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Sharon Tennison and the Center for Citizen Initiatives

The Center for Citizen Initiatives is the brainchild of an American citizen, Sharon Tennison, who in the early 1980s determined in a period of desperation to try to reduce tensions between the two superpowers. Tennison and a growing group of business and professional Americans made the decision to try their hands at diplomacy and began putting together their first trip to the "land of the enemy."

The Cold War was at a peak - the KAL 007 airliner had just been downed by Soviet Interceptor Jets killing all passengers aboard, and the US and the USSR had 50,000 nuclear weapons on launch pads aimed at each other. Scientists predicted if 10% of the weapons were detonated, nuclear fallout would shortly leave planet Earth lifeless.

At that time few Americans had ever seen a Soviet citizen, nor had Soviets met any Americans - and there was no precedent or pattern how it might happen. Upon arriving in Moscow, Leningrad and Tbilisi, Center for Citizen Initiatives travelers spread to Soviet sidewalks, market places, schools and to rare apartments at the invitation of the Soviets who risked chancing encounters with the KGB.

The first trip changed the lives of the participants - each came back to America committed to be public educators. Following the first trip the program started a travel program, which took over a thousand Americans to the USSR as citizen diplomats. Each participant agreed to do six months of public education upon returning to their home cities. This work began to spread the citizen diplomacy concept and the education of ordinary American citizens regarding the risks at stake.

Productivity Enhancement Program

The Center for Citizen Initiatives began implementing the experiment first in 1994 and titled it the Productivity Enhancement Program (PEP). Over the years, PEP became CCI's largest and most dramatically effective program. For more than fifteen years PEP was in constant experimentation. As Russian entrepreneurs evolved rapidly, the program had to be updated and refined every year. From the beginning, CCI partnered with Rotary Clubs across America, in addition to Kiwanis, Optimist, Soroptimist and Lion's Clubs.

In 2004 CCI's State Department contract was terminated prematurely. CCI developed the means to keep the program running and eventually Russian entrepreneurs were paying the full costs of training and CCI's operational costs. By 2008, to keep PEP afloat, CCI had cut staff, moved operations, reduced salaries and the number of PEP participants. In late 2008 as Russia was pulled into the global financial crisis, Russian entrepreneurs were no longer able to pay for the business training in the U.S. Participants canceled 2009 training trips, and CCI was forced to close the doors of the PEP program in February 2009.



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