October 31, 2023
Hosted in a joint effort with our sister foundation the French-American Foundation—France, this year’s Young Leaders program welcomed 2022 and 2023 French and American Young Leaders to Strasbourg, France for five days of relationship building, site visits in the Alsace region, and intensive dialogue on issues of common concern for France and the U.S.
On the U.S. side, Young Leaders from the 2022 and 2023 class hail from 9 different states and represent a wide array of sectors, including the arts, science and medicine, nonprofit development, business and entrepreneurship, government, the military, and more. Selected for their leadership capacities and considered to have the potential to rise to the highest levels in their fields, this year’s participants join the ranks of more than 600 French and American Young Leaders across all walks of life, careers, and interests.
On the first night of the program, nearly 50 French and American Young Leaders from the 2022 and 2023 classes gathered in Paris at the George C. Marshall Center in the historic Hôtel de Talleyrand. This year’s traveling classes broke the ice with one another by engaging in a few lively rounds of “speed meetings.” Later in the evening, almost 100 Young Leaders and friends of the Foundation from both sides of the Atlantic gathered for a cocktail reception at the center. We were proud to have Young Leaders from all classes, including our very first class from 1981, in attendance. Guests were welcomed by Michael Turner, Counselor for Cultural Affairs at the US Embassy in Paris; Alain Papiasse, Chair of the French-American Foundation—France; and Edward C. Wallace, Chair of the French-American Foundation—United States.
During the second day of the program, Young Leaders hopped on the TGV and arrived in Strasbourg, a historic city rich in its architecture, culture, language, and cuisine. The day began with a visit to one of the most important European political institutions, the European Parliament. Young Leaders had the opportunity to sit with French Member of Parliament and renowned journalist Bernard Guetta (FR YL ’81) for a discussion. The conversation touched on threats to European democracy due to the rise of populism and anti-democratic movements, the war in Ukraine, conflict in the Middle East, and threats of terrorism in Europe. Young Leaders Emerita Torres (US YL ’22), VP of Policy, Research, and Advocacy, Community Services Society of New York and Alexandra Jousset (FR YL ’22), Director and Producer, CAPA TV PRESSE, served as moderators.
Participants then met with Schams El Ghoneimi, Policy Advisor to the Renew Europe Group, who spoke on the responsibilities within his role advising on how EU policy and legislation is shaped in relation to pressing contemporary issues, including but not limited to climate change, immigration, and economic policy.
After lunch, Young Leaders met with Nicolas Thery, Chairman of Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale. He led a fascinating debate on France’s financial ecosystem and capitalist structures, progressive politics, and his atypical career path. Thery shared his personal philosophy on how to create a better world for our society via labor unions, company engagement policies and corporate CSR. The conversation was moderated by Molly Claflin (US YL ’22), an Investigations Lawyer in Washington, DC, and Alice Albizzati (FR YL ’23), Founding Partner of Revaia.
Day three of the program focused on the defining qualities of Strasbourg and the Alsace-Lorraine region. Sessions began with a presentation by Maryvonne Le Brignonen, Director of the INSP – Institut national du service public (formerly Ecole National d’Administration-ENA). INSP is a grande école in France that prepares students for careers in public service. During this discussion, she shared her vision for the school’s future and explained how INSP is working to create a network of dedicated expert civil servants to safeguard the future of France. Elise Lavielle (FR YL ’23), Subprefect, Deputy-head of the cabinet of the Paris Police Prefect, and Omar Woodard (US YL ’22), Executive Director of HRS Management, moderated the event.
Next, our group was joined by Jean-Michel Cros, Director of the Mission des Cultes et de la Mémoire (Director of the Mission for Religion and Memory). He spoke to our Young Leaders about the specificities of the Concordat in the Alsace-Moselle, which regulates the relationship between religion and the State in the public sphere. The conversation grew US Young Leaders’ understandings of the relationship between religion and state in France, as well as the specificities of these laws in the region. The conversation was moderated by Adam Klein (US YL ’22), Director of the Robert Strauss Center on International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, and Batoul Hassoun (FR YL ’22), Chief Executive Officer of The Salmon Consulting.
Our Young Leaders then attended a panel which explored the history and growth of the Grand Est region and its industries, led by four of the region’s experts in cross-border cooperation and international relations, as well as French State diplomatic representatives and leading economic stakeholders: Jean-Baptiste Cuzin, Head of the Department for Cross-border, European and International Cooperation for the Region; Philippe Lacoste, Diplomatic Advisor to the Prefect of the Region; Catherine Saracco, Ph.D., Senior Advisor for Cross-border, European and International Cooperation for the Region; and Dirk Winkler, Investment Advisor, Invest Eastern France. The panel was moderated by Lara Aryani (US YL ’22), Partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP, and Sophie Marchessou (FR YL ’23), Chief Customer Officer at Mirakl.
The day concluded with a group discussion led by Frédérique Neau, author, historian, and former Director of the European Center of Deported Resistance Members and Christian Bonah, M.D., PhD in the History of Science and Epistemology. The discussion was moderated by Shannon Walker (US YL ’23), Cardiologist at the University of California at San Francisco, and Sofiane Bendifallah (FR YL ’22), Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the American Hospital of Paris. Speakers and Young Leaders came together as a group to speak about the 1940 German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine during World War II and the memorials in the region that commemorate these tragic events.
The fourth day of the program focused on the contemporary history of the Alsace-Moselle region. Young Leaders visited the Mémorial Alsace-Moselle during a guided visit. The museum traces the tragic and layered past of the people of Alsace-Moselle, starting in the late 19th century.
Young Leaders learned about the region’s changing history, alternating between French and German nationalities four times between 1870 and 1945. The group reflected on the impact that a singular border shift can have on nationality, culture, and language. The Memorial offers a lesson in the absolute necessity to unite Europeans in their diversity and to respect their dignity as individuals and secure peace.
Later in the day, and for the first time in the history of the Young Leaders program, the group visited a Concentration Camp, Natzweiler-Struthof. This camp was a labor camp, a transit camp, the site of inhumane medical experiments and, as the war went on, a place of execution. It is the only Nazi concentration camp on present-day French territory. During this visit, Young Leaders commemorated the individuals who suffered during the devastating events that occurred at the camp and reflected on the lessons learned and their relevance today. It was a moving day and reminded us of the cruciality of building understanding and dialogue between one another, underscoring the importance of our own Young Leaders community.
The final day of the program focused on connecting as a group to discuss some of the most pressing challenges of our time: climate change, access to education, rise of extremism, war and other threats to democracy, AI, mental health, and access to healthcare. 2022 and 2023 Young Leaders shared in-depth discussions and came together as a group to brainstorm. To close the session, Young Leaders had the opportunity to reflect on the week’s activities and the lessons that can be applied back home. In the afternoon, participants had free time to visit the historical, cultural, and architectural wonders of Strasbourg, and came together one last time for a closing cocktail reception to celebrate the end of a memorable seminar.
Thank you to our extraordinary Young Leaders, speakers, and to our sister organization, the French-American Foundation—France for making this year’s program so impactful. Our gratitude extends to our Board of Directors for their enduring support which makes Young Leaders seminars possible. The team at the French-American Foundation looks forward to hosting the 2023 and 2024 French and American Young Leaders in Miami next fall!