Sister Cities Conference Brings The World To Cleveland

Cleveland has nearly two dozen siblings, thanks to its sister cities program, which extends a hand to communities around the world.

A sister city relationship matches two locales to create economic development opportunities, raise cultural awareness and ease educational exchanges.

This month, the world came to Northeast Ohio, as Global Cleveland hosted its inaugural sister cities conference.

At first, Global Cleveland President Joe Cimperman envisioned the Sister Cities event as a teleconference, using the power of technology to connect Cleveland to other countries. After all, the 23 Sister Cities span 13 time zones, five continents, and 19 languages.

But when Cimperman proposed the virtual meet-up to his “siblings” around the world, the responses surprised him. Many of the cities wanted to send people to the conference to participate.

Of the 23 sister cities, about 18 participated, either through technology or in person.

Delegates from sister city Volgograd, Russia journeyed more than 5,000 miles to attend.  

“People in Volgograd and in Cleveland have a lot in common,” Elena Potapova said. “Both sides represent big industrial cities, relatively big, and they have a lot of common issues in social life and education, politics. So there is a lot to learn from each other and to grow together.”

“I think we can exchange ideas,” Yelena Parubochaya said. “We can learn cooperation between students’ exchanges, business exchanges, cultural exchanges, there are many things we may share.”

The conference included panels on broad topics like religion, education, economic development, and immigration. It offered a chance to collaborate and share ideas on issues like how to develop an emergency response system in Ethiopia.

“We didn’t have, before 10 years, a synchronized emergency medical service system,” Kibret Abebe said. “I sold my only house to buy ambulances, to be the first social enterprise in Ethiopia. Social enterprise means those people who see social problems and try to solve that social problem…with a business model.”

Cimperman says the panels within the conference are important, but the true measure of the conference’s success is relationship building and networking.  

“The spirit that we want to stress is that we’re more connected than we think we are, and by using these Sister Cities as a real infrastructure, the city of Cleveland could benefit and so could the people in the city of Cleveland by experiencing more of the world.”

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