By ROBERT MILLER / The Dallas Morning News
The world and Dallas have changed radically in the 50 years since industrialist H. Neil Mallon founded the Dallas Council on World Affairs.
So it should come as no surprise that the council's current president, Alan Steelman, an international business consultant and former congressman, sees a radical change in the mission of the organization.
In describing the council as a "speakers' bureau for the first 48 years" of its existence, Mr. Steelman emphasizes that it's time for a new role &endash; that of an "impact" entity.
He is quick to laud the speakers who graced the podium through the years &endash; Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Boris Yeltsin, Leah Rabin and a vast array of foreign secretaries and other notables who molded policy on the world stage, plus council leaders such as former Mayor Erik Jonsson; legendary retailer Stanley Marcus; Jim Chambers, the former chairman and publisher of the Dallas Times Herald; Willis Tate, the former president of Southern Methodist University; and Jim Keay, a former top executive at Republic National Bank of Dallas.
These were some of the business and civic leaders who sought to remove the city's fear of things foreign, which lasted right up to the Kennedy assassination. In fact, Mr. Mallon, who relocated the global Dresser Industries to Dallas from Cleveland in 1950, was attacked for his international views when he founded the Council on World Affairs in 1951.
"It was the real act of courage to get out front and lead an organization like this in light of the Cold War, when sentiment in Dallas was against anything to do with the United Nations or foreign policy," Mr. Steelman says.
Based on the "retooled strategy" that was adopted by the council about two years ago, "our new mission is that DCWA will be a difference-maker in the way that Dallas sees the world."
One of the main instruments of achieving that goal is through education.
"We've already started an initiative with the Dallas Independent School District to educate students on foreign affairs and foreign policy," he says.
"On Nov. 29, we are doing a joint program here with the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii" for business executives and other interested parties.
As a former Singapore-based executive with the Alexander Proudfoot international management consulting firm, Mr. Steelman retains a particular interest in the Pacific Rim.
He says the November conference will present an overview on the economic growth in the Asia-Pacific area with an emphasis on China and India, and offer "a section on environmental issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region."
And sometime in October, the council will sponsor &endash; for the second straight year &endash; World Quest with Glenn Mitchell of KERA-FM (90.1) as moderator.
It's a game show-type event featuring 50 participants from schools, corporations and universities.
Another way to cultivate the role of Dallas as an international city, Mr. Steelman says, is to help recruit and retain foreign-born employees of large corporations, specifically in the high-tech field, where there is a large segment of Chinese and Indian software specialists.
There must be a special effort to "educate them on the cultural richness of Dallas, which they often don't perceive in relation to other cities such as San Francisco and Boston."
On the plus side, he cites the DCWA-affiliated Community Connections program, which is in its third year. Under this program, the U.S. State Department contributes $150,000 annually to bring 10 Russian entrepreneurs each quarter to spend a month interning with such Dallas corporations as Hunt Oil Co. and Mary Kay Inc.
While working as interns, "they see excellent examples of accounting, finance and marketing practices," Mr. Steelman says.
On the negative side, Mr. Steelman says, "we are losing ground with cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle and Chicago, losing out in competition for relocations of corporate headquarters and in attracting international events."
He pointed to the fact that "the NAFTA secretariat pulled up stakes and moved back to Washington," saying "we were off the beaten path."
And it rankles Mr. Steelman that the World Trade Organization chose Seattle over Dallas for its conference, even though it turned out that protests and unrest marred the event.
Yet it didn't surprise him that Boeing Co. chose Chicago, given the latter's cultural offerings and world-class universities.
But, he says, it's especially troubling that during the last 10 years, Caltex Corp. has moved its headquarters to Singapore, Arco has moved its international offices from Dallas to London, and Fina Inc. moved to Houston.
There can be extenuating circumstances put forward for some of the moves, but Mr. Steelman says the overall pattern is unacceptable.
"In spite of our strong economy and good life, things are happening that will cost us more and more if we don't do something about them in the global economy."
What's more, Mr. Steelman denigrates claims that Dallas is a world-class city. But, he says, he aims to see that Dallas does reach that status. In fact, that is a primary mission of the Dallas Council on World Affairs.
"We must work with the chamber and the Dallas Citizens Council to move Dallas from the second tier to the first tier."
That means that "we must also continue to work with such institutions as the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU, the School of Management at [the University of Texas at Dallas], the U.S. Department of State and Les Femmes du Monde in Dallas."
In one very important way, Dallas is already an international city, Mr. Steelman points out, citing the fact that there are tens of thousands of residents in North Texas of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Arab, Pakistani and Filipino heritage in addition to more than a million of Mexican descent.
"By 2010, Texans of European heritage will be a minority in the state. Dallas is already more of an international city than many of us realize," he says.
Mr. Steelman says that the council's board will hold a retreat "to lay out three or four key strategic initiatives to help further our mission" after the Oct. 5 H. Neil Mallon Award Dinner. The dinner will honor Dallas oilman Ray Hunt and feature a keynote address by U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans. Call the council at 214-748-5663 for ticket information.