AFS convenes more than 450 leading educators, researchers, business leaders and policymakers to push for more global competence education at a time when “globalism” is under attack, and nationalism is on the rise.


Key Takeaways from the AFS Global Conference on Global Competence

  • Amplify the urgent call to action: At a time when globalism is under attack and nationalism is on the rise, we need more active global citizens who believe that a just and peaceful world is only possible when the global community respects diversity, embraces inclusiveness and works together to address the world’s most pressing challenges.
  • Empower the education community to integrate global competence education into school curriculums worldwide and prepare students to navigate an increasing diverse world.
  • Build stronger coalitions with policymakers, businesses, social entrepreneurs and funders to make global competence education a reality in schools, youth groups, NGos and workplace professional development programs.
  • Collaborate with young people, our most important stakeholders, to ensure global competence education supports and strengthens their determination to make a meaningful impact on the world.

AFS Intercultural Programs, a leading nonprofit international education organization, launched the inaugural AFS Global Conference in Budapest (26-28 September) to explore the theme “Global Competence: Our Future, Our  Responsibility.” This first-of-its-kind event reflects AFS’ commitment to bring prominent educators and researchers together with social entrepreneurs, policymakers, business leaders and funders to make global competence an integral part of school curricula, youth activities and workplace professional development programs worldwide. More than 450 conference participants from 70 countries joined this groundbreaking global conversation, hosted by AFS Hungary.  

“Preparing young minds and people of all ages to learn, live and work together is more important than ever, explains Melissa Liles, Chief Global Engagement Officer at AFS Intercultural Programs.

“AFS and our distinguished partners organized the 2018 AFS Global Conference to build active partnerships and coalitions that will transform how we educate people to successfully navigate, collaborate and thrive in a complex diverse world. Our goal was to showcase promising and practical evidence-based solutions and strategies—and connect the innovators and implementers behind them with the resources needed to bring their visions to scale.”

AFS Board Chair, Dr. Vishakha Desai leading a panel on “Why Global Competence?” with Clive Lee of Yidan Prize Foundation, Simona-Mirela Miculescu of the UN, Peter Mather of BP and Larisa Hovannisian of Teach For Armenia

An Urgent Call to Action

Dr. Vishakha Desai, Chair of the AFS Board of Trustees, opened the 3-day conference with a warning that “globalism is under attack” and charged attendees to take joint responsibility for building global competence among young people around the world.

“As the world experiences more extremism and inequality, global competence is the new power skill,” said Daniel Obst, President and CEO of AFS.Broadening the perspectives of our next generation of leaders and empowering them to communicate, negotiate and collaborate across differences is mission critical for our world if we want to combat the rising tide of intolerance we see everywhere.”  

“Schools play a key role in fostering global competence,” explained Dr. Andreas Schleicher, chief architect behind the new international Global Competence Framework within the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The PISA test assess skills and knowledge of 15 year olds worldwide and is administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In his inspiring keynote address, Schleicher defined global competence as “the capacity to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.”

Schleicher pointed to research by the Varkey Foundation and others that claim young people are willing to contribute to society, but lack the knowledge and skills to do so. Schleicher believes global skills enable students to develop a fact-based and critical worldview—a mindset that can help accomplish their dreams to make a difference.

Dr. Andreas Schleicher gave a powerful keynote and then joined a panel with Kaya Henderson of Teach For All, J. Brian Atwood of the Watson Institute at Brown University and Ankit Kawatra of the World Youth Council, moderated by AFS President & CEO Daniel Obst

AFS Global Conference speaker Dr. Tony Jackson of Asia Society agreed: “We must encourage young learners to investigate the world, recognise the perspectives of others, communicate across cultures and take action for the common good.”

Although critical, schools are not the only place where students gain global skills. Roberto Ruffino, Secretary General of the Intercultura Foundation, made a strong case informing learning programs such as study abroad experiences as an ideal way for students to step out their comfort zones and learn about the world.

Hanneke Teekens, head of the Dutch Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education, added that technology and virtual exchanges for students and teachers expand access to transformative international and intercultural encounters, which is especially beneficial for those who do not have access to or can’t afford in-person to travel abroad.

Global competence education beyond the classroom

Global competence training in workforce and professional development programs in the public and private sectors was also discussed at the conference. “We need people who are curious about the world,” said Peter Mather of BP, a global energy company and a sponsor of the Global Conference. Being the top expert in one’s field is not longer enough to make you successful, Mather explained,  which is why businesses need young people who know how to communicate across differences, and why global competence matters in every workplace. Speakers from BP, Momondo and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary invited participants to actively seek out out partnerships with local and global businesses to identify joint ways to advocate for and implement global competence education programs. Conference sessions showcased exciting private-public alliances around global competence activities with BP and AFS, as well as  Momondo and CISV (formerly known as Children’s International Summer Villages).

The need for globally competent leaders beyond workplace collaboration and building more inclusive workforce pipelines was also explored. Having a global perspective also helps leaders draw on a wider range of solutions to solve challenges and take advantage of opportunities at the local or global levels, explained Kaya Henderson of Teach For All, a global network that develops collective leadership in classrooms and communities around the world. Henderson takes a “locally rooted, but globally informed solutions” approach for sharing best practices in education in her Global Learning Lab for Community Impact, which she oversees at Teach For All.

Attendees of the 2018 AFS Global Conference

Henderson also encouraged educators and policymakers to include students in building innovative programs to expand their worldviews, “Young people are ready to change the world right now, not in 20 years. We must empower and engage them to help us develop these solutions.”

Social entrepreneur and founder of the Feed India, Ankit Kawatra agreed, “We have to invest more into the dreams and ideas of young people, we have to empower them to act.” His work at the World Youth Council helps develop youth programs worldwide.

Through five main plenary sessions, more than 50 concurrent workshops, and live streamed AFS Now interviews with leaders, attendees of the AFS Global Conference focused on critical components of the a global competence education movement—from curriculum development to  to fundraising and partnerships required to scale up successful initiatives.

Interactive polls with the conference attendees have a clear conclusion: teacher training and building partnerships are key for integrating global competence in schools. However, resources to support this movement must come from building partnerships and alliances across sectors.

We thank the AFS Volunteers for their commitment and energy in making this event a great success

The AFS Global Conference was supported by AFS Hungary and our content partners, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), Yidan Prize Foundation, Teach For All, the World Bank, the Association for Teacher Education in Europe (ATEE), the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (AmCham), the World Youth Council (WYC) and the Tempus Public Foundation. The event was sponsored by BP, a global energy company; GMMI, a provider of cost containment and medical risk management solutions; Rosetta Stone, an edtech software company, LOT Polish Airlines, American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS) and private donors Gustavo Bracco and Filippo Bettini.

The next AFS Global Conference will take place in Montreal, Canada, from 9 to 11 October 2019.

Contact us for more information.