Sister-City Relationships Coffee Talks

Being a French resident in the U.S., a European citizen, as well as a self-proclaimed citizen of the world, I am a natural advocate for sister-city relationships. However, some of my friends are rather skeptical about the whole sister-city thing. If you are not sure about where you stand on the topic, here are six coffee talks about the sister-city relationships to help you make up your mind.


Coffee Talk #1:
“Isn’t it an Old World vision?”

It is an American, President Eisenhower who created the movement sister-cities international in the U.S. in the late 50’s as an attempt to build long-lasting peace through citizen diplomacy. This effort followed the atrocities of the two World Wars. It is also true that the European Construction launched in parallel to the conclusion of many sister city agreements. However, the movement has been global since day one. It’s also modern because it promotes a “people powered” vision of diplomacy nourished by the painful takeaways from the wars.

Many U.S. top cities fully embrace the concept. Let’s take Chicago, for instance. The “Windy City” introduces herself as a “global city.” And indeed, looking at the list of her sisters, you realize it’s not just all about the Old World: only 12 of Chicago’s sister-cities are European.

Coffee Talk #2:
“The world is a global village! Who cares about sister-city relationships when you can reach anyone from your mobile.”

I see a lot of advertising today about websites helping people find their roots through DNA analysis. The world is global, but still, we crave for knowing more about where we come from.

Immigration is the foundation of America. Let’s say you are a Chicago resident of Irish descent. Wouldn’t it be fantastic for your kids to participate in a school exchange with the gorgeous city of Galway, in beautiful Connemara? Or make friends with classmates from Durban in South Africa, Busan in South Korea or Accra in Ghana? These are memories for a lifetime. It makes me think of the happy feeling you get when traveling and making friends along the way.

Coffee Talk #3:
“Sister-city relationships should focus on cities of similar size and economic magnitude,” or “sister-city relationships should tie a prosperous developed city with a town from an emerging country.”

It’s possible to look at the sister-city relationships from the angle of economic influence or density of population; stating that sisters should share a similar profile for the partnership to work. To learn more, read “the Real Sister-Cities of Dallas”, an article published in April 2017  in D Magazine.

However, this is restrictive. Smaller cities can be more agile, innovative or bring exciting challenges. Also, an emerging city may be less developed economically but pretty advanced in the field of research or innovation such as Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. It’s more about complementarity than similarity or polar opposites. The sister-city relationships should also be a way to give exposure to cities whose voices are getting lost in the hustle and bustle of the world.

Coffee Talk #4:
“I don’t see sister-city relationships bring concrete realizations.”

True! Unlike Chicago, cities don’t always engage and invest in a consistent fashion in sister-city relationships. It’s not enough to just “adopt” a city as a sister. The relationship needs concrete projects. Sister-cities relationships are relevant due to potential economical benefits. I wish city mayors would lead by example and emphasize the strategic importance of citizen diplomacy in a world dominated by economic difficulties and social tensions. As citizens we can get involved at so many levels; by supporting, volunteering, or through donations and make a difference.

Coffee Talk #5:
“Why not focus on local, instead of spending on projects abroad.”

Let’s not lose sight of the purpose of the sister-city relationships. It is about working together towards a better world. We are stronger together than divided. However launching programs that make sense to the communities is essential.

Coffee Talk # 6
“I don’t see the return on investment, time wise or money wise.”

Do we necessarily need something in return? I believe friendships are for free yet incredibly valuable and vital. Whether diplomatic or personal, relationships need to be nurtured, experienced and shared through stories. Sometimes they are a win-win, and sometimes they are not balanced. But in all cases partners commit to supporting each other, as family members would do.

Shall We or Shan’t We Embrace the Movement?

Sister-city relationships give us a chance to experience the difference. The French writer, diplomat, and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupery in his book, Letter to A Hostage (1943) wrote: “Si je diffère de toi, loin de te leser, je t’augmente”, meaning: “If I differ from you, far from harming you, I increase you.”

It is always harder to trust a stranger. It is like taking a bet on the unknown. However crossing this mental Rubicon, is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Sister-city relationships are all about putting the building of individual and collective trust on a global scale.

I hope I have convinced you that sister-city relationships matter. It is about us getting involved and make the world feel smaller, friendlier. It is about us becoming better people and better citizens.

On the same topic, read: “Why the sister city realtionship does matter.” 

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