Organizations: Georgia Council For International Visitors

Welcoming Visitors: The 1996 Summer Olympics may have been splashier, but the Georgia Council for Inter-national Visitors has been quietly introducing the world to our state’s many and varied assets for nearly 50 years.

The GCIV has the task of administering the U.S. De-partment of State’s Inter-national Visitor Leadership Program in Georgia, “which works to increase mutual understanding between Americans and emerging leaders of other countries.”

Among the program’s high-profile alumni: British prime minister Gordon Brown, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Mexican president Felipe Calderón.

In 2009 alone, the downtown Atlanta nonprofit hosted 468 visitors from 124 countries and 83 delegations as they fostered understanding and cooperation between the people of Georgia and the foreign dignitaries arriving here on global missions great and small.

Legacy Attractions: And while the 1996 Olympics provided a high-profile world-wide photo op for Georgia, GCIV Executive Director Shell Stuart says the state’s impressive record on human and civil rights, medical research and a certain Plains Sunday School teacher have attracted visitors here for decades.

“Dr. King and his legacy are of great interest to global leaders,” Stuart explains. “They want to come here to see how it all unfolded. And having the opportunity to see a world leader like Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school is an extremely unique experience to be able to offer.”

The work being done at The Carter Center and the Centers for Disease Con-trol and Prevention, along with the global media brand CNN, are also tre-mendous draws for visitors.

Dancing Dignitaries: On April 30, the GCIV will host its 29th annual International Consular Ball at the Atlanta History Center. The ball serves as the GCIV’s largest annual fund-raiser. The formal evening brings together the state’s civic and business leaders while saluting the state’s consuls general from 60 countries.

The miniature embassies “have grown phenomenally here” in just the last decade, according to Stuart.

Personal Touch: While visiting dignitaries inev-itably spend the bulk of their time here in conference rooms, lecture halls and laboratories, thanks to more than 1,000 GCIV volunteers, their evenings are a little more personal.

“We think it’s very im-portant to have a sense of place when you visit,” says Stuart. “Otherwise, how would you differentiate Atlanta from say, a board room in Memphis?”

That’s where the GCIV home hosts come in.

“Instead of another night in a hotel or dinner in a restaurant, our visitors go home to a volunteer’s house for a home-cooked meal,” explains Stuart.

“It provides a completely unique experience for both the visitor and the host. A lot of learning can happen when everybody lets their hair down and is placed in a more casual atmosphere.”

Still, Stuart says all hosting volunteers are “strongly encouraged” to take host orientation classes to avoid any unintentional international incidents.

Says Stuart with a laugh: “We firmly believe that knowledge is power.” – Richard L. Eldredge