Top 10 Moments from Sister Cities International’s 59th Annual Conference

VIP Reception - Mayor Betsy Hodges

Sister Cities International’s 59th Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota featured over 300 delegates from 111 cities and 15 countries. Attendees traveled from across the U.S. and globe to discuss “Bridging Generations for Peace.” Here are the top 10 moments from the weekend of engaging and inspiring events.

1. VIP Reception

VIP Reception - Mayor Betsy HodgesThe 59th Annual Conference kicked off with a beautiful VIP reception with remarks from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, City Council President Barbara Johnson, Sister Cities International’s President and CEO Mary D. Kane, and Meet Minneapolis’ Vice President of International Relations Bill Deef. Mayor Hodges highlighted the economic impact of sister cities on the city of Minneapolis as well as how sister cities are able to make the world a little smaller, creating a future that is about the world coming together, with people getting to know one another on a person-to-person basis. 

2. Opening Ceremony and Flag Parade

Flag ParadeThe Opening Ceremony featured a beautiful parade of 120 city flags from across the U.S. and globe, paraded by youth from local Minneapolis YMCA, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts groups. In addition to remarks from Mayor Hodges, Barbara Johnson, Mary Kane, and Bill Boerum, Paul Hansen, International Trade Representative from the Minnesota Trade Office announced an official proclamation declaring July 17 Sister Cities International Day. International representatives included Teresa P. Olson, Honorary Consul of Chile in Minnesota, Hon. Jackson K. Arap Mandago, Governor of Uasin Gishu County, Kenya, and Alex Meng, Representative from the Harbin Foreign Affairs Office, Harbin, China. The Youth Leadership Award winner, Bogdana Oliynyk of Fort Worth Sister Cities International (FWSCI) spoke about her involvement with FWSCI and how excited she is to be involved with sister cities as a next generation citizen diplomat. 

3. Luncheon Keynotes: Jesse Ventura and Rudy Maxa

Luncheon Keynote: Jesse Ventura

Our luncheon keynotes this year featured two exciting speakers, Governor Jesse Ventura and Rudy Maxa.

His first public speech in 10 years, Governor Jesse Ventura started off with a bang stressing the importance of peace. Governor Ventura’s speech kept the crowd engaged and laughing – gaining 60 new fans amongst the Youth Leadership Summit attendees. He noted that living abroad in Mexico amongst another culture made him a worldlier person and praised Sister Cities International’s efforts in connecting people across the globe in order to foster bonds and mutual understanding. 

Luncheon Keynote: Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa’s speech came close to home, as he joked about the differences between the two twin cities Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Explaining the cultural differences between the two cities and introducing the audience to the concept of “Minnesota Nice,” Maxa also stressed the importance of travel and its impact on the human experience. 

4. City Welcome Reception

City Welcome Reception: Native American DanceThe City Welcome Reception set at beautiful Nicollet Island Pavilion highlighted the diverse cultures of Minnesota and its 12 sister cities through local and international food and entertainment. Entertainment included a Traditional Lion Dance (representing Harbin, China), an American Swedish Institute Fiddle Trio (representing Uppsala, Sweden), Quetzal Cuatlicue Aztec Dance (representing Cuernavaca, Mexico), San Pablo Apostol, Chinelos (representing Cuernavaca, Mexico), Sounds of Hope (an international youth choir comprised of 74 performers from 12 different countries), Native Pride Dance, and a Somalian Museum Dance Troupe (representing Bosaso, Somalia) with attendees singing and dancing along throughout the evening.  

5. Breakfast Keynote: Foreign Diplomatic Corps Panel

Breakfast KeynoteSaturday morning began with the Foreign Diplomatic Corps Panel moderated by Andrew O’Brien, S/R for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State with speakers Tomosaburo Esaki, Counsellor, Management and Coordination Section, Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC; Jamshed Merchant, Consul General, Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis; Alberto Fierro Garza, Consul of Mexico, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Bruce Karstadt, President and CEO, American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis and Honorary Consul General of Sweden for the State of Minnesota. The diplomats discussed the importance of sister cities for each of their countries’ bilateral ties with the U.S. The panelists highlighted the importance of varying exchange sectors including business, culture, technology, and education.  

“This is why sister cities are vital: every country around the world wants to expand trade, these relationships create jobs and growth.” –Jamshed Merchant, Consul General, Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis

6. Friday and Saturday Breakout Sessions

Breakout SessionGetting into the meat of the Conference, attendees had the opportunity to attend 14 breakout sessions on topics ranging from grant writing and fundraising to sports diplomacy, disability awareness, and public relations crises. Panelists included experts from the field and representatives from sister city programs across the U.S. 

Click here to view a clip from Patrick Hirigoyen’s session Managing an Important Asset: Your Reputation.

7. Annual Awards Dinner

Annual Awards Ceremony

To conclude the exciting weekend of events, the Annual Awards Dinner highlighted sister city programs from across the U.S. for their influential and inspiring work in the categories of Best Overall, Innovation (Arts & Culture, Economic Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and Youth & Education), Volunteer of the Year, and Youth Leadership. Introductory remarks were made by Congressman Tom Emmer. Click here for a list of Annual Awards Winners.

Zana MarjanovicThe 2015 Global Corporate Responsibility Award went to Union Bank and the Michael A. Guido Distinguished Leadership Award went to the Honorable Zana Marjanovic. Upon accepting her award, Marjanovic moved the audience with her eloquent speech surrounding the power of the citizen diplomacy movement. She said, “Building ethnic, religious, and cultural bridges of peace begins with each of us. In Bosnia, we have to start building our bridges all over again, one individual one community at a time. We need to rebuild old bridges. But this time, let us make them indestructible. And the way to that is through a democratic process in which each individual will play an important role through citizen diplomacy.”

8. Youth Leadership Summit

Youth Leadership SummitThe Youth Leadership Summit this year included an excellent group 60 high school student leaders from across the U.S. and China. Click here to read the recap of their experience. 

9. New Board of Directors 

Sister Cities International’s membership elected seven new at-large Board of Directors, invigorating the network of 24 leaders. Click here to view a press release detailing the new Board. 

10. Sister Cities Day

Sister Cities DayTo close the exciting weekend of activities, Meet Minneapolis and Minneapolis Sister Cities hosted the 8th Annual Sister Cities Day and Free Ice Cream Social. This family-friendly community event showcased Minneapolis’s twelve sister city relationships through multi-cultural entertainment, exhibits, and children’s activities.

Minneapolis’ sister cities are: Santiago, Chile | Kuopio, Finland | Winnipeg, Canada | Ibaraki City, Japan | Novosibirsk, Russia | Tours, France | Harbin, China | Uppsala, Sweden | Eldoret, Kenya | Cuernavaca, Mexico | Najaf, Iraq | Bosaso, Somalia

CLICK HERE to view photos from the Conference.