The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), is a nonprofit organization founded in the aftermath of World War II, to facilitate people-to-people international exchange that was critical in restoring bonds between nations in a world that had been divided and devastated by war. For nearly 75 years, CIEE’s mission has been to advance global peace and harmony by bringing the world together through experiences that bridge cultures, teach intercultural skills, and humanize international relations.
In these past weeks, the global spread of COVID-19 has literally brought the world to a halt. Like millions of organizations, large and small, CIEE has paused active pursuit of our mission as we heed the guidance of international leaders and medical experts who have asked that everyone, everywhere, stay in place to give healthcare professionals the time and space to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our organization functions when individuals can travel freely and move easily across borders. Typically, each year CIEE sends 15,000 Americans abroad to study, intern, and teach; and welcomes more than 30,000 international exchange visitors to the United States. CIEE’s extensive worldwide network of international exchange locations means we operate in 63 sites across 42 countries, including the United States. In this unprecedented time, as a global solidarity holds us all in place, our mission to bring the world together must be temporarily suspended in the greater interest of global health and safety.
As a nonprofit, we rely almost exclusively on revenue earned through our programs to support our staff and the ongoing efforts of our organization. In a matter of days, our programs around the world were suspended, requiring us to help thousands of students return to the U.S. immediately. With prospects for travel and exchange highly uncertain at this time, the negative financial impact on CIEE is massive. We recognize that we must respond swiftly and decisively if we are to preserve the ability of CIEE to emerge from this unprecedented event and return to our important mission in the decades ahead.
Like so many organizations across America and the world, CIEE has been forced to take immediate and significant action to protect our future existence, and sadly, our most precious asset, our people, will be most impacted. This week, CIEE is announcing a significant reduction in force for our both our domestic and international employees. It will impact families and communities around the globe, but most especially in Portland, Maine, the site of our worldwide headquarters. We are heartbroken for the negative impact this necessary action will have on so many of our local and global employees in the days and weeks to come.
We are deeply grateful to the Maine Congressional delegation, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and Congressman Jared Golden for their efforts to ensure all Maine families and businesses are granted the highest possible levels of support during this difficult time. Their personal outreach to CIEE over the past few weeks as they worked to understand how best to support our mission and our employees was an extraordinary example of their care for all Mainers and their commitment to serving the citizens of our great state.
We are hopeful that many of the provisions in the stimulus legislation now pending in Congress will allow CIEE to more quickly secure financial stability and to quickly begin rehiring and increasing staffing levels as soon as possible.
We do not know exactly when the world will again be safe for us to resume our work of public diplomacy and international education. Yet, CIEE has weathered global crises before, and each time we have come through the storm intact and ready to again build bridges between cultures and to restore relationships that may have become weathered or damaged by the crisis.
We are optimistic that the world will come together to swiftly defeat COVID-19, and that when the crisis has passed, CIEE will be able to return to our important work of bringing the world together through international education and exchange.