Our History

Since our humble beginnings as a foundation in 1973, the center of our work have always been about transforming the lives of people – from facilitating life-changing cultural exchanges that enhance global relations to providing unique platforms for youth voices from around the world. With a rich history spanning across decades, we’ve stayed true to our name as ambassadors of friendship among various cultures and communities worldwide.

Our origins go back in 1958 when Fulbright Scholar Harry Morgan and well-respected travel professional Cappy Devlin founded a program that facilitated international travel and cultural exchange, supported in large part by Lila and DeWitt Wallace, founders of Reader’s Digest.

Fifteen years later, we became an independent foundation that cultivated international affiliations and representation through youth capacity-building and cultural exchange.

Our previous collaborations included significant programs that aim to help heal families of victims of terror, particularly communities where cultural strengthening with the U.S. is critical. These programs were focused on regions emerging from natural or man-made disasters, one of which received national recognition for our work with 9/11 families. In 2002, one of our programs, Finding New Hope, received $3.1 million from American Red Cross, Hitachi, and Rotary International, and included signature funding of over $1.6 million from the Lions Clubs International Foundation.

In addition to cultural exchange programs that took place around the globe, we have generated a variety of programs that focus on music and the arts as a tool for peacebuilding and global cooperation, including the Youth Symphony for the United Nations, Youth Band for the United Nations, and the Rhythms of One World International Choral Festival.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we also began incorporating youth capacity-building initiatives into our work, which eventually led to exceptional programs such as the Service Ambassadors Program in Ecuador and The Youth Assembly.

In 2007, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin dedicated the 28th of June as “a day in honor of the Youth Symphony and Youth Band for bringing New Orleans back through its concert to aid evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

From 2012-2015, the Rhythms of One World International Choral Festival brought together adult and children’s choirs from various parts of the world for a weeklong series of choral performances at many prestigious venues in New York City and Geneva, including the UN General Assembly Hall, Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, and Victoria Hall. Furthering our slogan at the time, “music is the medium, friendship is the message”, we have produced two CDs, “Ambassadors Sing For Peace” in 2013 and “Strong UN, Better World” in 2015, both sung and performed by UN ambassadors.

At the direct request of the local indigenous Shuar community, we have facilitated a service program in 2012 where students in the U.S. participated in the construction of a locally managed cultural center. Since then, the Service Ambassadors Program became one of our impactful initiatives as we continue to support their efforts in building a stronger community in Ecuador.

Our flagship program,The Youth Assembly, provides a space for youth to engage in meaningful dialogue with the UN and the international community. Through this program, we have become one of the leading organizations that prepare the next generation of leaders, social entrepreneurs, public servants, and advocates. Since 2002, the program has touched the lives of nearly 15,000 young people from over 100 countries and has spawned numerous youth-led projects around the world. The program received support and endorsements from UN member states, civil society organizations, and socially-responsible corporations such as PepsiCo, Microsoft Corporation, among others.

Our varied programs were participated by many well-known leaders and advocates throughout the years, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, American writer Alex Haley, Mother Teresa, Senator Jay Rockefeller, President Vaclav Havel, three American astronauts, Reverend Jesse Jackson, social entrepreneur Kathy Ireland, Dr. Arun Gandhi, and former UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi. However, we are most proud of the tens of thousands of people and the millions of lives that have been empowered through their participation and involvement in our wide-ranging programs.