Inventing International Exchange Programs

  • Overseas
  • 1919

International exchanges of scholars and leaders—which have had a large role in fostering peace, freedom, and economic liberalism across the globe—were invented by American philanthropic organizations. One early exchange program was the Roosevelt Partnership linking Harvard University and the University of Berlin, which was established with a $50,000 gift from James Speyer in 1905. Philanthropically supported exchanges were formed at the University of Wisconsin in 1911 and at Cornell University in 1913.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation both sponsored early international exchanges, academic fellowships, and organizations promoting cross-cultural understanding. In 1919 Carnegie established the Institute of International Education. Today it is the largest student and faculty exchange program in the world, administering almost 700 programs on behalf of thousands of donors. Between 1918 and 1934, the Rockefeller Foundation spent $15 million on scholarly exchanges between overseas nations and the U.S. Many other Rockefeller ventures in this area followed, for instance the Asian Cultural Program created in 1967 specifically to build wider linkages and understanding between the U.S. and the Orient.

Finally recognizing the value of exchanges as a form of public diplomacy, the U.S. government started supporting international visits and study after World War II. Today a wide mix of private, public, and dual-funded exchanges exist, involving a panoply of countries. If anything, philanthropic innovation in this area has accelerated over the past two decades. A few examples follow.

The Freeman Foundation, created from the fortune of Mansfield Freeman, who was both a co-founder of the AIG insurance company and a longtime resident of Asia and a China scholar, has donated millions of dollars since 1994 to support academic exchanges with Asian countries. From 2001 to 2013 the Ford Foundation spent $355 million to provide higher education to 4,300 leaders from poor countries, mostly at Western universities, through its International Fellowships Program (see 2001 entry). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already devoted $210 million to its Gates Cambridge Scholars program which brings people from around the world together for graduate study (see 2000 entry). The Open Society Foundations pour large sums every year into educational and cultural exchanges benefiting persons living in countries with “repressive governance.” Financier Stephen Schwarzmann recently pulled together $300 million to create a program that unites at China’s Tsinghua University 200 top college graduates from China and Western countries (see 2014 entry). The aim of many of these efforts is to build mutual understanding among national leaders of the next generation.