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Friday, September 8, 2017

Expanding Our Core – Part 2 of a Blog Series by Jeremi Snook

This is the second entry in a series of blog posts by CEO Jeremi Snook outlining the goals of the 40th Anniversary Campaign. Read Part One here.

I love to garden. Well, to be more precise, I love the idea of gardening. Growing up in rural New England, in the far northeastern corner of the United States, our growing season was short. At the end of each winter, with increasing anticipation, we looked forward to putting seeds into the ground. Growing wax beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and summer squash was part of what we did each year as a family, and with the end of growing season always looming, there was never enough time to complain about weeding or the heat of summer.  

As an adult, I carried the nostalgia of that gardening experience to our home in Georgia. But instead of a small manageable garden, I wanted a ridiculously large garden. Unlike the garden experience I remembered from my youth, the growing season was long. So long, in fact, there were two growing seasons in Georgia. And unlike a little warmth at the peak of summer in New England, Georgia consistently delivers an endless supply of sweltering hot days with little to no rain. While I remember plucking just a few pesky weeds with my family, my ambitious 40-foot-by-60-foot Georgian vegetable kingdom was constantly invaded by armies of neighboring grasses, weeds, and wild herbs. Needless to say, I was tempted at many points to give up on the project as each day’s labor slowly began to replace once fond memories of gardening with calluses, soreness, and frustration.

That was until I discovered the miracle of drip irrigation, the efficiency of a gas-powered tiller, and the necessity of friends and neighbors with decades more experience to help guide us – and to help pull weeds at the end of a rainstorm! With the need for a garden out of my system, we’ve moved on from the 40-by-60-foot second job and are now satisfied supporting local agriculture at the farmer’s market (where I can also drink coffee and eat samples in the cool shade!).  If there was one big take-away from the experience, it was this: You need the right tools for the job or you will only burn yourself out.

Friendship Force is not a garden, but the growth we hope to see and aim to achieve requires that we have the right tools. Over the years, clubs have experimented with different recruitment methods (think FF Taupo’s successful technique) and adopted new approaches to welcoming younger members (think Associate Members in Nara) with great success. Many clubs have developed their own specialized welcome brochures and training materials, and some regions even have their own websites and encourage online interaction amongst their members. These approaches are fantastic examples of the kind of innovation that will propel Friendship Force forward. But could we do more?  

As I study these kinds of club successes, I’m constantly perplexed by one question:

What is the single most important thing that world headquarters could do to amplify and support these efforts at the local level?

Is it greater press coverage of the work we are collectively doing to promote greater understanding? Is it shiny new marketing materials available in multiple languages? Perhaps it’s an easier way to create clubs through a streamlined process that uses both the power of the internet and the power of our seasoned leaders within FFI? Maybe it’s creating different membership types, like many of our clubs have already done, to make it easier for people to be a part of what we’re doing?

Unfortunately there isn’t just one thing we need to do, it’s all of the above. And depending upon where you are in the world, your one thing is likely different from the one thing needed on the other side of the world.  

Strengthening worldwide membership and building new clubs requires that we invest strategically in all the tools mentioned above. This 40th Anniversary Campaign goal aims to equip FFI with the right tools to be more impactful in our club development efforts worldwide. With standard recruitment materials at your fingertips, better technology, access to universal trainings, and defined processes for regionally-specific media engagement, we can amplify the work you all are doing in your communities.  

Perhaps in these ways we can help make tending your garden in your part of the world a little easier.

Stay tuned for additional entries into this series about the 40th Anniversary Campaign, and read Part One here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friendship Force International – New Promotional Video

Watch our new promotional video… now in six different languages.

Watch video in: FrenchGermanJapanesePortugueseRussianSpanish

What Friendship Force Means to Me – by Board of Directors Chair, Bob Duncan

FFI Board of Directors Chair, Bob Duncan, member of FF Baton Rouge, describes the significant role that Friendship Force has played in his life.

FFI End-of-Year-Message from Jeremi

FFI CEO Jeremi Snook reflects on his first year as CEO and looks ahead to FFI’s 40th Anniversary in 2017.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Welcome from Jeremi Snook, President/CEO, Friendship Force International

This is a welcome message to the members of clubs worldwide from Jeremi Snook, CEO/President, Friendship Force International. Copies of the message script are available in multiple languages.

Monday, June 19, 2017

An Introduction to Our Future – A Blog Series by Jeremi Snook

There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there is so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on. – Zayn Malik

When I was nine, I lived in Raymond, New Hampshire, a small town with a population of 7,000. The area had not changed in decades, with generations of the same families living in the old farmhouses that were scattered along the wrinkled pavement road. We lived just a half-mile from my great-grandparents’ farm, which I could reach much quicker if I dared to walk the dark forest trail that connected our properties. I loved watching my grandmother cook. She always told me a story and let me help, so I always found my way, battling the forest monsters to get to her house in time to take part.

