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Sister Cities International
Abbreviation SCI
Formation 1956
Purpose/focus To create and strengthen partnerships between U.S. and international communities
Headquarters 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 850.
Washington, DC 20004
Website Official Website

Sister Cities International is an American nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between U.S. and international communities. Currently more than 2,500 communities are partnered in 134 countries around the world. [1] The organization “strives to build global cooperation at the municipal level, promote cultural understanding and stimulate economic development”. [2]


Mission and goals

The organization's mission is to "promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, & cooperation — one individual, one community at a time." [2]

SCI's stated goals are to

  • Develop municipal partnerships between U.S. cities, counties, and states and similar jurisdictions in other nations.
  • Provide opportunities for city officials and citizens to experience and explore other cultures through long-term community partnerships.
  • Create an atmosphere in which economic and community development can be implemented and strengthened.
  • Stimulate environments through which communities will creatively learn, work, and solve problems together through reciprocal cultural, educational, municipal, business, professional and technical exchanges and projects.
  • Collaborate with organizations in the United States and other countries which share similar goals. [2]



Early years

Despite isolated community partnerships and informal citizen relations, the people-to-people initiative did not gain momentum until U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's historic September 11-12 1956 White House conference on citizen diplomacy. The post-World War II climate proved an ideal environment to launch this kind of effort. With enthusiastic response to the concept, tens-of thousands of Americans pledged their support to create a free and peaceful world.

Growing out of the two-day White House Conference, participants formed forty-two "People-to-People" committees. The autonomous nature of the federally backed movement meant that some committees flourished while others never left the ground. By 1960, thirty-three committees continued the original mission. People-to-People International also grew out of this umbrella group of committees.

The sister city idea developed from the Civic Committee. Envisioned by President Eisenhower as the 'main cog' for citizen diplomacy, the sister city program grew throughout the 1950's and 1960's. The Civic Committee and the National League of Cities provided joint administrative support for the fledgling sister city movement until 1973.

A 1974 study found that many early sister city relationships formed out of the post WWII aid programs to Western Europe. The relationships that endured, however, were based on cultural or educational reasons that developed lasting friendships.

During the mid-1960s, city affiliations recognized that their diverse efforts needed coordination. In 1967, the Town Affiliation Association of the U.S. (already popularly known as Sister Cities International) was created.

Entering new territories

In 1979, the very first U.S. and People's Republic of China links were created. San Francisco made waves by forming a "friendship" relationship with Shanghai, China. Despite Cold War tensions, U.S. cities had already initiated sister city relationships with the Soviet Union in 1973.

Programs at that time focused on basic urban problems such as water and sanitation, health, housing, education and transportation. Begun in 1977, the national Technical Assistance Program (TAP) worked to create training programs to increase employment, establish cooperatives and credit unions or to create appropriate small-scale industries. Development agencies realized that industrializing countries experienced the same urban problems as developed nations. The sister city movement provided a mechanism for communities to share their experiences and growing pains. TAP focused on a spiral out benefits system. For example, a city project to improve surface drainage would indirectly aid the urban poor. These citizens would gain better sanitation and possible employment from the project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided seed grant money for the project.

In the mid 1970s, the Town Affiliation Association began the School Affiliation Program. Through this program, youth gained greater sensitivity toward other cultures and a broader global perspective. In one program, Oakland, California and Fukuoka, Japan spent a school year exchanging artwork and conducting workshops on the Japanese culture.

Celebrating a 25th anniversary

The Town Affiliation Association marked its 25th anniversary in 1981. By that time, 720 U.S. cities representing 85 million citizens were linked to over 1,000 communities in 77 nations around the world. In addition, the association's name evolved to its current form, Sister Cities International.

During the 1980s, a focus on municipal twinning developed. Mayors began to focus on relationships that offered technical assistance in municipal development. Similar to TAP, these exchanges worked on citywide issues such as solid waste management, urban planning, emergency response training and emergency management.

