Rickey Bevington, President of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta since January 2022, knew that she needed to make the organization more sustainable right away. “The Council had an events-driven business model,” she says, “and during Covid, there were no events. New revenue streams had to include more corporate memberships, and strategic grants.”
The mission of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta is to be a forum for informed discussion of global affairs that impact metro Atlanta's economy, culture and quality of life. Founded in 2010 by executives at Coca-Cola and UPS, the Council has organized hundreds of programs exploring a diverse array of critical global issues that affect Atlanta in some way. Corporate and individual memberships are growing “and we intend to keep that going,” says Rickey.
The origin of entities like the World Affairs Council of Atlanta goes back over 100 years, according to Rickey, to the close of World War I. “U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and his supporters knew that world leaders as well as citizens needed places to exchange ideas on an international level,” she says, “and so the Foreign Policy Association was formed in 1918 and the Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921.” Today, there are 90 independent organizations around the country that are members of the umbrella World Affairs Councils of America. “Local corporate and political leaders have always been financial supporters of the councils because a stable world economy contributes in a big way to local stability and prosperity,” she says.
As part of her initial three-year strategy, Rickey reframed the Council’s work around four action areas – Convene, Connect, Cultivate, Amplify - illustrated on the newly-designed website: Convene a premier forum for informed debate and dialogue about world affairs; connect an exclusive network of global business, policy, and cultural leaders; cultivate the next generation of globally aware business and civic executives; amplify thought leadership that inspires new thinking about global events and issues. She and her team recently designed a shareable digital brochure to communicate the Council’s work and value proposition.
Diverse programs offer something for everyone under Rickey’s leadership. Two recent examples include an intimate dinner for members to discuss how the war in Ukraine is changing Europe forever and a public breakfast and fireside chat with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens discussing Atlanta’s international economic and cultural influence. “I was especially proud of our program in July 2023 where Matthew Delmont, Distinguished Professor of History at Dartmouth College, discussed the global impact of President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces,” says Rickey.
Inclusion is of major importance to Rickey. “I want everyone to know that they belong and that all are welcome, “she says. “Anyone who wants to know more about the people and issues of the world today is welcome. International affairs can be intimidating but we strive to make the subjects accessible to everyone.”
The Council is not a partisan or political organization and does not take a stance on issues. “Our role is to provide high quality information to our members and guests,” she says. “As a former journalist, providing reliable information to people is a continuation of my career.”
Indeed, from 2014-2021, Rickey was the award-winning Atlanta-based host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered on Georgia Public Broadcasting. Her journalism appeared on national American television and radio outlets including NPR and PBS Newshour and garnered honors from the Edward R. Murrow Awards, National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Southeast (Emmys) and Society of Professional Journalists. She was also invited to be an inaugural member of the Council on Foreign Relations Local Journalists Initiative. With a lifelong interest in international affairs and multiple prestigious international fellowships, Rickey was an obvious choice for her very public role.
Rickey has had the experience of living abroad as opposed to just visiting. While in college, she studied at the University of Strasbourg in France “and never lost the passion for the international.” She has been awarded fellowships with the French-American Foundation of the United States as well as the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
While the World Affairs Council of Atlanta does not represent the government in trade negotiations or diplomatic meetings, it is frequently a stop that foreign business and political leaders make when visiting Atlanta. “They can find fellow natives of their country and other likeminded people at the Council,” says Rickey, “so we’re a valued part of Atlanta’s international ecosystem. Recently, our power to ‘convene and connect’ was demonstrated when a local Atlanta businessman met an official from another country and leveraged the relationship to expand his business into that country.”
In her position as President of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, Rickey is also Executive in Residence at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Among her many ideas for the Council’s future is to one day expand events and programs to Georgia students in grades K through 12.
“One thing I have found in this job is that everyone in Atlanta is proud of the international influence that we have in music, entertainment, sports, business and issues such as civil rights,” says Rickey, “and there is a genuine desire to keep these positive developments going. My job is to provide a forum for consequential conversations about how the world shapes Atlanta and how Atlanta shapes the world.”
In her role at the Council, Rickey frequently hosts Ambassadors and international dignitaries for important talks and events. Her recent fellowship at the International Women’s Forum has inspired her towards a very worthy goal. “I would like for the Council to bring a female world leader to Atlanta every year,” she says. “That’s my dream – for them to consider Atlanta an important stop.”
At the same time that the Council is increasing knowledge about the world to Atlanta, it is simultaneously amplifying important people in Atlanta to the rest of the world. “Mayor Dickens and top elected leaders, of course,” says Rickey, “but also people like Helene D. Gayle, M.D., MPH, the president of Spelman College, a globally recognized public health leader. There is a lot more to Atlanta than many people realize.”
“While some of our tactics may have changed since the pandemic, “says Rickey, “our mission remains the same – to support Atlanta’s transformation into an international economic hub by providing a forum for informed discussion of the global affairs that impact metro Atlanta’s economy, culture and quality of life.”
To register for upcoming events at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, go to https://www.wacatlanta.org/events
• Oktoberfest Excursion to Helen, Ga. Sat, Sep 09 | Helen Festhalle | 9 AM - 8 PM Attend the annual Oktoberfest Parade, dance to the sounds of traditional German Oom-pah bands and enjoy a traditional German Dinner. Bavarian attire is highly encouraged (Public Event)
• Young Leaders Immersion: Curiosity Lab Sat, Sep 16 | Curiosity Lab @ Peachtree Corners. he Curiosity Lab is a publicly funded living lab designed to provide a real-world test environment to advance next-generation intelligent mobility and smart city technology. (Member Event)
• Global Leadership Seminar Sat, Sep 23 | 9:00 AM-1:00 PM ET | The Gathering Spot A half day seminar of inspiring workshops and panels that delve into human impact careers in diplomatic and humanitarian roles. Remarks from Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE; Jason Dozier, Atlanta City Council; Ambassador (ret.) Harry Thomas (Public Event)
• Young Leaders Dialogue "Peaches and Soccer: Exploring the Allure and Economic Impact of the World Cup in Atlanta" October 5, 2023 | 6:30 – 7:30PM | 3348 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta (Public)