I had the privilege of speaking to the Trustees of the American Field Service (AFS). They assembled this weekend in Long Island for their annual strategic retreat. AFS has a long and distinguished history with cross-cultural learning and exchange. The organization was formed as part of a collective action initiative led by young Americans residing in Paris during World War I.
The following is an excerpt from the AFS website:
AFS Intercultural Programs began as the American Ambulance Field Service (later to be known as the “American Field Service” or “AFS”), which had its origins in 1914 shortly after the outbreak of World War I, when young Americans living in Paris volunteered as ambulance drivers at the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside of Paris. AFS participated in every major French battle and carried supplies and more than 500,000 wounded during World War I. By the end of the war, 2,500 men had served in the American Field Service with the French Armies.
After spending considerable time reviewing the history of AFS, I prepared myself for the conversation. My job was to engage this international, highly-accomplished body in a strategic conversation about the future of AFS.
I came away with a deep appreciation for this organization and its mission. AFS is truly an example of international, cross-cultural collective action. Their organizational structure is complicated and there are natural tensions that arise whenever you attempt to lead a decentralized, semi-independent system. AFS is managing to do this exceedingly well and I hope the tools I shared with them will propel them for the next few years.