Pittsburgh hosted within the past few days three significant world affairs-related events, underlining the city's continuing and growing involvement with the world outside of southwestern Pennsylvania.
The first, on Saturday, was an undergraduate essay contest held at Duquesne University, sponsored by the Consortium for Educational Resources on Islamic Studies.
It involved 25 students from seven local universities, competing for prizes based on essays they had written on the subject of sometimes-controversial Middle Eastern topics. Each student defended his essay in front of a panel of judges. Subjects ran from women and suicide bombing to U.S.-Iranian relations to sharp analysis of the Iraq war.
The second, also on Saturday, was another episode in an ongoing series of events in Kenya and in Pittsburgh, under the organizational leadership of Workforce Development Global Alliance.
The project involves hundreds of young people in Kenya and in Pittsburgh and is led by Niecy Dennis, a retired banker who travels back and forth between Kenya and Pittsburgh. At the Kenyan end, the goal is education and postgraduation jobs for young Kenyans, with the underlying preconditional goal of reinforcing peace between that country's competing groups.
Fighting in Kenya after its December elections nearly sabotaged the country's general reputation as a model of relative peace and prosperity in Africa. Developments in the East African country are of particular interest to Americans at this point since the father of President Barack Obama was Kenyan and Kenyan athletes have done especially well in long-distance running events, a sport that is attracting increasing attention among Americans.
The Pittsburgh end of WDGA's objectives is two-fold. The first is peace, pursuing an end to the needless slaughter of black young people in Pittsburgh, in part by putting them in contact with youth in Kenya whose heritage and daily life include the same problems. Pittsburgh youth need education and jobs, so do Kenyan youth. One barrier to achieving that goal for both is destructive conflict among them. WDGA is seeking to tackle the common problem through this international link.
The third international enterprise in Pittsburgh of the past few days was a panel on doing business in Egypt sponsored Monday by the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute. The spearhead of the effort was the H. J. Heinz Co., active in Egypt for 20 years now.
Attended by representatives of a range of southwestern Pennsylvanian business and financial institutions, useful observations on the subject were provided at the panel by an Egyptian financier with offices in Canada and Cairo and a senior representative of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. That country constitutes a market of some 81 million people. The United States is its biggest trading partner. Egypt boasts of being "open for business," with anticipated 2009 growth of 4 percent in spite of the recession.
These three sterling efforts are examples of Pittsburgh's active, constructive engagement with the world and as such are points of light to work from.