The McCain Institute at Arizona State University’s (ASU) McCain Global Leaders (MGL) program completed the second stop of its four-country Changemaker Tour on Sept. 10-15 in Warsaw and Krakow, Poland.
The five-day tour included eight of the 29 total fellows in the 2023 McCain Global Leaders cohort. Participants in the Poland module represented seven countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Two alumni of the MGL program from Ukraine also accompanied the group.
“This tour provided our MGLs the opportunity to share their expertise and learn from the conflicts Poland has faced, in the past and present day, that threaten democracy,” said Scott Nemeth, assistant director of leadership programs at the McCain Institute. “With the ability to meet with officials and civil society leaders in Warsaw and Krakow, this group of MGLs was able to gain insight on the response to Ukraine, as well as the upcoming Polish elections, and in turn, use those lessons to tackle challenges they may face in defense of democracy within the region and globally.”
Guided by the theme of defending democracy, activities during the Changemaker Tour centered around the potential effects of the Polish elections, the response to Putin, countering Russian disinformation, and governmental-civil society partnerships. This included meetings with partner organizations like the International Republican Institute, the Community of Democracies, the National Democratic Institute, as well as with people working on the frontlines of Ukraine.
The group also toured the Parliament of Poland, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum to learn more about the history of Polish democracy, its fight against authoritarianism, and why democracy must prevail. Read firsthand reflections on these experiences from cohort members Lejla Nuhanović, Annabel Deegan, and Marilena Stegbauer.
“Visiting Poland, as a hosting country, was a perfect choice: Ukraine and Poland, despite our complicated history, have the capacity to form a strong alliance,” said Yurii Stechyshyn, a 2023 McCain Global Leader from Ukraine. “It is our mutual responsibility to find common ground for the good of our countries. Discussions we had were absolutely up to the point for me, as a young politician from just across the border. On top of that, we dedicated huge portions of time to learn from atrocities of the past. Too often, we hear ‘Never Again.’ But this ‘again’ continues to happen. The trip reinforced my inner courage to serve a cause greater than myself, just as late Sen. McCain did through his life.”
“During the McCain Institute Changemaker Tour, I learned about Poland’s unwavering support for Ukraine, including diplomacy, aid, military cooperation, and endorsement of EU/NATO membership, reflecting shared history and a commitment to democratic values,” said Marilena Stegbauer, a 2023 McCain Global Leader from Germany. “This commitment aims to aid Ukraine towards military victory over Russia, restoring democratic governance and, ultimately, a return to regional stability. The Changemaker tour reminded me that studying the past can be enthralling and inspiring, but it’s just as empowering as ‘understanding of the past’ can put you at a great advantage when advocating for minorities, including their right to freedom of religion or belief.”
The next stop on the Changemaker Tour is Johannesburg, South Africa, with the Africa/MENA Cohort of McCain Global Leaders, followed by the Legacy Tour in Vietnam. Follow along on the McCain Institute’s Instagram and Twitter.