Debrief of the 2021 Young Leaders program

November 3, 2021

2021 Young Leaders seminar, October 19-23, 2021 in Paris and Normandy

On October 19, 2021, a group of 40 French & American Young Leaders gathered in France for an intensive five-day program to learn, network and generate dialogue on leadership and advancing towards common goals on both sides of the Atlantic. Each year since 1981, the Foundation welcomes a new class of Young Leaders who have demonstrated exceptional professional achievements and the proclivity to work towards positive global impact.

On the US side, the 2019 and 2020 classes came together in person for the first time to build friendships, share knowledge and expertise, and grow together as leaders in today’s world. The program provided an opportunity for Young Leaders to make meaningful connections after months of social distancing, to engage in pertinent dialogue, and to grow their understanding of and commitment to strengthening French-American ties.

Wednesday, October 20th marked a special day of celebrations to honor 40 years of the Young Leaders program and our exceptional alumni network. Alumni joined Young Leaders for the day’s activities around Paris, divided in three sessions: Fixing the Future, Embodying the Future, and Celebrating the Future. The group gathered first at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine to take a virtual reality tour of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral following destruction from the April 15, 2019 fire. French Army General Jean-Louis Georgelin elaborated on the challenges innate in rebuilding the centuries-old jewel of Gothic architecture, while Major-General Jean-Marie Gontier, head of the Paris Fire Brigrade, described the arduous mission of fighting flames and making crucial on-the-spot decisions that saved the church from collapsing. Both Generals’ words inspired a conversation around the responsibility leaders uphold to remain courageous, visionary, and willing to act, so as to influence the future for generations to come.

Young Leaders then heard from alumni on what it means to be a leader in today’s complex and ever-changing world and how leadership values have evolved over the past 40 years. On the US side, Carol Bellamy, from the first class of Young Leaders (‘81) and FAF Board Member, emphasized the importance of allowing oneself to be vulnerable, treating others with empathy, and accepting failure and learning from one’s mistakes.

Evening festivities included a celebratory cocktail and dinner hosted at the majestic Cercle de l’Union Interalliée. A toast was raised to the French-American friendship and to Young Leaders and alumni who serve to strengthen this bond.

French and US Young Leaders made their way to Normandy by bus on Thursday, October 21. Once at the coast, the group walked along Omaha beach, the site of the June 6, 1944 D-Day battles where tens of thousands of American soldiers joined Allied forces to liberate France from German occupation. Respects to fallen soldiers were paid during a visit to the American Cemetery and Caen WWII memorial. As a symbol of Transatlantic friendship, French and American Young Leaders participated in a moving wreath laying ceremony to honor lost troops on both sides.

Friday, October 22 marked a visit to the Palace of Versailles, a fitting place to explore the ideas of democracy, history, and revolution. Thierry Gausseron, General Administrator of the Palace and Young Leader alumnus (’08), framed the visit with his remarks and helped facilitate a private tour. A lively dinner in Paris at Le Shack followed, giving Young Leaders an opportunity to reflect and debate.

Roger Cohen, Paris Bureau Chief of the New York Times, led a fascinating discussion on Saturday on Franco-American cultural differences and the apparent tensions between multiculturalism, universalism, secularism, and laïcité. Young Leaders continued to share their opinions on identity and belonging over lunch. After an afternoon break, the group gathered at the restaurant Loulou within the Musée des Arts Décoratifs for a celebratory closing ceremony and dinner. They raised a toast to the week, to new friendships, and to the memories that will last long past the week’s end.

Our gratitude extends to our Board, Young Leaders and alumni, and to various supporters who made the 2021 program a success. The French-American Foundation’s US leadership would also like to thank the French-American Foundation – France. We value the longstanding collaboration of both foundations and look forward to the program in 2022. Until next year in Austin, Texas!

Young Leaders Program