2009-2010 LEAP Fellows

NCSL was pleased to welcome the 2009 LEAP fellows. The group of 13 young professionals arrived in Washington, D.C. August 25th for the arrival orientation program.

Introduction of the program 

The Legislative Education and Practice (LEAP) program began in 2005 and currently affords up to twenty promising young professionals from Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine who are pursuing careers in government the opportunity to gain comparative experience in the U.S. each year. LEAP is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. State Department. NCSL works with American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS to administer the program. Since 2005, LEAP fellows have worked in many U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia.
 
The objective of the exchange is to expand the knowledge and interest of Eurasian young professionals in the democratic political process through fellowships in state-level government and non-governmental organizations (NGO) across the U.S. The long-term goal of the program is for the fellows to share their knowledge with their peers in Eurasia through a follow-on program in which they conduct conferences and outreach activities in collaboration with U.S. counterparts, often their supervisors in the legislative placements. 
 
Orientation

Orientation at NCSL was conducted by Maggie Lamborn of the International Programs department, who introduced the LEAP fellows to the major program arrangements as well as NCSL. During the week, the LEAP fellows had the opportunity to learn more about the U.S. political process, the peculiarities of state-federal relations, the basics of lobbying, as well as media and public relations from prominent NCSL experts.        
 
The fellows visited the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Center, the National Democratic Institute, and the White House. They had the opportunity to meet congressional experts, such as Mr. Vincent Morelli, the Former Staff Director of the Europe Subcommittee (House Foreign Affairs Committee). The LEAP fellows traveled to Maryland for a day to experience firsthand the U.S. political decision-making and public policy shaping process by meeting with state legislative staffers of the Maryland Assembly and see the State Capitol. They were graciously welcomed by several staffers who provided assistance to the fellows to familiarize them with the workings of state legislators and staff. Along with learning about the Maryland General Assembly and its legislative services, LEAP fellows were briefed on the roles, functions, and peculiarities of the interaction between state legislative staff.
 

Fellows participated in a group project with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, LA for two days. This experience was a perfect activity to facilitate teambuilding. This volunteer initiative helped fellows comprehend the ideas of volunteerism and civic responsibility that exist in the U.S. Meeting with local officials in New Orleans and Baton Rouge also helped them learn more about proper legislative responses to current day situations and the role of all levels of government as well as NGOs. The Louisiana State Legislature graciously hosted the fellows providing them with their second opportunity to have first hand exposure to a legislature.

Fellowships 

LEAP Fellows are placed in four-month fellowships in state legislatures and NGOs during the months of September, October, November, and December. The fellowships focus on how U.S. legislative institutions address and resolve issues in budget, education, health care, environment, security, social services, and transportation, just to name a few, as well as the relationship between law-making and non-governmental organizations.

The program goal of exposing youth to the democratic political process of the U.S. was easily accomplished. Having daily interaction and exposure to state legislatures is a very effective way to accomplish this. Democracy is based on the concept of representation and there is no other branch of government that is more representative of the voice of the people than state legislatures.

The legislative placements were all tremendously beneficial. Each situation was unique and different; placements were affected by a number of factors including the personality and supervising styles of each supervisor, the opportunities offered and available in the placements, the difference in the kinds of placements, including legislators’ offices or research branches of the legislature. This year, many supervisors went above and beyond the regular responsibilities of a general supervisor and spent time with their fellow outside of the office, designed special work assignments tailored to the fellow’s particular interests, volunteered with the fellows to meet program requirements, as well as resolved problems or uncomfortable situations in non-work related aspects of the fellows’ lives and the program.

The success of the placement is determined in part by the amount of initiative the fellows took during the program. The fellows this year took advantage of opportunities they were offered and sought out and created other learning experiences on their own. The fellows thus obtained the exposure they desired from their participation in the program.

Fellows’ Work

During the placements, fellows participated in a variety of work related assignments. Some of them include: 

  • Assisted with correspondence, including that with constituents;
  • Attended district events and meetings;
  • Reviewed legislation;
  • Completed legislative research as well as other forms of research;
  • Participated in evaluation where they conducted research and analysis, participated in interviews, and travelled to collect information;
  • Attended new staff trainings;
  • Participated in the professional life of the offices;
  • Drafted reports.
  • Attended in-house meetings and seminars; and
  • Participated in State House events;

NCSL received positive feedback from the supervisors, stating that they enjoyed working with their fellow and learning about their various countries of origin. Most reported on the benefits to the fellows and the opportunities they received through exposure to the legislative environments. Many supervisors enjoyed the fact that their fellows were “extremely willing to learn and take on new challenges.” They believe these are key qualities all participants in this program need.

