Before getting involved with the Open World program, =, Rotary member, White Bear Lake resident and business consultant (think Shark Tank, but exclusively for food products) had no connection to Russia.
That all changed 12 years ago, when a friend asked him if he could drive a group of judges visiting from Russia as part of the Open World program to the courthouse. Bartz obliged, and he’s been connected to people in Russia and to Open World ever since.
Open World is a program funded by the U.S. Congress. Its goal is “to introduce rising leaders of emerging countries to the importance of legislative functions in creating and sustaining democracies.”
On a practical level, this involves groups from the Former Soviet Union and other countries traveling to the U.S. and meeting with people involved in the professions the delegates practice. In this way, relationships are formed and knowledge is shared between the groups. Delegations have included members of the judiciary, economists, medical professionals and more.
Each visiting group consists of five delegates and an English-speaking facilitator. There is no application process—delegates must be nominated to be considered.
When the program began, delegations consisted of people from all over Russia. Bartz noticed that this made it difficult for the delegates to grow their relationships upon their return home. Bartz suggested that delegate groups should come from the same city, in order to make it easier for the delegate groups to get together and stay in touch.
Since then, the delegations to Minnesota have been from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. Seven of the past delegations have been focused on special education. This past October, the eighth delegation from Krasnoyarsk visited White Bear Lake, with the theme of special education continuing, this time with a sub-theme of music therapy. The delegation spent time at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis where they learned about the center’s approaches.
Bartz arranged for host families, food and entertainment for the delegates. “Rotary has embraced the project,” says Bartz. A Halloween party, hiking and concerts gave the visitors a taste of American life.
“Because Open World is a program funded by taxpayers, it’s important to me that there be a benefit to U.S. citizens,” says Bartz. To this end, he connected with University of Minnesota, which has since established relationships with two universities in Krasnoyarsk. The U of M got a peer-to-peer grant to work the Siberian universities, centering on businesses utilizing the services of people with disabilities.
Groups from Minnesota have traveled to Krasnoyarsk, a city of about a million people, as well. The word “Siberia” tends to conjure up images of endless snow-covered fields, gray skies and a bleak landscape, but it’s not like that at all, says Bartz. “One year, I was there and it was perfect weather, 70 degrees and sunny. When I came back home, there was a snowstorm. So the weather in Siberia was better than ours. And it’s a city that has art everywhere,” he says.
The partnership with Krasnoyarsk has yielded not only professional enrichment, but friendships as well. “I have more Facebook friends in Russia than I do in the U.S.,” Bartz says. He’s visited Russia often, and also enjoyed a ski trip to northern Japan with his Russian friends.
“Being involved with the program has been life-changing for me and my family,” says Bartz. “And it all started with driving a group of judges.”