Global Conversations with Jillian Fornito, Executive Director of the Global Interdependence Center

Article by Charlotte Thomas, GPA Ambassador

This year, Jillian Fornito was named the Executive Director of the Global Interdependence Center (GIC), a Philadelphia based nonprofit with a mission to encourage the expansion of global dialogue and free trade for better cooperation and understanding among nations. In this position, Jillian oversees the daily operations of the GIC office including development, financial administration, program coordination, and communications.  She is also the author of GIC’s Travel Blog.

Could you tell me more about your role as Executive Director of Global Interdependence Center?

The Global Interdependence Center has a mission to promote an international dialogue on issues that affect the global economy. We do that through our conferences held here in Philadelphia and around the world. My role is to plan these programs worldwide, and I work with my board of directors on creating a calendar and populating our conferences with dynamic speakers and thoughtful content. I also oversee our marketing and membership efforts, as well as run office operations.

What prepared you for this role?

I’ve been with [GIC] for nine years, and I’ve had a chance to work on, and learn, every aspect of working in the organization. I started out at GIC doing marketing and membership development and financial administration. As time went on, I took on more of an event-planning role. I could not have advanced to this level without the ongoing support and guidance of GIC’s Board of Directors. They’re all incredibly involved in GIC’s events. Our Board has taught me a lot and have given me the opportunity to grow and learn, and I am very fortunate to receive their support and dedication.

Growing up in Bucks County, did you travel to Philadelphia often? What drew you to work in Philadelphia?
Of course! Growing up in Bucks County we had our requisite visits to the Franklin Institute. My mom would bring my sister and me down to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. We would have lunch at Strawbridge’s, and our dad would take us to the Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs. We also definitely spent a lot of time at Veterans Stadium. I remember when it was time to look at colleges my mom kept bringing me to the schools with the suburban campuses and I finally had to beg her to bring me to a school in an urban setting, and that’s when I decided on La Salle University. I have always enjoyed the energy of Center City, and I’ve worked downtown since I graduated college.

When did you begin to think global? (When did you start to want to travel, become involved abroad?
Well “World Cultures” was my favorite subject in high school, and I remember bringing home a pamphlet for a trip that was being organized by one of my teachers to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. I had thought that there was no chance that I would be able to go on this trip, so I was thrilled when my mom said “yes”, and that was my first opportunity to leave the US. After college I did think about pursuing the Peace Corps, but later on my sister did a study abroad program in London and after visiting her there we took a side trip to Lisbon, Portugal. I decided at that point to make it a personal goal to leave the U.S. every two years, of course having no idea that later on I’d be leaving the U.S. every couple of months with GIC.

How does GIC connect with the Greater Philadelphia community?
GIC is proud to have its roots in Philadelphia, having been established here during the Bicentennial in 1976. We have a strong membership base here in Philadelphia and we host several conferences throughout the year usually at the Federal Reserve Bank or in partnership with LeBow College of Business at Drexel University. Recently we held a conference specifically on Philadelphia as an energy hub for the east coast, which was a great program that put the city in a nice spotlight.

What kinds of international work/initiatives have you (and GIC) been involved with?
Recently GIC has developed a very robust international program calendar. The last few years have been very diverse, specifically with 2016 as our 40th anniversary. We planned events in eight countries including: Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, England, Finland, France, Spain, and Ireland. This year we’ve added two programs in Asia in Singapore and Japan. Next year we have our first program in Frankfurt, and we’ll be returning to Buenos Aires, Paris, and Madrid, and we’re already working on our 2019 calendar.

Do you see Philadelphia as international city? If so, what do you think attracts international firms and people to the city?

Absolutely. Philadelphia has a lot to offer. We have, of course, our rich history, the birth of our nation, Valley Forge. We have the cultural diversity among our neighborhoods including: the Italian market, Chinatown, the Polish community in Port Richmond, the Russian communities in the northeast. We also have an incredible network of resources found here, such as our excellent higher education institutions, medical centers, we have a world class Art Museum, a thriving technological sector, the port of Philadelphia, Fairmount Park. I feel it’s incredibly approachable, easily walkable, we have a terrific food scene. It’s easily accessible between New York City and Washington D.C, and do I even need to mention the Cheesesteak?  It’s for these reasons and many more that Philadelphia has been recognized as the first World Heritage City in the U.S.

What’s the most important thing Philadelphia can do to become more internationally prominent?
Get out of Philadelphia—I think our citizens should serve as the ambassadors of our city and go tell the world all of the amazing reasons they should visit and help make Philadelphia a global city, and bring some visibility to our area. I think that’s where GIC is happy to help.