On February 13-16, 2020, Eisenhower Fellowships gathered more than 245 attendees from 37 countries, including 10 EF Trustees and two former Trustees, to discuss the Future of Education, a topic of vital importance in every corner of the world. Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez and his wife, First Lady María Juliana Ruiz Sandoval, honored us by traveling separately to Cartagena to speak on the opening day of the conference. Across our four social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn), our posts from the conference reached more than 75,000 people: roughly 10,200 on Facebook, 40,600 on Twitter, 21,500 on Instagram and nearly 15,000 on LinkedIn.
In addition to the Eisenhower Fellows gathered from around the world, EF introduced 15 new Eisenhower Youth Leaders in Cartagena. These exceptional young people ages 18 to 25 spent time with their Eisenhower Fellow mentors and actively participated in the conference discussion. Four of the Youth Leaders shared their views on the future of education in a closing panel on the final day of the conference.
Throughout the conference program, Eisenhower Fellows and select outside speakers shared brief lightning talks, a tour de force of ideas that injected energy into the proceedings and shined a light on powerful personal stories and compelling global education initiatives from Paraguay to Chicago, South Africa to Austin, Jordan to Colombia. To ensure the conference was not just talk, participants presented projects for inputs from their fellow thought leaders in Cartagena. These presentations in our eLabs provided a dynamic interactive forum for more than a dozen concrete projects with a real-world impact that will be implemented after the conference.
Four finalists presented their projects to the full conference audience on the final day of the gathering, and attendees participated in a live vote for the winner on the conference app. Subsequently, a number of Eisenhower Fellows visited the presidential palace in Bogota to present their projects that they would like to bring to Colombia to the First Lady of the nation, as a way of giving back to Colombia and leaving behind something concrete long after the last conference participant had gone home. Follow-up discussions on some of those project proposals are underway.
Real-world examples of replicable educational models were woven into the conference program. During our inaugural day of service, EF brought a group of experts to the community school in the Nelson Mandela neighborhood in cooperation with the Tenaris Foundation. In addition, some 40 conference participants ventured out to the Lomas del Peyé school sponsored in an underserved area of Cartagena by the Barefoot Foundation, founded by Colombian singer Shakira. The school provides access to quality public education to communities ravaged by poverty and displacement. The EF community had an opportunity to learn more about this unique model and interact with the students.
That same afternoon other conference participants heard firsthand how Colombian Senator Nadia Blel Scaff was inspired during her recent Eisenhower Fellowship by the pioneering program Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles. Homeboy provides job skills and opportunities to young people trying to escape urban street gangs and recover their lives after leaving prison. A young female former gang member who had gone through the Homeboy program and a program director joined Senator Blel to share their stories and discuss ways to replicate the program in Cartagena and beyond.
Livening the conference sessions, galvanizing social and cultural events were hosted each evening in the historic walled city of Cartagena. The Mayor of Cartagena, William Dau, welcomed the conference participants on the opening night to the accompaniment of local Colombian dancers, and the next evening the attendees were serenaded by the dazzling jazz melodies of Colombian musical great Oscar Acevedo and his band at an enchanting gala dinner at the Cartagena Convention Center. Attendees danced away the final night at an unforgettable reception with spectacular local folkloric dancers and a Caribbean musical orchestra, set against the stunning backdrop of this beautiful Colombian city by the sea.
The energy and spirit and the power and promise of Eisenhower Fellowships were on full display at the Future of Education conference in Cartagena in February 2020.