One particular day, I arrived just as grandma was putting this doughy substance from a plastic bag into a bowl. “It’s friendship bread,” she said with a smile, “from a dear friend who I had not seen in awhile who visited last weekend.” She then told a story, as she always did, about how this dough had been shared by hundreds of people before us. Receiving the friendship dough was a sign of love and appreciation for the friendship one had with another. She shared how the chain of friendship, symbolized by the sharing of the dough from person to person, connects all of us, and that it was now our turn to grow and share the dough.

“How do we grow it?” I asked, surprised that dough, of all things, had a life of its own. “We will keep it in a warm place tonight, and when you come back tomorrow, you’ll see,” she said, with a smile on her face. Sure enough, when I returned the next day, the dough had not only grown above the top of the large bowl, but it had begun to overflow and drop onto the counter. It was alive, I thought to myself! We proceeded to make cakes that were put into the oven and reserve a little of the extra dough. “Now we must choose a few people we want to give this dough to who can continue the chain of friendship,” she concluded. We put small amounts of dough into three plastic bags, which we labeled and later distributed to friends who lived along the road.

The whole experience was magical, from the multiplying of the dough, to the thought of hundreds of people before us who had taken part in continuing the chain of friendship. Even to this day, as I knead my own homemade sourdough bread, I think about that moment and wonder how many more people in that chain have kept the story alive in their kitchens. Was the friendship bread still out there somewhere? Was the story still being shared now with a whole new generation?As a child, I was fascinated by the idea that you can start with something so small and watch it grow exponentially. As an adult, I continue to see this principle applied in so many ways. Looking back over the last forty years, for instance, we can appreciate how the power of a small idea has become an incredibly powerful force of individuals committed to making friends around the world.

What started for many with apprehension and uncertainty on that first journey has evolved into a lifetime of strangers who became friends, and friends who are now family. Tens of thousands of individuals have been affected by our Friendship Force activities in some way over the years. Most of these individuals, because of Friendship Force members like yourself, have engaged with the world beyond their front doors and been changed as a result.

Reflecting on the power of our founder Wayne Smith’s idea that became a movement and the many people who have been changed because of our organization, I wonder what impact our organization will have ten years from now. Has our investment in global peace through understanding and friendship reached maturity? Or, have we just begun?

Whether you have been a part of Friendship Force since its inception or just recently joined, it doesn’t take long to connect the important role our organization plays in a world riddled with divisions, strife, and misunderstanding. How do we continue to be relevant to a world that is constantly evolving? How do we reach a wider demographic and introduce this wild idea that a world of friends can lead to a world of peace?

Turning the page at Friendship Force means opening our minds and hearts to the rest of Friendship Force’s story. We must consider the possibility that the seeds of friendship planted over that past four decades have only begun to take root in the world, and the organization’s greatest impact in the world is yet to be observed.

Whether our time with Friendship Force is only a moment, an event, a few years, or a lifetime, our mutual commitment to improving the world one friend at a time goes beyond our own experiences. Whatever time we have available to commit, we are ambassadors to a movement, not participants in a travel program. While we are planting seeds of understanding in the world today, we are also nourishing a movement started 40 years ago, ensuring it continues for the generations that are coming behind us. We are all a part of building this legacy right now.

Many of you already give to Friendship Force through involvement in your clubs as active members, inbound hosts, and outbound ambassadors. Others give through financial gifts as well, with donations to support the FFI Annual Fund and our recently completed “I’m In!” Campaign. However, before any donation of time, treasure, or talent, you need to understand and feel secure about the outcome of your investment. For our 40th Anniversary Campaign, we recognize the necessity of providing clear, helpful information regarding what we hope to accomplish with these investments, so we can advance to the next page of Friendship Force confidently together.

The 40th Anniversary Campaign, launched in May, is designed to push the organization toward greater impact by capitalizing on the momentum that’s been building for 40 years and opening our mission to a wider demographic of prospective members worldwide. It is broadly divided into three major domains: 1) Expand our core, 2) Engage future leaders, and 3) Activate a new socially-responsible travel network. Put more simply, this means 1) expand our membership and establish new clubs, 2) expand and create programs to reach a wider demographic in order to encourage life-long engagement with our organization, and 3) leverage technology to enhance the connectivity of our worldwide membership.

As the world continues to evolve around us, we all recognize that Friendship Force must evolve as well. But how do we continue to strengthen the core home-hosting component that sets Friendship Force apart from all others, while opening the reach of our mission to a wider audience?

