Karl Altau / JBANC
On August 1, 2023, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) hosted a visit and briefing in the United States Congress for rising high-school seniors from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The three dozen students had completed a three-week program in Maine under the auspices of the Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) Summer Leadership Academy, focusing on entrepreneurial and innovation skill-building, leadership development, and cultural enrichment.
Following their course at Southern Maine Community College near Portland, the group traveled to New York City for a tour before heading to Washington, DC.
The briefing in Congress was opened by greetings from the JBANC team – Karl Altau, Younghyen Jeon, and Sandra Võsaste, and from Denise Desrochers, Exchange Foundations Coordinator at the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), which helps administer and manage the Academy and other BAFF scholarship programs.
Featured keynote remarks were given by Dana Linnet, the CEO of The Summit Group DC and a national security expert with over 25 years in government and the private sector. A former career diplomat with the U.S. Department of State with postings in the Baltic Sea region including Estonia, her career as an international business leader spans executive roles in the aerospace and defense industries.
Also joining were diplomats from the three Baltic embassies – Rytė Kukulskytė from Lithuania, Sarma Gintere-Tsitron from Latvia, and Karl-Gerhard Lille, the Estonian Embassy’s Congressional Liaison Officer. Mark Dreiling, Chief of Staff of the Office of Nebraska Congressman Don Bacon welcomed the Baltic visitors along with Maggie Angel from the Office of Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois. Both Representative Bacon and Senator Durbin are co-chairs of their respective Baltic Caucuses in the House and Senate.
The briefing in the U.S. House Rayburn Building was followed by a quick tour of the U.S. Capitol prior to the group’s trip to the airport to fly back to the Baltics.
More about the Leadership Academy and other BAFF programs:
The Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) is a non-profit foundation endowed by proceeds from a U.S. Government investment fund in the Baltic countries and works “to deepen the ties between and among Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United States through programs of education and exchange centering on economic growth and democratic processes.”
The BAFF Leadership Academy was inaugurated in 2014, and 2023 marks the tenth year of the program. It was the seventh time that JBANC had helped organize the event in Washington, DC in collaboration with BAFF and CIEE. JBANC hosted the Academy’s visits to Capitol Hill for six years from 2014-2019, and again this year after a three-year hiatus during the Covid pandemic.
The total number of in-person participants since its 2014 inception is 232 students, including 36 in 2023. The program was virtual during 2020 and 2021. In 2023 there were nine participants from Estonia, 13 from Latvia, and 14 from Lithuania. These were among 873 students who completed applications. The 2023 curriculum theme was “Leading for Innovation,” which included a focus on areas of design thinking, business model canvas, customer discovery, and team product idea pitches.
One of the Estonian participants had said prior to the program: “Most of all, I am looking forward to new fascinating and useful experiences—an interesting program, meeting new people and the opportunity to develop myself and see a part of the United States.” None of the students had been to the United States before.
The Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) was founded in 2010 to provide opportunities for citizens of the Baltic states to gain education and professional development through exchanges in the U.S. From inception through 2022, scholarships and awards worth more than $19 million have been given.
More than half of those awards have been granted to the Professional Internship Program, which has provided a fully funded opportunity to 400 enrolled post-secondary students and recent graduates from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to complete an internship in a U.S. company or non-profit organization to gain professional career experience and training. JBANC has hosted five interns from 2014-2022.
Three Leadership Academy alumni are currently completing Professional Internships in the United States.
It has been an amazingly successful and enriching program and opportunity for young Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to visit, work, and train in the United States. Likewise, the opportunity to engage with young, motivated, and energetic talents from the Baltic countries is a wonderful way to connect and add to any company’s profile. More is yet to come.