The Rapidian Home

World Affairs Council of Western Michigan Announces 2016 Great Decisions Global Discussion Series

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Exclusive Presentations on Foreign Policy Debut Feb. 1, Run Through March


Grand Rapids, Michigan, January 18, 2016 – Global migration, climate change, cybersecurity, genocide prevention and normalizing relations with Cuba are a few of the dynamic topics being explored as the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan launches its 2016 Great Decisions Global Discussion Series.


Discussions will take place Feb. 1 through March 28, and feature scholars and experts from around the corner – including George Heartwell and Bing Goei – and around the world – including an Arab cartoonist, American ambassador and former CIA agent.


“The rhetoric surrounding issues from the presidential campaign to immigration seems particularly shrill this year – and the amount of misinformation circulating gives us pause,” said Dixie Anderson, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. “We see Great Decisions as a welcome antidote to this trend, allowing experts to lead a civil discussion about global issues that affect people in every corner of the world – including those living right here in West Michigan.


“Our format allows people to draw close and gain a personal perspective on some of the most pressing issues of the day.  As the longest-running discussion series in West Michigan, we make it possible to hear from an impressive group of scholars, researchers and policy makers without ever leaving Grand Rapids.”


The series kicks off Monday, Feb. 1 with Isra El-beshir, representing the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Her presentation, titled “It Isn’t Funny: A Political Cartoonist in the Arab World,” will focus on the political “khartoons” of Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese Muslim living in Qatar. Albaih’s politically charged work rose to prominence in the early stages of the Arab Spring protests of 2011.


El-beshir will discuss how Albaih utilized social media to quickly become an artist of the revolution.  As his work was shared online and in the streets across Arab nations, he gained international prominence – and feared for his safety. His continuing relevance as an artist is apparent as he thoughtfully tackles issues such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the Saudi-Iranian crisis and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.


Each of the eight presentations scheduled for 2016 will also feature an extensive question-answer session that allows speakers to present and then take questions from the audience.


The series will also feature the following:


·         Monday, Feb. 8: “Migration to Michigan: Challenges and Opportunities.” Presented by Bing Goei, the former owner of Eastern Floral who now leads Michigan’s Office for New Americans will discuss how Michigan receives the third-largest share of refugees entering the U.S., and its implications for the state and its people.

·         Monday, Feb. 15: “Climate Change: Local Solutions to Global Problems.” Presented by George Heartwell, the former mayor of Grand Rapids will focus on his recent experiences at the Paris Climate Conference and discuss the role local communities can play in addressing climate change.

·         Monday, Feb. 22: “Never Again: The U.N.’s Role in Genocide Prevention.” Presented by Dr. Brett O’Bannon of the Conflict Studies Program at DePauw University, this segment will explore whether we should rely on the United Nations to play a key role in the prevention of mass atrocities.

·         Monday, Feb. 29: “Our Allies in the Middle East: The Future of Kurdistan.” Presented by Dr. Jessie Clark, a geographer at the University of Nevada-Reno, attendees will learn what current regional and internal state conflicts in the greater Kurdish region mean for the future of Kurdistan.

·         Monday, March 14: “Is Korean Reunification Possible?” Hosted by Dr. James Person of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., this presentation will discuss whether North and South Korea might ever be able to reconcile differences and emerge once more as a unified country.

·         Monday, March 21: “ISIS: What We Don’t Know.” Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer and currently with The Soufan Group of New York, will bring a fresh perspective to address the dangers ISIS poses to U.S. interests.

·         Monday, March 28: “Cuba and the U.S.: What Does the Future Hold?” Ambassador Charles Shapiro, formerly coordinator for Cuban Affairs for the U.S. Department of State, discusses major steps recently taken to normalize relations with Cuba, given the restoration of diplomatic relations in July 2015.


For more information on sessions, dates and times, as well as detailed information on speakers, visit


Amway Corp. and Wolverine World Wide, Inc. will host live, interactive webcasts in March for employees.  Both West Michigan-based companies have strong international presences and have been longtime supporters of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan.


In addition to strong participation from West Michigan’s business community, approximately 100 college students will take the series through their respective political science or international departments.  Hope College in Holland joins the World Affairs Council as an educational partner this year.  Northern Michigan University in Marquette will also have students participating in this year’s series via a webcast.


Other participating colleges include Aquinas College, Davenport University, GRCC, Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, Montcalm Community College and Western Michigan University. 


Discussions will be held at the Performing Arts Center at Aquinas College, 1607 Robinson Road SE, Grand Rapids.


Cost to attend is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. No reservations are needed. World Affairs Council of West Michigan’s educational partners and corporate members attend free, as do students, faculty and staff of the schools listed above.  Tickets are available at the door.  Free parking is available at Aquinas College. 


Complimentary email memberships are available to those who sign up in advance of or at the event by emailing [email protected]. Email members are entitled to the member pricing of $10 for Great Decisions events. Membership lists are only used internally and are never shared or sold.


World Affairs Council of Western Michigan offers curated news and commentary on international topics from some of the world’s leading media outlets.  The “World News” section on is updated each Wednesday with 10-12 articles drawn from The New York Times, The Guardian, The Economist and other news organizations.  Anderson said the offering allows those strapped for time to find objective “news they can use” with one click.  


The World Affairs Council is the local sponsor of these eight current foreign policy topics as determined by the New York City-based Foreign Policy Association.  The Council has sponsored the series for more than 50 years.


For more information on the event, visit or phone 616.776.1721.


The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, in existence since 1949, is dedicated to educating people in western Michigan about other countries and cultures of the world, as well as providing a forum for discussion of critical foreign policy issues.  It is a non-partisan, non-advocacy educational non-profit organization.  With 60 member companies and almost 2,500 members, it’s considered one of the best Councils in the national network of 100 World Affairs Councils.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.