Cities also concentrated on international trade development. Building on their sister city relationships, participants developed economic interests with practical benefits. In one joint venture, a Baltimore, Maryland business sent engines to a business in Xiamen, China. Factories in China used the engines in excavating equipment and forklift manufacturing. Despite ongoing debate on international trade, these cities took initiative and implemented durable business ventures at the grassroots level.

End of the Cold War and creating new ties

In September 1991, an unprecedented gathering of 220 Soviet officials and citizens arrived for the U.S.-Soviet Union Sister Cities conference. Held in Cincinnati, Ohio, organizers noted this was the largest-ever gathering of Soviet citizens in the U.S. With the Soviet Union's political and economic situation, delegates discussed developing local government, citizen involvement, education and the environment. Trade and creating business ventures also featured importantly at the conference. From there, the mayors visited their individual sister cities for five days. The conference sought to encourage international understanding and communication amongst ordinary citizens. This event followed the failed August coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev and preceded the eventual independence of the Soviet Republics at the end of 1991.

Capitalizing on the growing world economy, many sister city members developed business agreements with their partners. Vermont's Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream company, for example, started a factory in Karelia, Russia. The company served 3,000 Russians a day and offered the same profit-sharing framework to its Russian employees as found in the American company. While not a primary goal, business relationships were a natural by-product of sister city exchanges.

During the mid 1990s many U.S. mayors conducted exploratory tours to countries in Asia, including India and Vietnam. The mayors addressed common urban issues; experienced the culture; facilitated economic opportunities; and promoted new sister city partnerships. The United States Information Agency (USIA) co-sponsored one trip with the Vietnam-U.S.A. Society as the sponsors in Vietnam.

The Internet offered another medium for communication. Through the introduction of email in 1993, Sonoma, California could communicate instantaneously with its sister city Kaniv, Ukraine.

In 1995 the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to eliminate the United States Information Agency. With vocal support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors International Affairs Committee and sister city members, Sister Cities International continued with renewed support from the government. USIA eventually merged with the U.S. Department of State and became the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

21st century

Sister Cities International now facilitates a Sister Cities Network for Sustainable Development. The network bases its programs on the policies outlined by the international community such as the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals. In 2001, the U.S. government launched the Friendship Through Education consortium, through which Sister Cities International was an active participant. The program aims to help American school children network and learn from Islamic counterparts overseas. As a result of the consortium, Sister Cities International became a participant in the Youth Exchange and Study program. Through this program, students predominantly from the Middle East study for a year in the U.S. On a 2004 exchange, students from Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, West Bank, Tunisia and Yemen lived in the U.S. for a year with host families and attended a leadership summit in Boulder, Colorado. To further the youth program's goals, Sister Cities International developed a Youth and Education Network in 2004.

Areas of focus

  • Muslim World Partnership Initiative — Encouraging engagement with the Muslim world through Sister Cities partnerships, joint programs and educational outreach.
  • Partnership & Peace Travel Program — trip participants visit new countries and communities, learn about the history, eat the food, walk on the streets to experience cultural heritage and meet with elected officials and business leaders.
  • Youth & Education — Projects focused on building multicultural awareness and understanding among youth globally. Project areas: youth exchange, teacher exchange, youth adult partnership, youth in governance, virtual classrooms, e-exchanges, scholarship programs and sister schools.
  • Visa Resources — Recent news on visa legislation, application updates for the inbound travelers, and information on networking partners.
  • Legislative & Policy Updates — SCI's Legislative Initiative to gain more support from the United States Congress for a national funding program that would make more Federal dollars available for local Sister City programs.
  • Annual Awards — An annual program that honors local sister city programs. Categories include: overall program, arts & culture, economic development, disability awareness and more.
  • Humanitarian Assistance — Projects that help address both long-term and emergency needs in communities.
  • Sustainable Development — Projects focused on developing communities today while supporting future needs. Project areas: good governance, energy systems, clean water, healthcare, economic development, environmental conservation, poverty alleviation, accessibility and disaster reconstruction.
  • Grants — Sister Cities International applies for federally funded and private grants that are often passed on to local sister city organizations.


External links


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