Creating a globally fluent region in Columbus, Ohio

Editor's note:

Brookings worked with Columbus to develop its exports and foreign direct investment strategy through the Global Cities Initiative: A Joint Project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase. The Columbus Council on Global Affairs received grants from JPMorgan Chase to support the Global Fluency Institute.  Brookings was not involved in any aspect of conceiving, developing, reviewing, or approving a grant application, and the grant was not a consideration in assessing the relevance of this program.

The ways metro areas are tied to and dependent on the global economy can be subtle, and often ‘hidden’ from those living and working in them.  While major new foreign investment projects or the downsizing of a large local firm can grab headlines, the economies and cultures of mid-tier U.S. metro areas have become quietly more global through less visible means, such as middle market firms, mergers and acquisitions, exports, immigration, and foreign students.  This lack of community awareness—or what Brookings has termed global fluency – can limit the ability of metro areas to identify and capitalize on new economic opportunities, successfully integrate newcomers, and ensure the population is prepared to adapt to rapidly changing economic realities.

Led by the Columbus Council on World Affairs (CCWA), Columbus, Ohio is addressing this disconnect with a model new program to educate and train its community to be more globally fluent.  The CCWA’s programs are unique in that they are designed to better ensure long-term economic vitality and quality of life in the Columbus region by increasing the global fluency of its existing residents, not just support executives that conduct business internationally or help new foreign executives make the adjustment to living in the region.

The effort started with better telling the region’s story through a revamping of the organization’s annual global report.  The new report highlights compelling stories about the region’s competitiveness and clarifies its global position through data comparisons in an effort to drive home the importance of global and cultural awareness to the region’s future economic growth and health.  This is significant because in our work across the country we find that economic development organizations often overlook the importance of starting and maintaining a new initiative with research that builds and sustains awareness of the topic and its importance.  So this represents not just a redesign of the previous global report, but recognition of the need to justify and more intentionally tell the story from the outset to move forward with a new vision.

In 2015, CCWA launched the Global Fluency Institute (GFI) to train local leaders and employees to be more culturally competent and globally fluent, allowing them to successfully interact with diverse populations and navigate foreign cultures. Training involves half-day and full-day sessions focused on intercultural competence in business environments and in-depth cultural awareness, which can be targeted to specific countries and cultures.  As economic development leaders at Columbus 2020 and the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange prepared to implement the region’s newly-released export and FDI plan, they became the first groups to participate in the training, which was focused on the plan’s priority markets: China, Japan, and Germany.

The program has since evolved, based on demand, to also help organizations engage with locally-based international communities.  In addition to training Abbott Nutrition to more successfully engage in foreign markets, GFI helped the Columbus Foundation respond to an increasingly diverse local population, Reynoldsburg Schools better engage immigrants and refugees, and the City of Dublin prepare city leaders and staff (e.g., parks, police, city manager) to interact with growing ethnic communities.  GFI has also sponsored “public” sessions to train individual professionals from a variety of local employers and corporations.

GFI operates under a social enterprise model, using all profits from the training to support the growth of its student-focused Global Scholars Diploma (GSD), a program designed to expose students –the next generation of talent in Columbus—to global fluency concepts.  This diversified revenue portfolio better ensures that the training is self-sustaining and that CCWA can live up to its commitment of “global education for all,” regardless of a school or student’s economic means.  The GSD began with 40 students during the 2013-14 school year (before the GFI was formed), has expanded to include over 600 students in 2016-17, and is projected to reach 8,000 students in 2020-21. In March 2017, the GFI launched an Educator Module focused on helping teachers and staff at K-12 schools understand, communicate with, and educate their increasingly diverse classrooms.

“We’ve been surprised by the enormous demand, especially from locally-focused organizations that are seeking to more effectively engage the global communities living and working within our own region,” says CCWA’s president and CEO Patrick Terrien.