Expanding Your International Network Without Leaving Philadelphia

Networking is often the most effective way to meet new contacts and build new business, and in this economic downturn it can mean the difference between a job won or lost, success in a new venture, or an entry into an unfamiliar market. Many companies are finding that they need to rely more and more on strategic partnerships to maximize their potential. If the venture involves the possibility of heading overseas, often in uncharted waters, strong networking support can be even more critical to the venture’s success.

For those looking to expand their reach globally, create an overseas network, or connect with a prestigious and global-minded community of Philadelphians, partnering with the International Visitors Council of Philadelphia (IVC) may be beneficial.

IVC members host dignitaries, business executives, and other important visitors from around the world for dinners, local excursions, and overnight stays. These opportunities create ultimate networking opportunities that can turn into lasting relationships with long-term payoffs. The IVC’s motto, “Make Friends. Make Contacts. Make Peace,” captures the trifecta of what members seek to experience – personal gain, business/career gain, and a contribution to the greater good – a win-win-win.

Membership also entitles individuals to participate in many IVC-led events that are great networking opportunities to meet not only international visitors, but also other IVC members – a valuable subset.

IVC member Gail Bower, president of Bower and Co. Consulting LLC and an expert in raising the impact of nonprofit organizations, says this benefit is one of the reasons why she participates in IVC events. “Being a member puts me in contact with other Philadelphians with a global perspective to their thinking, interests, or business orientation, which I enjoy.”

Bower also says that the organization provides invaluable educational opportunities. “I went to China last year on business and at a networking event met a gentleman from Tianjin, who helped me understand more about the culture mores of conducting business in China,” Bower explains.

Steve Kelly, president of healthcare consulting firm Elap Services, LLC and an IVC board member, agrees. Kelly says he enjoys hosting international visitors who work in the healthcare industry, and recently hosted a doctor visiting from Mongolia. He introduced the doctor to a think tank that measures health care quality and took him to visit a few hospitals and health care consulting firms. Visits like this don’t necessarily result in more business, Kelly says, but they do provide him with a better global perspective of his industry, enabling him to better serve his clients.

Kelly recently bought two tables at the IVC’s annual fundraiser and invited his clients to attend. “It was a great way to bring my clients together, and a very positive forum to do it in.” Fittingly for his industry, the event happened to be held at the Philadelphia College of Physicians, a point of interest for his clients. He said the event provided a great networking and marketing opportunity, as the attendees were prominent Philadelphia businesspeople. “It was great for business,” he adds.

As a medium, Bower says companies should use sponsorship to derive particular results. “It is the only medium with an experiential component,” she says. Bower says that for global-minded businesses like Kelly’s, IVC sponsorship is a great option for reaching an “attractive demographic,” providing the opportunity to reach Philadelphia businesspeople and individuals who are affluent, educated, and globally oriented.

The IVC operates on a relatively modest budget for the amount of work that it does – for the 2009 fiscal year it was approximately $1.1 million – and Drexel’s co-operative education program helps make that possible. The organization currently employs five co-op students, nearly matching the number of full-time employees. Nancy Gilboy, president and CEO of the IVC, says that these co-op students are unpaid and accept co-op opportunities with the Center because they are passionate about international relations.

Through its Discover Philadelphia program, the IVC also makes the Philadelphia experience a more enjoyable one for many young professionals, Fulbright scholars, and international graduate students – including Drexel MBAs – visiting the area. It offers events including a monthly networking reception called First Thursday at the Annex. These receptions are very popular – in 2009, more than 1,200 people from throughout the Philadelphia region joined the IVC to welcome 740 international guests from 89 countries and regions to the United States and Philadelphia. Gilboy says attendance each month ranges from about 80 to as many as 150 attendees.

Marilyn Tietjen, assistant director of LeBow College’s Office of MBA Career Services and an IVC member, says the program offers students a great opportunity to network with business and community leaders who support the organization. She says membership enables her to further her education of the international population as well as to learn from the talented students, Fulbright scholars, and expert leaders in their fields who visit Philadelphia. “These relationships provide a further understanding of our international students and how we can best meet their needs,” Tietjen says.

The IVC is actively seeking a sponsor for its Discover Philadelphia program. Bower says this program sponsorship opportunity would be the right fit for a global business “interested in cultivating connections in other countries or building globally diverse talent,” as well as for companies that may benefit from greater connections with local universities.

In addition to reaching out to local international students to take advantage of its programs, the IVC works with several local universities to offer scholarships to students hailing from Philadelphia’s Sister Cities. Drexel University inspired this program, Gilboy says, when it offered the first Sister City Scholarship to Mu Yang, from Tianjin, China, in 1998. Mu graduated from Drexel second in her class and as class president, went on to law school, and is now an intellectual propertancy lawyer with Woodcock Washburn.

Philadelphia has 10 Sister Cities that the IVC maintains relationships with: Florence and Abruzzo, Italy; Tel Aviv, Israel; Torun, Poland; Tianjin, China; Incheon, Korea; Douala, Cameroon; Nizhny Novgorod, Russia; Kobe, Japan; Aix-en-Provence, France. The IVC partners with the City of Philadelphia to run this program, as well as the city’s “Partners for Peace” partner city: Mosul, Iraq.

At the heart of the Sister City program is an agreement signed by the mayors of each city confirming their commitment, and that of their successors, to sending and receiving delegations of political and business leaders, arts and cultural representatives, educators, technical experts, and students, as well as promoting the economy of each city through business alliances.

Perhaps the IVC’s most prestigious partner is the U.S. Department of State, which funds its International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Through this program, the IVC members host chiefs of state and heads of government who are invited to visit by the Department of State.

These leaders come to the United States on official trips, which are always themed and usually consist of three or four cities. “Cities compete to be on that list,” Gilboy says, noting that it’s a friendly competition. The trips are designed to make friends with the world’s new leaders and to show them the United States as it really is.

The IVC of Philadelphia has hosted 321 dignitaries since its establishment in 1953, and is the only agency in the Greater Philadelphia area authorized to handle IVLP visits.

For further information about the International Visitors Council, visit ivc.org or call 215.683.0999.