During their time in the U.S., two fellows chose to participate in site visits to state capitols other than their placements to further their exposure. NCSL worked with the fellows to arrange these visits. Mr. Alexey Tyumenin spent a day in the California State Legislature in Sacramento. Ms. Ekaterine Kokaia chose to spend a day at the Massachusetts Legislature. In both situations, meetings were arranged to meet the fellows' interests and desires, while exposing them to a different environment from that of their placement.

NCSL’s Fall Forum and Professional Conference Attendance

Each fellow was given the choice of attending NCSL's Fall Forum in San Diego or finding an alternative conference to participate in as part of the LEAP program. All but two of the fellows chose to attend NCSL's Fall Forum. NCSL staff facilitated the fellows’ involvement and planned meetings specifically for the LEAP fellows' benefit while at the conference. Of note, the fellows were formally introduced and recognized at a large general session during the Forum, which gave them the opportunity to meet additional legislative personnel from across the nation.

The LEAP fellows greatly enjoyed this opportunity, stating that it assisted them in advancing their careers, further exposed them to legislative issues and processes, among other reasons. One fellow stated, “I enjoyed the Forum because it was an opportunity to meet legislators and become a bit more familiar with their work. Specifically, I learned about the ways state legislators cooperate to influence U.S. policy country-wide.” Another fellow wrote, “I am very glad I had this opportunity. It was very informative to see what problems legislators face and how they discuss [options] or what they plan to do to overcome these problems.”

The fellows walked away from the conference with new ideas of how to approach obstacles in their home countries. One fellow stated, “Town hall meetings may be a way for Turkish Members of Parliament to get in touch with their constituents,” which is a communication channel they do not utilize to their fullest advantage presently. Another fellow concluded that “Representative democracy means being accessible and accountable to your constituents. The best way to show it is through town hall meetings.”

Immediately following NCSL’s Fall Forum, the LEAP fellows traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the program’s week long Debriefing. At the end of the week, the fellows departed for their home countries where they will continue their work on the LEAP program through their outbound programs.

Outbound Programs

Each LEAP fellow completed and submitted a proposal for an activity that will occur in their home country. NCSL is currently reviewing these outbound proposals as part of the selection board where a few of the proposals will be funded through the LEAP program. Those selected will be notified in early February and will begin officially preparing for the outbound program. 

Ukrainian Fellows Joint Outbound Program:

One of the LEAP outbound projects that was selected for funding was proposed by several of the program's Ukrainian participants: Olga Batishcheva, Tetyana Bohdanova, Chrystyna Holynska and Olga Vorona. The project titled Forming friendships: Expanding horizons of civic activism in Ukraine, was carried out April 11-17, 2010. The main goal of the Ukrainian LEAP outbound project was to contribute to mutual understanding between the U.S. and Ukraine by connecting Ukrainian leaders dedicated to bringing positive change to their country with their U.S. colleagues in order to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills as well as to foster future cooperation.  

The project involved four U.S. specialists from both the public and non-profit sectors traveling to Ukraine and meeting with their counterparts. Those who traveled to Ukraine included Senator Harriette L. Chandler, Massachusetts State Senate; Mr. Brian Weberg, NCSL; Mr. Eric Marshall, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Mr. Richard Wells, America's Promise Alliance. Those who assisted and participated in Ukraine ranged from the LEAP alumni, Ukrainian university students and faculty, host families, volunteer interpreters and drivers, many governmental and non-governmental organizations, and even one MP. 

Professional events included in the project varied widely and brought together various people from several different regions of Ukraine. Most events resulted in interesting and engaging discussions. Because of the busy schedule, there was not adequate time for U.S. and Ukrainian participants to discuss concrete possibilities for follow-on cooperation, however, the organizers hope that the varied audiences involved and the array of topics covered prompted ideas for future cooperation among representatives of both sides.  A good example of such an occasion was a meeting with the NGO “Democratic Alliance” which was focused on civic activism among young people, but turned into a lively discussion about ways to engage media and conduct fundraising among different groups.  At the end of the meeting Ukrainian and American NGO representatives found themselves exchanging contact information and brainstorming different ways for further communication.

Besides exposing Ukrainian participants to U.S. expertise in such areas as the legislative process, public administration, the relationship between the government and the non-profit sectors, elections, NGO work, and others, the project also provided the U.S. participants with a comprehensive picture of issues that Ukraine is currently facing.  As stated by a U.S. participant during the farewell dinner, by the end of the project they felt they knew much more about the Ukrainian issues than they did upon their arrival because of the communication with students, NGO activists, and public officials at both the regional and national levels.

One of the events was a roundtable discussion with Lutsk NGO leaders, as well as local and state legislature members themed Euro-Atlantic Experience in Building Civil Society in Modern Ukraine.  A wide variety of subjects were discussed including global cooperation. Senator Chandler said, “We live in a global society. Our world is global…The financial crisis touched every country, we need the cooperation and efforts of every country in order to make our world develop and solve some important problems.” 

