This past July, I joined colleagues from France, Ghana, Spain, and Scotland in Tbilisi, Georgia, to participate in the annual Open Government Partnership (OGP) World Summit. Founded in 2011, OGP’s mission is to improve government transparency and accountability in areas such as healthcare, education, natural resources, and civic space. While the OGP typically works with national governments, I wasn’t there representing the United States. I represented the City of Austin, Texas, and in many ways the event brought my Scripps education full circle.
I came to Scripps in 1991 not knowing what a humanities education would mean for my life. I couldn’t put words to it at the time, but my mother’s experience as a World War II refugee and my father’s experience as a migrant worker gave me a deep curiosity about the human experience: how it shapes us, how lives around the world are similar and different, and how we co-create our future. I chose an international relations major. In Asian history class, I thought about how the past relates to the present and future. In Spanish class, I learned how understanding can be gained and lost through language. In painting class, I appreciated how each student produced completely different work from the same artistic prompt. My semesters abroad in Zimbabwe and Ecuador made me think about the meaning of democracy. My thesis on American foreign policy served as a medium for all these insights to come together in one document. My Scripps foundation launched me into a career spanning the United Nations, the Democratic National Committee, the Office of the Texas Lieutenant Governor, and, now, the City of Austin. It may seem as though, with each transition, I took a step further away from my international relations roots.
But my humanities education served me well—I could see how each of my varied experiences involved people at every level striving to work together for the common good. The government work I do each day on the local level grounds every layer of governance above it, and this came into sharp focus during the OGP summit in Tbilisi. Now, more than ever, nation states are looking to local governments for innovation and leadership in improving governance across the globe. From Texas to Tbilisi, even local government is international.