Roldán-Moreno Engages in Transatlantic Dialogue through Fellowship

May 22, 2015 | Chicago, IL

Marshall Memorial Fellowship

2014–15 fellows gathered in Washington, D.C. prior to embarking on their 28-day transatlantic policy immersion.

Erie Neighborhood House Executive Director Celena Roldán-Moreno returned to Chicago earlier this month after a 28-day transatlantic policy immersion experience that took her to numerous cities in the European Union (EU), including Brussels, Budapest, Amsterdam and Berlin.

It was the culminating event of Roldán-Moreno’s participation in the Marshall Memorial Fellowship, an initiative sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) that enlists a select group of leaders from Europe and North America each year for cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.

GMF was founded in 1972 to nurture transatlantic relationships and address relevant issues through policy and democratic initiatives. It seeks to embody the spirit of the Marshall Plan—also known as the European Recovery Program—established in the aftermath of World War II to help rebuild the economies of countries in Europe most impacted by the war.

The fellows began their trip at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, before separating into smaller groups to travel to other cities in the EU. A typical itinerary stop included an orientation to the issues unique to the setting and dialogue with elected officials and policymakers. The trip also featured visits to significant historical sites to help participants better understand the context in which policy decisions are being made.

“It was an incredibly eye-opening experience,” commented Roldán-Moreno. “The fellowship was an opportunity for us to learn from the strengths and challenges of our European counterparts.” Each day brought with it the chance to engage with a diverse group of leaders on a whole array of policy-related matters, she said.

Of particular interest to Roldán-Moreno was the current dialogue around immigration and some of the difficult decisions with which members of the EU are faced. The trip coincided with the capsizing of a fishing boat carrying migrants from Libya en route to Italy. Over 850 people died in the tragic event that—coupled with numerous other smaller but no less significant tragedies involving migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into the EU—brought questions about Europe’s capacity and willingness to accommodate an influx of migrants to the forefront.

“It really echoed some of the same challenges we’re facing in the U.S. right now, particularly as they relate to the rise of unaccompanied minors we saw arriving at our border from Central America,” said Roldán-Moreno. “Our experience of providing welcome to immigrants at Erie Neighborhood House was extremely relevant.”

The trip wasn’t exclusively policy immersion and dialogue. Extracurricular highlights included traveling via bicycle during a public transit workers strike in Berlin, visiting a tulip farm in the Netherlands and touring the Anne Frank House.

The 2014–15 class of fellows was selected from an international pool of more than 700 leaders from the business, government and civic sectors. It was the most competitive nominee pool to date, according to a GMF-issued press release.

“I had the great fortune of participating alongside a diverse group of men and women whose areas of expertise ranged from broader social issues like women’s reproductive rights and LGBT issues to local government to business growth and development,” said Roldán-Moreno, noting that her colleagues contributed significantly to the overall experience. “It was a great opportunity to learn how they serve others as leaders within their respective communities.”

Roldán-Moreno credits her predecessor, Ricardo Estrada, with encouraging her to pursue the Marshall Memorial Fellowship. Estrada was awarded a fellowship in 2007-08 while serving as executive director at Erie House. According to Roldán-Moreno, the experience was transformative.

“It was so interesting to see the way so many Europeans view themselves as they relate to their work or vocation,” she said. “In the states we often describe ourselves in terms of what we do. In Europe there is much more emphasis on who you are. That was helpful in encouraging me to look for more opportunities to step back, read, reflect and learn from my experiences.”

It’s just one of many lessons Roldán-Moreno carries with her as she returns to her role at Erie Neighborhood House, providing leadership to the nonprofit organization while advocating for just, inclusive policy on behalf of the community it serves.


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