Obama and Castro make history; the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund gains momentum

I was invited to represent NAFSA at last week's CEO Summit of the Americas in Panama, which brought together corporate leaders in a meeting prior to the 7th Summit of the Americas for heads of state in the Western Hemisphere. The Summits were held to discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values, and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level.

As a result of recent shifts in Cuba policy announced by the Obama Administration, Cuba was invited for the first time to join the Summit, and the significance of this historic moment was palpable for all of us in attendance. Given NAFSA's long-standing advocacy work on removing travel restrictions to Cuba, it was incredibly moving to be present for this historic moment. I had the opportunity to personally thank President Obama for his leadership on this issue, as well as offer NAFSA's support for the work ahead on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, essential issues to resolve if we are to truly become a globally engaged, secure, and welcoming nation.

Normalization of relations with Cuba marks a long-awaited shift from a failed policy of isolationism toward one of greater potential understanding and respect for both the Cuban and American people, and repositions the United States more favorably with Latin American nations throughout the region.

NAFSA attended the Summit in order to celebrate progress, generate additional corporate support, and outline next steps on President Obama's signature education initiative for the hemisphere, 100,000 Strong in the Americas. NAFSA has joined with the U.S. Department of State, Partners of the Americas, and the White House to establish and advance this unique initiative. To date, several corporations have committed more than $5 million. This public-private partnership is the first of its kind to focus on leveraging higher education's interest in sustainably increasing and diversifying study abroad in the hemisphere, while also responding to key workforce development needs. Corporate sector interest in investing in the initiative is gaining momentum, and we look forward to our work ahead to connect the public, private, and higher education sectors to this ground-breaking opportunity.

We are grateful for the generous corporate sponsorships of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund to date, including CAF Development Bank of Latin America; The Coca-Cola Foundation; Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Exxon Mobil Foundation; Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation; Santander Universities, a division of Santander Bank; and Sempra International. I also join Partners of the Americas, the U.S. Department of State, and the White House in congratulating the winners of the latest round of innovation grants, announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

I left the Summit feeling more optimistic than ever about the future of U.S. higher education partnerships in the Western Hemisphere. President Obama featured the 100,000 Strong Initiative throughout his meetings at the Summit, including a private meeting with executives to discuss the importance of higher education exchange in advancing workforce development goals in the region. The commitment of the higher education and private sectors continues to grow.

This successful partnership would not be possible without Partners of the Americas' enthusiastic, ongoing management of the program; the Department of State Western Hemisphere Bureau's equally engaged support; the consistent leadership of the White House; and NAFSA's advocacy role. All of these elements provide the infrastructure to continue to expand the program.