Meet Ben Stone, WACSC Board Member, President
Ben Stone was instrumental in starting the World Affairs Council in Sonoma County and, after a long hiatus, has rejoined the Board, for which we are all grateful. We asked him to share his experiences with us. Ben writes:
I was very pleased to be part of the original Board of the World Affairs Council of Sonoma County. As I reflected on writing this piece, I realized for the first time how one thing led to another in world affairs for me—and how lucky I’ve been!
I was born and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. At the age of 10, my mother got me a pen pal in England through the English-Speaking Union, which led me to my first interest in “foreign” countries and customs. Later, while I was in high school the Downtown Spokane Rotary Club invited local youth to apply to be a Rotary Exchange Student, and to my complete surprise I was selected. I was the first in my family to go to Europe, and was sent to a small city in the struggling industrial north of England. It turned out that I was the first Yank to visit there since the War, so I had lots of news interviews and presentations. It was a terrific experience.
After grad school I stayed in the Seattle area where I was asked to develop an international trade program for a small manufacturer. This was very rewarding, and I got to go on a U.S. government trade mission to the Philippines and one to El Salvador. It was instructive to witness “People Power” demonstrations in the Philippines, and sobering to see El Salvador in the midst of a civil war.
During this time I joined the Seattle World Trade Club and the Seattle World Affairs Council, both of which were terrific resources for the community.
Eventually I took a job in Sonoma County as the Economic Development Board (EDB) Director, with a focus on helping local businesses start and be more successful. To this end we started the North Bay World Trade Association to help small firms learn export techniques.
Also, to broaden local awareness of the larger world, a small committee came together to form the World Affairs Council of Sonoma County. Our first speaker was Ted Eliot, a recently retired U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. To my complete surprise, 300 people showed up, with some driving through a rainy evening from Mendocino County to hear him.
We had no real budget for the WACSC — everything was volunteer or donated, but it slowly took shape. As time went by and bad recessions came along, I had to leave the WACSC Board, but did follow its success over time.
A few years later I was surprised to learn that the WACSC chair had nominated me to participate in an Atlantic Council “Young Leaders Conference,” to be held in the Philippines and Taiwan. This was another marvelous experience, and on my own I went on to see Hong Kong, as it was due to be handed back to China later that year.
Then another opportunity arose — the chance to offer international students internships at the EDB through a Swiss exchange program that has continued for 20 years. One of our British interns, Oliver Davies, also became an intern for WACSC.
Last year I retired, and was honored to join the WACSC Board again. The progress that’s been made is simply amazing; WACSC now has a budget, active committees, terrific speakers, nearly 400 members — and much more! I look forward to being of further service to WACSC, perhaps developing some new ways to interest and involve local youth in world affairs.