Friday, November 22, 2013

[Blog Buddies] Collaborators Across Borders

Many of you know I had the incredible fortune of serving as a 2013 American Marshall Memorial Fellow. This honor afforded me 24 days of travel in October across 5 European countries and myriad opportunities to understand how the United States and Europe compare and more importantly, how we relate. Read on for my final analysis of how we can strengthen transatlantic cooperation!



Collaborators Across Borders

On day four of the U.S. government shutdown, I and fourteen other American fellows flew across the Atlantic Ocean and began our Marshall Memorial Fellowship program. While questions related to the cause for the shutdown and analysis about its global impact varied, it was clear to the Europeans we met with during our travels that the shutdown was a poignant example of the inability of United States political leaders to compromise and develop solutions.
With the question of working across parties at the back of my mind, I noted three particular examples of enduring partnership and innovative collaborations based in Europe that I’m hopeful we might take a lesson from in the United States:
The Schengen Area. Despite having traveled to Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Germany during my fellowship, thanks to the Schengen Area, my passport only bears stamps for the first and latter two countries. The Schengen Area is comprised of 26 European countries that have eliminated passport and immigration controls at their common borders. It effectively functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. Whereas citizens of Schengen member nations previously had to go through passport control and other customs protocols when moving across borders equivalent to traveling across three or four U.S. states, they can now travel freely throughout the Schengen zone, an area of 4,312,099 square kilometers. Covering a population of over 400 million people, the Schengen agreement reduces costs of internal border control with other Schengen members and promotes ease of movement, tourism, business, and cross-cultural exchange. This international travel policy provides economic and social benefits for all member nations and represents impressive political cooperation between diverse nations.
NATO. At the Brussels headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), we were briefed on the history of this political alliance. NATO’s essential purpose continues to be to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. While its military origins were borne out of events of the Cold War, its work today on behalf of its 28 member countries (including the U.S.) remains highly relevant as contemporary global threats of terrorism, cyber security, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) loom large. A “NATO decision” is the expression of the collective will of all 28 member countries since all decisions are taken by consensus. Our NATO hosts remarked upon this unique aspect of decision-making and suggested that the member representatives’ ability to come to consensus is strengthened because they all work together in the same building. This allows them to take lunch together, drop into each other’s offices when they have a question or to exchange information, and to know each other as individuals as well as professional colleagues. Being available and spending time together in this way allows them to develop relationships that facilitate the difficult conversations and decisions they face. This transatlantic entity improves the security of and deepens the political partnership of member countries.
Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. While in Portugal, we visited the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown to understand better their unique mission and competencies. Founded by a single wealthy benefactor whose will indicated only that the foundation should improve health, the leadership has established specialties in the area of oncology and cancer treatment as well as neuroscience. While touring the beautiful facility, which melded aesthetic beauty with world-class medical technology, we spoke with a world-renowned brain surgeon. His insightful words demonstrated passion for science and the human brain, but also for the way in which working together could enable more discovery. He showed us their open lab, where researchers and investigators share instruments and materials across projects as opposed to each lab maintaining their own. In this way, they encourage working together in a shared space, being available to one another and what each team member wants to learn about and improve at, and collectively deepening the field of research. He remarked that it was good to learn about the brain but asserted that if they could also develop a process to improve the way in which brain research is done, that would be even better. This perspective points to how internal collaboration in a physical workspace can set a tone for improving health and vitality across the globe.
Returning home to a Congress that is back on the job and will continue to struggle with the debt ceiling, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and numerous other national challenges, I’m hopeful that these powerful European examples of partnership and collaboration can serve as inspiration to our communities and our community leaders that by working together – across aisles, across viewpoints, and across borders – we can achieve more. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out.
Diane Tran, Project Manager at Grassroots Solutions, is a Fall 2013 American Marshall Memorial Fellow. 

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