You never know when you'll be called upon to serve as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the United States - or to represent Toledo for that matter.
And you never know when you might become a role model for a young person who just happens to live and work in a faraway country.
Dozens of business people and their families and friends in northwest Ohio had just such an opportunity in the last two years, thanks to an exchange program operated by Toledo Sister Cities International under a U.S. State Department grant.
About 150 business owners, managers, and professionals from Bosnia-Herzegovina visited Toledo, Cleveland, and Dayton for one-month internships, and about a third of them spent most of their time in the Toledo area, supplemented by trips to several other Ohio cities, according to Evelyn Ghatak, a program manager in the local Sister Cities organization. The last group of interns leaves for home this week.
Although the main idea was “to expose them to American business practices [so they] could find out what American business is all about,” the interns - who stayed with area host families - also learned a great deal about American family life, said Ms. Ghatak. “It has been a great experience, very worthwhile.”
Among those interns was Almira Tahirovic, a 26-year-old documentation specialist from Tuzla, a city of 105,000 people in war-torn Bosnia Herzegovina. She works for the business-finance section of the U.S. Agency for International Development. While in Toledo this summer, she stayed at the Sylvania Township home of Patrick and Elaine Sheehan (Mr. Sheehan is a marketing representative for DMC Consulting, Inc., a Toledo computer-consulting firm).
Many area executives and entrepreneurs were eager to send the visitors home with American ideas, said Will Loeffler, a Perrysburg quality consultant who helped line up a variety of marketing and human-resources experts for Ms. Tahirovic and other interns. “One thing unique about Americans is that we all market ourselves,” said Dr. Loeffler. “I think we do that more than any other country in the world. There's an ego rush - a feeling of doing good.”
On Ms. Tahirovic's last day in Toledo, last day in America, we asked her to collect her impressions of Toledo and its unofficial goodwill ambassadors after she returned to her homeland.
After several weeks, she penned her thoughts about what she learned during her month-long internship in Toledo. Here are excerpts from her “Letter from Bosnia”:
“Toledo is the city where I would like to live if I did not have my own native homeland. Toledo was fun. I am very impressed with the people - their friendly approach during and after working hours.
“The host family, the Sheehans, made me feel as one of them, not [just] a guest in their house.
“...I have to admit that I was honored with the level of attention given at the companies I spent some time with. I was amazed with the level of their knowledge in regard to the market, competition, and people management.
“... [Among the lessons:] Think outside the box. The competition is not just the neighboring company, but any company dealing with the same type of business throughout the world. Their knowledge of competition was remarkable. No decision or action is made without prior communication with all team members. All decisions are carefully evaluated and, although risky, accepted and approved if the chances for winning are realistic.
“... If you are eager to learn, have an idea, and if you are proactive, all doors are opened. Bosses do acknowledge and reward hard work and benefits brought to a company.”
She said those experiences were brought home to her at Pilkington, Hickory Farms, Libbey, New Mather Metals, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
“... What was especially impressive,” she wrote in her letter, “was seeing so many people with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds living in one place. I saw in Toledo that economic vitality can bring all people of different backgrounds to live and work together. Achieving economic revitalization will take time in my country.
“... The biggest problem is how to prevent young, open-minded, skilled people from leaving the country. What I learned in Toledo will certainly be very beneficial to my country and my city.
“... I realize how many things I have to change in my work. I can better organize myself. I have more time to spend on improving skills and updating myself. My boss was pleasantly surprised with the list of proposed improvement of the office work - a result of the time spent in the United States. I personally feel more confident in what I am doing. I am not afraid to bring up new ideas. ... Toledo and the people I met [there] have changed my life and given me faith in the future.”
Homer Brickey is The Blade's senior business writer. E-mail him at email@example.com.