Nobody Knows You Don’t Know Anyone – Lauren Swartz

Lauren Swartz is the recently appointed CEO of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. With “Democracy Demands Discourse,” as their motto, the council was created during the cold war in an effort to promote democracy in a non-partisan way. Even though the cold war has ended decades ago, it once again looks like democracy and discourse are on the table in many nations around the globe.

The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia has a speaker program for adults which welcomes world and thought leaders from all over the world to have them discuss issues of today. The program prides itself on its non-partisan list of speakers which can range ideologically from individuals such as Steve Bannon, a former member of President Trump’s administration, to Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement. The council also plans on welcoming the first female Saudi representative sometime soon.

Adults aren’t the only ones the council has catered programs for, however. A major goal of theirs is to develop more globally conscious people and one way they’re doing this is by having programs for high school students to learn about foreign affairs before they graduate into the working force or go off to college, where they’re bound to interact with people from various backgrounds. Other programs they offer have college students from school like Temple, mentor young kids and high schoolers. They are also exploring games as a way to educate kids and adults alike. One such game has the player be the governor of a state during the current pandemic and in charge of making decisions that will affect the lives of thousands of their virtual constituents. Lastly, Lauren also talked about their educational travel program which offers unique tours to fascinating destinations with access to political experts and local guides to give behind the scenes views and briefings.

As for Lauren herself, she went to Randolph College, a small women college where she received a Bachelor of Communications. She knew she wanted to study abroad since she grew up in a small place so she went to Copenhagen during her third year of college via an international business program her school had set up. From there, she visited a couple of other European countries and finally “got bitten by that bug,” she said. 

After graduating she first worked in London, and then as a teacher assistant at the school she attended in Copenhagen. She worked there for years before she had to move back to Philadelphia in 2005. Ever since then, she’s been in Philadelphia, having no connections in the city, and with her only work experience being abroad, she had no idea what she wanted to do at that point. So she used her experience to set herself apart, “after all, only 30% of Americans have a passport, most don’t speak another language,” she told us. So emphasizing those strengths to potential employers really did make a difference for her and she encourages others to do the same.

From 2016 to August of 2020, she was Deputy Commerce Director of International Business & Global Strategy for the City of Philadelphia at the Department of Commerce. She led initiatives to grow Philadelphia’s international business and relationships. With a focus on global business attraction, foreign direct investment, and promoting exports, she was essentially in charge of all things international business in the city of Philadelphia. With them being the front door to Philadelphia for international organizations, they hosted over 165 groups from 60 different countries in 2019.

After four years in this position, she couldn’t foresee the work she did staying strong for a long time however. At the same time she was being scouted for this new position at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia so she ended up accepting it.

During the Q&A section of the meeting, she was asked “how does she balance her work and personal life with everything she has going on and is involved in?”

A: “Integrate your personal and professional life. College is a good time to practice that, especially right now as everything is going on online. Ask yourself, how can I look at all the responsibilities I have and integrate them together? Work in something you like too because then you can build your relations there and work doesn’t feel like work as much.”

Another question she was asked was, “What advice do you have for networking when you don’t know anyone?”

A: “Nobody knows you don’t know anyone. Once you start going places you’ll start to meet the same people again and again because of how dense Philadelphia is. There are 11 chambers of commerce in Philadelphia, as a student, you can just walk into any of them and ask people to teach you about what they do and they’ll most likely love to. After all, people love to talk about themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions but be specific to guide the discussion in a certain way. Also, ask specific advice on a thing you’re interested in, make it specific so it’s easier to answer.”

Her last advice to students and people entering the workforce in the coming months and years is to keep networking and going to events. Keep investing in yourself and making connections in the world!