Friendship Force International
Friendship Force International is a non-profit international cultural exchange organization founded in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, by Rev. Wayne Smith and unveiled on March 1, 1977, by President Jimmy Carter at a White House gathering of state governors. First Lady Rosalynn Carter served as Honorary Chairperson until 2002.
In 1992, Friendship Force International was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its work building understanding between the people of the United States and the Soviet Union amidst a tense international climate.
The first seed for the idea of an international citizens' international cultural exchange program in which travelers from around the world could learn about other countries and cultures through reciprocal home stays was envisioned in 1973 by Presbyterian minister Wayne Smith (1934-2004), a former Christian missionary to Brazil. The Georgia minister met for the first time Jimmy Carter, then Governor of Georgia and his wife Rosalynn Carter and related to them his idea for a citizens' exchange, bringing Americans to Brazil and Brazilians to America with all staying in the private homes of hosts so that each could better learn about the other.
A first exchange was organized, with a charter jet taking 200 Georgians to Brazil — including in the group the state's first lady, Rosalynn Carter — with 200 Brazilians making the alternate trip, with the Governor putting up visitors in the Governor's mansion. The program was regarded as a success by its participants and Smith slowly began to envision a permanent non-governmental organization for the coordination of similar trips between citizens from various nations of the world.
Smith's idea saw fruition in 1977 with the formal establishment of Friendship Force International (FFI), with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with the group introduced to the world on March 1, 1977, by then President Carter at a White House gathering of state governors.
Owing to his early and hearty support of the concept and the broad publicity he generated, Jimmy Carter has been recognized by some as a co-founder of the organization. Accentuating this connection, First Lady Rosalynn Carter served as the group's Honorary Chairperson until 2002.
For the first five years, FFI used chartered airplanes to shuttle delegations of 150 to 400 visitors between partner cities. The first exchange involved 762 travelers from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and Atlanta.
In 1982, the plan was changed from large simultaneous exchanges to smaller one-way visits using scheduled airlines, but retaining the basic homestay theme, supported by local clubs in the host countries. Expanding from a few large simultaneous exchanges annually in the early years, Friendship Force now organizes 250-300 smaller exchanges of 20 to 25 visitors each year. In 2007, 5763 visitors, called "friendship ambassadors," traveled between 58 countries, with thousands of club members hosting visitors in their homes.
In recognition of its work to build understanding between the peoples of the United States and the Soviet Union during the last years of the Cold War, Friendship Force International was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
Friendship Force today
Today, Friendship Force International conducts almost 400 exchange programs every year, in 390 communities in 70 countries.
Since late 2015 the current President and CEO is Jeremi Snook, a former Chief Operating Officer of Spaulding Youth Center, a leading community-based provider of educational services for children with neurological or behavioral challenges.
- "Wayne Smith Dies on June 16," Smoke Signals, News from Big Canoe [Big Canoe, Georgia], vol. 16, no. 7 (July 2004).
- Derrick Henry, "Friendship Force Founder Smith Dies," Atlanta Constitution, June 20, 2004, via Friendship Force Dallas, www.friendshipforcedallas.org/
- "A Brief History of the Friendship Force," www.thefriendshipforce.org/ Apparently written about 2008.
- Nancy Hull, "Cuba Trip Brings Surprises," Salina [KS] Journal, Nov. 30, 2002, pg. 13.
- Friendship Force International official home page, www.thefriendshipforce.org/