- "Forging Global Connections" originally appeared in the January 2024 health and wellness issue of COMO Magazine.
Insights and collaboration from around the world.
As the mayor of Columbia, Missouri, I recently had the privilege of representing our vibrant city in official delegations to China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In a world that grapples with increasing political polarization, the importance of fostering relationships beyond our borders cannot be overstated.
These journeys were not just diplomatic excursions but were also opportunities to build subnational relationships that will undoubtedly benefit our community. I should make note — because I’ve heard rhetoric elsewhere — that neither of these trips was paid for by the city of Columbia.
China, a country with a rich history and a rapidly growing economy, provided many eye-opening experiences for our delegation of six mayors from the Midwest. This trip, sanctioned by the U.S. State Department, was intended to enhance cultural exchange and provide new educational opportunities for cities in the U.S. and China. This trip allowed us to engage in meaningful conversations with Chinese mayors, business owners, and citizens, and to understand how they are approaching common challenges.
One memorable experience was a visit to a revitalized historic neighborhood in Nanjing, where we were shown an innovative approach to affordable housing that could be implemented in Columbia — one that balances the need for growth with the desire to preserve the patterns of a neighborhood and acknowledges the limits of existing infrastructure.
We also discussed how their communities are responding to the challenges posed by climate change, and how potential workforce exchanges could help to develop new ideas for what is possible in Columbia. By forging these connections, we are laying the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship that goes beyond mere diplomatic pleasantries.
I was then invited by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to attend the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP28) in the UAE. During our visit, I was one of three American mayors invited to meet with representatives from the US-UAE Business Council to explore relationships that could benefit our local economy.
One standout example was a meeting with representatives of UAE-based companies specializing in life sciences and renewable energy. Their expertise could prove invaluable as the University of Missouri explores the next generation of our MU Research Reactor and Columbia invests in clean energy. Establishing relationships now helps lay a foundation that we can expand upon in the years to come.
Developing these subnational relationships is crucial for the prosperity and well-being of our city. While national governments negotiate international agreements, it is at the local level that these agreements come to life. Cities are the engines of innovation, and by forming partnerships across the globe, we can tap into a wealth of knowledge, resources, and opportunities that will help our city continue to thrive.
Beyond the tangible benefits of shared knowledge, economic growth, and technological advancement, these diplomatic journeys play a crucial role in reducing political division. Engaging with diverse international perspectives and fostering relationships beyond our borders promotes open-mindedness and collaboration, and contributes to a more united global community.
I have found on these trips that the goals of economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and cultural exchange transcend political divisions.
I was honored to represent U.S. cities on both of these trips. Experiencing new cultures and conversing with people from different backgrounds enhanced my understanding of my place in this world. It also left me with an appreciation for what we have here in Columbia and provided me with inspiration for what our city can be in the future.
Barbara Buffaloe currently is serving her first term in office as the mayor of Columbia.