The answer starts with trust, transparency, detail, strategy, passion and a plan, and ends with you.

In this series, I will continue to explore these topics over the coming months, breaking down each of the three areas of the campaign in the context of our vision for the future of Friendship Force. I hope you will join me. I simply ask for a small investment of your time to see the larger picture of what we hope to accomplish through this campaign, as well as to see the role you or a friend might play in leaving your mark on Friendship Force’s success.

Until then, if you happen to receive a small bag of friendship bread dough, would you pass some along to me? I would like to tell my kids a story.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for additional entries in this blog series by Jeremi!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Letter to Our Friends in the U.K.

Manchester FFI Heart

Dear Friends in the U.K.,

Our hearts and thoughts go out to all the victims of the attack in Manchester, U.K. – their families, loved ones, first responders and public safety professionals.

As we talk with members of our Board of Directors, staffers here in the home office, and members of the Friendship Force worldwide network, I am encouraged that this tragic event has only strengthened our resolve to come together for our 40th Anniversary World Conference in Manchester and send a message of defiance to forces opposed to what Friendship Force stands for. People of goodwill and diverse backgrounds will not be deterred from gathering in harmony to celebrate friendship.

The actions of the greater Manchester community over the past week have been inspiring. We see on the news how local people of all backgrounds are rallying around those in need of support, how they stand, unafraid and united as a community, and refuse to use this tragedy to further political or racist agendas, and how the Mancunian spirit of hospitality has been made stronger than ever.

Their example is a call to action for the rest of us. We must motivate the broader global community to join hearts, heads and hands in a renewed movement to reject hate, mistrust and division, and embark on a solemn campaign to forge together a world of peace.

We know, sadly, there will be more events like this around the world, just as there have been before. But organizations like Friendship Force International that are focused on promoting a more peaceful world will be renewed in their determination to ensure that the good in humanity will inevitably prevail.

In friendship,

Jeremi Snook

FFI CEO and President

Saturday, April 29, 2017

AU, NZ, NE and Beyond!

The first quarter of 2017 has not failed to be busy, full, and exciting. Perhaps like many in the Friendship Force family, the new year brings with it not only new ambitions, but a whole lot of old ambitions that got carried over. For Friendship Force Headquarters, this included the roll-out of the new website, database, finishing the process for the 2018 Journey matching process, and the routine end-of-year financial exercises with our auditor. But the new year also brought a whole new batch of exciting projects, including liberty to begin celebrating FFI’s 40 year anniversary!

Jeremi with his hosts Ian and Joyce Thomas in FF Christchurch, New Zealand

Kicking off the celebrations were conferences in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Sunshine Coast, Australia, in February. The symbolism and themes of the two conferences were not lost on me or the conference participants.

Christchurch, as many of you know, has worked tirelessly as a community to rebuild after the devastating earthquakes that rocked the city in 2011. Their conference theme, “Building on a Strong Foundation,” provided an appropriate and visible context for us to discuss the challenges faced by Friendship Force worldwide, as well as discuss the vision and strategies to get us through them.

Jeremi with members of FF Kempsey – (L-R) Fran Tarbox, June Barnes, and Steve Tarbox

Sunshine Coast embraced a very different theme, “Waves of Change,” which is certainly appropriate for Friendship Force, and perhaps more relevant to the host club’s coastal surroundings. This theme found its way interwoven into nearly every aspect of the conference and, similar to New Zealand’s conference, provided a great platform to talk about the challenges and future of our organization.

Jeremi with the mayor of Sunshine Coast, Mark Jamieson, and FF Sunshine Coast Conference Convener Jim Haxton

Although the themes were different, the esprit de corps, sense of rejuvenation and enthusiasm for our mission felt by all the delegates who attended were the same. Our relevance as an organization, our camaraderie as global diplomats, our simple mission of making friends remains more important today than perhaps ever before.

Not too long after these conferences, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the first 40th celebrations held by clubs in Lincoln, Nebraska – following the fantastic celebrations held Brazil, a couple weeks prior. The Lincoln club had succeeded in bringing over 120 members and non-members together for an evening celebration. The pride and energy for our mission of promoting understanding across the barriers that separate people was almost palpable. And certainly represented a celebration that will be replicated in various ways throughout the rest of 2017 as clubs take the opportunity to look back on 40 years of progress, and re-energize themselves and their communities for the future.

Jeremi with FFI Staff Member Laurie-Ann and Nebraska Secretary of State John A. Gale at FF Lincoln, Nebraska’s 40th Anniversary Celebration

My sincerest thanks and gratitude to each of the conference conveners, clubs, and participants in Christchurch, Sunshine Coast, and Lincoln for providing such an inspiring start to 2017!