Another notable event during the trip was a panel discussion at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University. The meeting was organized with the support of the faculty of Philosophy and Department of Political Science. Each of the U.S. participants was matched with a corresponding Ukrainian expert.  Senator Chandler spoke on local government and lawmaking with the head of Vyshhorod Rayon Administration, Anatolyy Olshanskyy, and Dnipropetrovsk City Deputy Aide Serhiy Gerasymchuk. Mr. Weberg was the main speaker on management of state legislatures. The presentation on the management of local government entities in Ukraine was conducted by Yuriy Lukashevskyy, head of Public Partnership Department of L’viv City Council. 

The project was a success with over 210 total participants, 12 professional events, and five cultural awareness events. Pulling from surveys completed by the project participants and through their own experiences in participating in the project, the LEAP alumni organizers rated the project an overall great success. 

Georgian Outbound Program

May 12-17, 2010

Legislative Education and Practice Program (LEAP) alumni Mikhiel Margvelashvili and Ekaterine Kokaia of Georgia recently concluded a very successful LEAP outbound project in Georgia. The focus of the outbound project was to contribute to the Georgian constitutional reform by connecting Georgian politicians and political scientists with their U.S. counterparts in order to facilitate an exchange of knowledge.  The project also served to establish contacts between Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU) and Florida State University (FSU) and facilitated the discussion of possible future collaboration. 

Mikhiel and Ekaterine arranged for four U.S. experts with strong parliamentary backgrounds to travel to Georgia and meet with their counterparts through various events and meetings. The U.S. delegation consisted ofMr. David A. Washburn – Policy Advisor to the Majority Leader for Economic Development, Office of the House Majority Leader, Pennsylvania House of Representatives; Mr. Talbot D’Alemberte – President Emeritus and Professor of Law of the Florida State University; Mr. D. Stephen Kahn – Attorney at Law, former Florida Senate General Counsel; and Mrs. Catherine A. Washburn – Executive Director, Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, Senate of Pennsylvania

The first meeting was a round table discussion on the topic Determining the Role, Function and Structure of the Parliament in a New Draft of the Constitution of Georgia.’ This event took place in the Hall of the National Library of the Parliament of Georgia. Mr. Boris Gagua, Director of the National Library of the Parliament of Georgia opened the discussion and addressed the guests.  Mikhiel and Ekaterine then spoke on the LEAP program.  The next speaker was Professor Avtandil Demetrashvili, Chairman of the State Constitutional Commission of Georgia. He gave a comprehensive report on the activities of the State Constitutional Commission and the work that has been done by his team. 

Another highlight of the project was meeting with Mr. Gigi Tsereteli, the vice-speaker of the Parliament of Georgia. He talked about the relationships of the USA and Georgia and conducted a discussion on the current constitutional reforms. 

The project was a great success. In his concluding remarks on the project, Mikhiel, said, "the project was undoubtedly a positive event for both the Georgian and U.S. sides" and that "this was an outstanding opportunity for us to reaffirm that Georgian-U.S. relations shall acquire even tighter political, cultural and business ties in the future". 

Russia Outbound Program

Ksenia Zemlyanova, an LFP alumna, carried out her outbound project on April 4-10, 2010. She hosted Ginny McKay, the Assistant Director of the Sunset Advisory Commission for the state of Texas in Perm, Russia. The project goal, as provided by Ksenia, was "to promote mutual understanding between the United States of America and Russia by connecting prominent regional and state-level political leaders of each country to share knowledge and skills in establishing a renewed government and, ultimately, bring positive change to their countries." In assessing the project after completion, Ksenia said that she and Ms. McKay met all the goals and objectives of the project. 

The project included eight state level presentations on Texas State Government and the role of the Sunset Agency (to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies) and four presentations about Texas (culture, geography, famous people, famous phrases, economics, etc). These presentations had great participation from university students and professors, Perm City Council members, Perm Krai Government officials, NGOs, and the general public. These meetings provided the opportunity for networking and future communication and cooperation between these groups of people. The first presentation, for example, was at Perm State Technical University. There were about 25 students and all showed genuine interest in the Sunset process. Following the lecture the students engaged Ms. McKay in a lively discussion about the possibilities of setting up a similar institution in Perm. 

Ksenia's organizational skills and preparation really paid off to make this LFP outbound project a success. "We received a lot of compliments from the public about the topics and the quality of presentations," stated Ksenia. Ms. McKay was very happy with the visit and very appreciative of Ksenia for ensuring that the project was carried out so smoothly: "Ksenia's help throughout was invaluable - from organizing meetings with so many different groups, to translating for hours on end…"

 

Stay tuned for updates on the outbound programs of the 2009 LEAP program! Also, you may want to learn about the continuation program, now called the Legislative Fellows Program at: http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=18790.
 

Updated July 6,2010