Washington — The citizen diplomacy group Sister Cities International has created an avenue for urban centers in the United States, China and Africa to collaborate on issues related to Africa's urban poverty and economic development.
The two-year Sino-African Initiative involves three trilateral citizen networks, municipal governments and businesses. It seeks to create projects "that address community needs, safeguard human rights and safety, and promote transparent business practices and government accountability," according to a Sister Cities press release.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Sister Cities $1.5 million to help implement the people-to-people initiative, which builds on Sister Cities International's African Urban Poverty Alleviation Program to address urban poverty in African cities through water, sanitation and health projects.
The initiative began its second year at a conference in Nairobi co-sponsored by the Inter Region Economic Network Kenya and Eastern Africa Sister Cities.
"This initiative provides a greater amount of resources for each of these projects, expanding their potential to affect meaningful change and include a wider range of participants and community members," Sister Cities Chief Executive Officer Mary Kane said opening the conference January 31. She was joined by Xie Yuan, vice president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and James Shikwati, director of Eastern Africa Sister Cities.
At the end of the second year, the initiative will report on the best practices learned in creating trilateral sister city partnerships and multilateral cooperation for economic development and poverty reduction programs, Sister Cities says.
"Sister Cities has played a key role in building, strengthening and renewing relationships between U.S. cities and cities around the world," Kane said.
President Obama has spoken in favor of cross-border community cooperation. "Organizations like Sister Cities International foster such relationships, increasing mutual knowledge and understanding between cities and cultures," said Obama. "These collaborations promote collaboration and trust among citizens and nations, create opportunities for technological and economic innovation and development, and lay the foundations for continued peace and prosperity," he said.
The new partnerships are among Denver; Nairobi, Kenya; and Kunming, China; North Carolina neighbors Asheville and Raleigh; Osogbo, Nigeria; and Xiangyang, China; and Urbana, Illinois; Zomba, Malawi; and China's Haizhu district.
The cities were selected from a list of applicants judged by a panel of five with specific perspectives from their experiences in the United States, China and Africa, according to a Sister Cities representative.
At the conference, representatives of the nine population centers finalized plans to support improvements in urban health and sanitation infrastructure. Through workshops they learned team building, financial management and project reporting.
Sister Cities International is a membership citizen organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower that promotes peace and cultural understanding through economic and sustainable development programs, youth and education projects, arts and culture, and humanitarian assistance.
The organization facilitates long-term partnerships between 550-plus cities, counties and states in the United States with almost 2,000 communities in 136 countries.