At the end of last year, I traveled with BCIU’s President, Peter Tichansky, to Abu Dhabi. Considering the challenges facing the world right now, I know how lucky we were to be able to gather with leaders from the region—and this time away not only nourished my soul, but also provided me with an important reset.

In 2022, I feel optimistic about what lies ahead and am reflective and thankful about the unique relationships and education that have shaped who I am. When I was called upon to serve as Chair of BCIU, I knew that the organization’s mission of enhancing knowledge and understanding was deeply rooted in my own history. If it wasn’t for education, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I was born in 1952 to a 16-year-old mother in Greensboro, Alabama. I was raised by my grandparents in Birmingham during the turbulent times of the Civil Rights era, when Birmingham was known as “Bombingham.” My grandfather, Cornelius, was a nickel-a-week funeral insurance policy salesman, and my beloved grandmother, Allie, traveled over the mountain every day to work at the homes of well-to-do white people. In my community, schools were segregated, so it was up to our families, local churches and schools to nurture the children of Birmingham.

From an early age, my grandfather taught me the cardinal rules of business, like, “Keep your word ’til it hurts”. My grandmother would bring me books from the homes she cleaned, and taught me that no one can ever take away your education. Law school, business school and the world of work all grew my interest in the business of bringing disparate individuals together. This work of creating relationships and bridging divides came naturally to me; my grandfather taught me to deal with people as if I planned on seeing them again. He told me, “Transactions are episodic, Jim. Relationships are a lifetime.” That is something BCIU knows well.

When I consider what BCIU has done for the past 66 years, nearly as long as I’ve been around, I remind myself that the same man who created BCIU ended the Korean War, spearheaded the interstate highway system and laid the groundwork for the internet. He also put his political capital on the line by being the first president to send federal troops to desegregate a public school.

Eisenhower understood that education was essential not only to understanding, but ultimately to peace and prosperity. Today, the essence of Eisenhower’s vision for BCIU is more alive than ever. BCIU is the vehicle that allows international understanding to move across the globe through collaborations between businesses, governments and institutions of every ilk. But in many ways, the BCIU that was created 66 years ago is different from the BCIU of today, and it will be drastically different 66 years from now. Looking to that far-off horizon, we have an incredible opportunity to strengthen and accelerate BCIU as an enterprise.

We enter 2022 with a set of core objectives: to identify opportunities and deliver results for our members, to serve as a sounding board to government leaders, including the Biden administration, to deepen our industry and regional portfolios, and to expand our work on diversity, equity and inclusion. We are planning additional opportunities in new regions of the world, taking on new challenges with both experienced and fresh eyes, and emphasizing cross-sectoral collaboration to meet complex modern obstacles. We will do all this while measuring our impact against how we help members and partners transform.

BCIU will meet these goals because of our tremendous team of experts. We continue to invest in expanding our organization and scaling the impact of our stakeholders in forging global solutions. By doing more active listening and focusing on adding value and expanding our network, we will continue to enhance the exciting work being done within our global community.

Wherever I meet people—be it in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Indonesia or Ghana—the macro changes taking place across the environmental, social and political realms are at the heart of everyone’s concerns. Today, there are issues being raised about politics, the law, the constitution and the world order that are felt incredibly intensely. But one thing we’ve learned is that these issues are ultimately subject to change 50 years from now. History is never settled; however, the opportunities and growth BCIU will see in the coming years will allow us to advocate for international understanding for generations to come.

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