In Friendship,


Jeremi was also pleased to accept on behalf of Friendship Force members and clubs around the world one of Nebraska’s highest honorary titles – Admiral of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. This was given by Secretary of State, John Gale, with the approval of the Governor. Nebraska is the only triply landlocked U.S. state.
Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 2017 Board Meeting Recap from Board Chair, Bob Duncan

Dear Members of Friendship Force,

In many ways this recent meeting of the International Board of Directors was routine. Minutes were reviewed and approved, the Board reviewed the financial and programmatic health of the organization and passed associated business motions. A little less routine, however, was the way by which the Board prepared for this particular meeting and the types of discussions we engaged in.

Let’s take care of the routine…

  • The Board received a report on the financial health of the organization for 2016, noting that the staff were able finish the year lean and positive. Details of which to be shared in the upcoming 2016 Annual Report to membership.
  • The Board welcomed Ramona McGee to the new position of Treasurer.
  • There was ample discussion on the status of the new database and applauded the work done by FFI staff in the wake of the previous database failure.
  • For both financial and logistical reasons, the Board approved the reduction of the overall Board size by two, bringing the total from 13 to 11.

A little less routine was the general format of the meeting…

In an attempt to utilize technology to help increase communication amongst Board Members and make decision-making more efficient, Board members participated in a series of online discussion in advance of the meeting. This allowed for more thorough discussion on FFI operations and more time between presentations to ask additional clarifying questions. It also allowed for the Board to dedicate more time while meeting in person for engagement in rich, strategic discussion on the future of the organization.

  • The Board discussed an update to the current strategic plan to include goals and measures linked to the vision of the organization outlined at the Morocco World Conference in 2015. Details on progress to be shared at the Manchester World Conference this August, with a communication to membership shortly thereafter.
  • A meaningful discussion was had on the governance responsibilities of the Board and the need for greater communication on organizational progress. This lead to the endorsement for the creation of a new governance page to be added the website that does a better job of public disclosure of how FFI works, the purpose of the Board approved committees, legal documents and financial disclosures.
  • Subsequent to a discussion on world events and FFI’s mission was a unanimous decision to publicly publish a joint statement from the CEO and the Board of Directors on the importance of our mission in today’s society.
  • Finally, the Board voted to make giving a requirement of Board Members, highlighting the important role that the FFI Board play in leading fund development efforts.

In friendship,

Bob Duncan, Chair, FFI Board of Directors

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friendship Force Receives Award from Open World Program

Open World Grantee of Merit Award Winners 2017
Open World Grantee of Merit Award Winners 2017

On January 23, 2017, Friendship Force International received the Annual Grantee of Merit Award for 2017 by the Open World Leadership Center. The Annual Grantee of Merit Award is presented to organizations who have demonstrated outstanding service to Open World Leadership Center.

Open World Leadership Center is a legislative branch agency that supports Congressional outreach for Members of Congress and conducts exchanges that establish lasting professional relationships between emerging leaders and their U.S. counterparts in democratic institutions. Delegates are provided with extensive exposure to American politics, civic life, and are hosted by American families. In 1999, Congress established Open World. Since then, more than 26,000 Eurasian leaders are alumni of Open World.

FFI hosted its first Open World delegation in 1999. From 1999 to now, Friendship Force clubs just like yours have hosted 2,085 Open World delegates. In 2017, Friendship Force clubs will host 16 delegations from the countries of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Russia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Turkmenistan. Topics covered for the Eurasian delegations include: Legislative Development, Healthcare, Education and Innovation, Media Practices, and Accountable Governance.

Since Open World’s inception, Friendship Force International has been a dynamic player in building strong peer-to-peer professional programming for Open World’s delegates,” said Ambassador John O’Keefe, Executive Director of Open World Leadership Center. “They understand the issues facing our rising Eurasian leaders in their countries and how to craft a program that links them with their American colleagues to create strategies and solve problems.

FFI Financial Controller, Tracy Harrell, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O'Keefe, and FFI Director of Operations Matthew Nidek
FFI Financial Controller, Tracy Harrell, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O’Keefe, and FFI Director of Operations Matthew Nidek

“We are living in times in which building bridges of understanding across the cultural barriers that separate people is more important than ever,” commented Jeremi Snook, President and CEO of Friendship Force International. “It is certainly an honor to be cited for our good works by Open World, and this award is very much appreciated by the entire FFI team. We feel genuinely privileged to be partnering with such a wonderful organization – one which shares our mission to help create a more peaceful world.”

Elena McCarty, Regional Support Manager and Open World Coordinator, and all of FFI Staff would like to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions these U.S. clubs have made since 1999 through hosting and planning Open World delegations.

Thank you and congratulations for the significant work you all have done, all of which helped us receive this honor!