imparted valuable information and encouragement to the audience for the grant writing process. Marianne Briscoe pointed out that “if you haven’t written a grant that has failed, you haven’t written enough grants.” Having a compelling solution to a compelling problem or idea gives an organization a lot of leverage, especially when there’s urgency in implementation of the solution. 

Sports Diplomacy: Bringing the Globe Together through Sports 


  • Nina Bishop, Former Director, Sports United Office, U.S. Department of State


  • Brandi Chastain, Professional Soccer Player, California Storm, Women’s Premier Soccer League, and Former member of the United States women’s national soccer team
  • Anne Warner Cribbs, Olympian, and Chief Executive Officer of the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee
  • William Kim, President, World Taekwondo Martial Arts Council, and President, Northern California Taekwondo Association

Sports Diplomacy Panel

Through sports diplomacy, many sports teams use their natural community-building platform to influence social, political, and diplomatic relations. The panel of experts discussed how sports have influenced their lives on both personal and community levels. “Sports are a vehicle for growth and development…lessons transcend sport and give a kick start to the future,” Brandi Chastain said when reflecting on how sports impacted her from childhood on to the present. Nina Bishop explained how sports and structured and universal, which provides a great platform for exchange, as they are a universal language. Using sports in exchange programs is a great way to engage youth in sister city programs. 

Connect Globally, Thrive Locally: Partnering with Local Businesses for Positive Economic Impact 


  • Kim Walesh, Director of Economic Development, and Chief Strategist, City of San Jose


  • Marc Casto, President & COO, Casto Travel
  • Michael Fox, President & CEO, Goodwill Industries Of Silicon Valley
  • Tom LaBonge, Councilmember, Los Angeles Council District 4
  • Rose Herrera, Councilmember, San Jose City Council District 
  • Ruairi McGinley, City Councillor, Dublin, Ireland
  • Leela Stake, Director and Co-Chair, Global Sustainable Growth + Corporate Responsibility Group, APCO Worldwide

Panelists instructed participants on the best ways to begin partnering with local businesses in sister city programs while exposing them to new communities abroad. Having a sense of corporate social responsibility is an important aspect of modern business plans and can be leveraged in sister city programming efforts. 

Cisco’s Internet of Everything Presentation


  • Gordon Feller, Director in the Office of Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s Executive Vice President

Cisco's Internet of Everything

The second luncheon keynote of the Conference featured an astounding presentation on Cisco’s Internet of Everything, where attendees learned about where the future of day to day life is headed. Integrating people-to-people relationships and people-to-machine relationships is new way to consider connections. By incorporating the five features of visionary leadership, open global standards, smart regulation, public-private partnerships, and a global ecosystem of partners, the Internet of Everything and digital diplomacy intertwine and make for an innovative future of exchange and understanding.

Mind Your Manners: Protocol Training with a Digital Twist 


  • Joseph Hedges, International Program Manager, Office of Economic Development, City of San Jose


  • Donna Anderson, Business Educator Emeritus, Solano Community College, Fairfield, California
  • Lourdes Saab, Deputy Chief of Protocol/Manager, The County of Los Angeles
  • Michael E. Sands, Deputy Director of International Relations, City Council of Dublin, Ireland

Mind Your Manners Panel

The Mind Your Manners session taught participants about the correct code of conduct when working with an international sister city to eliminate cultural barriers and ultimately build stronger relationships. Tips included always doing research about others’ customs before an exchange and asking state departments, embassies, and diplomatic corps for advice on what to give for gifts and other cultural differences to anticipate before exchanges in and out of the U.S. 

Virtual Exchanges: Using New Technology to Enhance People-to-People Exchanges


  • Chrisella Sagers Herzog, Editor-in-Chief, WhiteHat Magazine and Managing Editor, Diplomatic Courier


  • Fahad Ahmad, Interim CEO, Soliya
  • Misty Avila, Program Director, Aspiration
  • David Potter, Chief Development Officer, iEARN-USA
  • Pedro Serrano, Managing Partner, CAVEDIGITAL

Virtual Exchanges panelists talked about the benefits of using technology to further strengthen international partnerships. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Skype are useful tools to help implement new, yet successful exchange programs, when sister city groups are unable to visit one another in person due to issues with money or capacity. 

Sister Cities in the Headlines: PR Basics Workshop 


  • Dr. Matthew Cabot, Associate Professor, Public Relations, San Jose State University


  • Janikke Klem, Vice President, Community Relations/PR, Tech CU
  • Tawnya Lancaster, Consultant, HallCASTER PR
  • Ruby Stone, Social Media Expert, Stone Media Consulting 

Sister Cities in the Headlines Panel

The PR Basics Workshop taught attendees to write press releases and new innovative ways to share stories to a targeted audience. Panelists stressed the importance of setting goals and messaging, evaluating successful outcomes, including powerful or informative imagery, and building relationships internally and externally. 

Looking Within: Advocating for Funding Locally and through Membership 


  • Pilar Furlong, 2014 Chapter President, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Silicon Valley Chapter, and Director of Community Resources, Bill Wilson Center


  • Kathleen Bennett, Principal Consultant, The Art of the Ask
  • Allison DeLauer, Principal, Muse Philanthropic Solutions

The Looking Within session encouraged members to convert friends and community members into donors, and taught audience members the various ways to raise funds locally through corporate sponsorships and annual appeals.

Cocktail Reception & 2014 Annual Awards Dinner and Ceremony

Awards Dinner & Ceremony

The 58th Annual Conference concluded with a wonderful Annual Awards Dinner and Ceremony hosted by Comedian Dan Nainan. Achievements made in 2013 were celebrated in the categories of best overall, volunteer of the year, and innovation in arts and culture, economic development, energy and sustainable development, humanitarian assistance, and youth and education. For a list of winners, click here

To view all photos from the 2014 Annual Conference, click here