President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched a people-to-people initiative at a White House Conference in 1956, founded on the belief that creating bonds between peoples around the world promotes peace, goodwill, understanding, and prosperity. These bonds are effectuated through citizen diplomacy and with aspirations of international cooperation.
Sister Cities International, which officially incorporated in 1967, is the nonprofit, volunteer organization that developed to support the Sister Cities project. It is the world’s largest citizen diplomacy network, working to create a more peaceful and prosperous future through community-led global relations.
The Little Rock Sister Cities Commission was created in 1993 to meet the growing demand for formal Sister City relationships between Little Rock and cities around the world.
The Little Rock Sister Cities Commission was created by Ordinance No. 16,306 in 1992 and No. 16,345 in 1993. It is responsible for fostering and maintaining relationships between the City of Little Rock and its Sister City partners by promoting mutual cross-cultural understanding, providing regular interaction and information exchange, and creating economic development opportunities. The Commission supports a variety of cultural activities and events.
The 13-member Commission is appointed by the Little Rock Board of Directors and appointees serve 5-year terms. The duties of the Commission are to develop guidelines and programs for Sister City relationships, to further public awareness of other cultures and communities, and to emphasize cultural, historical, and commercial exchanges with Little Rock’s Sister Cities. A further duty of the Commission is to explore other Sister City relationships, particularly where connections already exist in the private and nonprofit sectors.
The Sister Cities
The City of Little Rock is fortunate to have five Sister City relationships: Kaohsiung, Taiwan, since 1983; Hanam City, South Korea, since 1992; Changchun, People’s Republic of China, since 1994; Newcastle upon Tyne, England, since 1999; and Caxias do Sul, Brazil, since 2017 [links?].
Sister Cities are selected on the basis of mutual interests and common values relating to government, business, education, youth leadership and training, the arts and cultural understanding, and citizen exchanges. They must be mutually committed to supporting and organizing developments of these common activities, experiences, and future programs. When possible, there has been an attempt to match the size of the Sister City with that of Little Rock. Each relationship carries a sense of potential, as future exchanges may lead to greater benefits.
Every other year, representatives from each Sister City are invited to come to Little Rock to be welcomed and greeted by government officials and other prominent members of the community. The visits range in length from three to five days and involve both official events and informal tours of the City and neighboring areas. Visits are aimed at enriching the Sister City relationship and providing opportunities for individuals with common interests to meet and discuss cross-cultural and economic opportunities.
The Little Rock Sister Cities Commission aims to stimulate, facilitate, coordinate, and cooperate with existing organizations domestically and abroad for the promotion and development of Sister City relationships.
These are the cornerstones of the Commission:
- Public Programs: To initiate, sponsor, or conduct, independently or in conjunction with other cities or agencies, public programs to further awareness of and interest in communities throughout the world, particularly emphasizing cultural, historical, and economic aspects of Little Rock Sister Cities
- Economic Development: To use Little Rock’s established relationships with our Sister Cities to create and encourage economic exchanges
- Youth and Education: To support, along with the Little Rock Sister Cities Foundation, the Mayor’s Youth Council Leadership Program [link?], and to help facilitate this important international exchange of youth ambassadors
- Effective Communications: To keep the citizens of Little Rock informed of the Commission’s activities and how the Commission is contributing to the advancement of the City of Little Rock and its citizens, utilizing technology and special events
Youth Leadership Program
The Little Rock Sister Cities Commission partners with the Mayor’s Youth Council to sponsor the Youth Leadership Program for Little Rock high school students who demonstrate exceptional leadership potential.
The mission of this program is to train the next generation of leaders in our city, and is accomplished in two ways:
- By educating program participants about Little Rock so that they can be effective ambassadors of our city
- By educating program participants about another culture through travel to a Little Rock Sister City
The first part of the program is the Little Rock-based curriculum, which participants complete in the months leading up to the international trip. It consists of one session each month and covers Little Rock’s government and politics, healthcare, justice system, education, economic development, and the arts. The Sister Cities Commission works with city leaders in our Sister Cities to establish a similar program for their students. Participants are then able to compare their cities with the Sister City they visit on their international trip, encouraging critical thinking about and evaluations of the cities. On the international trip, the second part of the program, the youth ambassadors experience the history, language, food, culture, arts, and daily activities of the city they visit. The students live with host families to more develop a fuller understanding and appreciation of their culture. It is an unparalleled way of experiencing each other’s humanity. They meet with the city’s mayor and other officials, visit local schools and/or universities, tour the United States embassy, eat at local restaurants, and experience other educational outreach opportunities.