Back in the fall I joined a small group of concerned citizens here in Naples that wanted to help make an impact on the perception of America in the international community. Under the leadership arm of the Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, the Council for International Visitors In Collier (CIVIC) is a grassroots organization that has fundamentally been in existence for a few years, started by a few concerned citizens that understood the importance of advocating for Naples on a global level. Being an active real estate agent and broker, I know that what used to be 9% of home sales from international buyers is now at 20% and that spoke volumes to the leaders of our community. Our group of volunteers, headed by Ekkehard Grampp, have become more active and visible and because of his leadership role, we are traveling the road to being nationally recognized so that we can accept more international visitors wanting to have a deeper understanding of our area. How does it work? One part of CIVIC is to accept invitations from our NCIV (National Council for International Visitors which falls under the US State Dept.) for individuals that are mid-to high level government officials that are hungry for knowledge on many different issues and arenas throughout the United States. In Collier County we promote our tourism, agriculture, water resources, emergency disaster planning, law enforcement, urban planning and education, as well as our cultural and arts attractions. The visitor arrives in Naples and we set a very busy agenda for them for anywhere from 1-5 days depending on their requested time period. It’s a wonderful exchange of ideas and knowledge and allows both counterparts to interact in a way that would normally not be possible if not for the NCIV and the State Department. I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. for the 50th Anniversary Gala and Annual Meeting this week to learn how we can have our programs at their optimum. Classes are very early and run the course of the day and then I get to meet and greet with our counterparts from all over the United States, as well as attending an Embassy Reception (I’ll be attending the Netherlands Embassy) as well as the US State Department Reception and to start us out, we are having a wonderful celebration Gala to open up the meeting on Wednesday night celebrating 50 years of successful citizen diplomacy. Here’s the basic principles: The individual citizen has the responsibility to help shape foreign relations “one handshake at a time.” The peoples of the world are interdependent and that our future is secured through collaborations nurtured by free, open, and respectful communication. Face-to-face meetings are the most effective means of communicating. International exchange programs are essential for those who hope to lead the communities and nations of the world. NCIV and its member organizations must at all times meet rigorous and measurable standards of quality and excellence in all areas. This excellence requires commitment and competence marked by flexibility, risk taking, and an infectious and invigorating enthusiasm. Voluntarism is a unique trait of American society that must be reflected in our organizations and programs. So, what can you do to help promote your area’s citizen diplomacy, well, it all starts with a handshake. Watch for my tweets on Twitter throughout the week and more blog postings upon my return. For further information or any questions on Naples real estate please contact Ruth Bethem at Ruth@RuthBethem.com or direct at 239-777-7007 or toll free 877-777-7545.