by Karen Brune Mathis
World Affairs Council of Jacksonville members closed the program year Tuesday night with a challenge and a charge.
About 100 members of the 900-member organization were challenged by retired Adm. Jonathan Howe, the group chair, and former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, an at-large board member, to debate several global issues over dinner at The River Club and report back to the group.
They were further charged to continue their education about international affairs and to include their participation in the World Affairs Council in the coming season as part of that.
Howe said the organization has expanded from 800 members last year, “but we want to grow.”
“We still haven’t reached the full audience that we could,” he said. “I feel the potential is big.”
Formed in 1985 as the National Interest Forum, the group joined the World Affairs Councils of America in 1995.
Members include a who’s who of business, military, legal and international leaders as well as students and community advocates interested in Northeast Florida’s role in international affairs.
The council is funded by membership dues, sponsorships, donations and grants to bring in speakers of global expertise.
It is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, with 44 sponsors this year, and states that its mission is “to promote understanding of the world and its people and to engage citizens of Northeast Florida in becoming informed participants in the global community.”
After a year of global speakers, programs and other events, the council wrapped up the season with Howe and Soderberg presenting “Current Global Challenges.”
Soderberg and Howe listed the global issues to discuss, including Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts and relations; Iraq; Arab Spring, the movement for political change in the Middle East; nuclear issues; the global importance of China; global energy, water and food availability; and cyber security.
Soderberg termed those the “around-the-world tour of challenges” and asked members to continue the discussion at their tables, answering the question: “If you were in government, how would you solve the problem?”
After Howe and Soderberg discussed the issues, Howe summarized that cooperation is needed on an international scale.
“There is a possibility that people of good will can come together and work on these issues,” said Howe. “The U.S. needs to engage in the world, and we need to be leaders.”
The at-capacity room of 100 participants among 10 tables continued the discussion, later reporting dozens of observations.
“None of these issues are easy or they would have been solved long ago,” summarized Soderberg, listing some of the findings of the group, including that Afghanistan “is a mess,” “Arab Spring might become hellfire,” and China’s global influence is pervasive.
Moreover, “there is a sense the youth is going to solve a lot of these issues,” she said.
The council offers speaker series and other events.
The “global issues evenings” are the flagship events and typically take place at the University of North Florida University Center. Speakers present international issues and offer a question-and-answer period. Attendance ranged this year from 615 to 735 people, and premier-level members are invited to a private reception prior to the program.
The evening programs at UNF are co-hosted with the UNF Distinguished Voices Lecture Series.
The “global business luncheons” are designed for the business community and are co-hosted by the Gate Governors Club at The River Club.
They feature speakers about international political, economic, business and financial trends. Attendance ranged from 72 to 175 people.
The council arranges “special engagements” to feature members with expertise about international topics.
In addition, the council offers special events, an educational program, a travel program and a young professionals’ organization.
One of the table leaders Tuesday night offered a specific observation. “Everyone in this room should go to all the lectures this year and learn more about all these issues.”