Motivated by what she saw as an increasingly dangerous US-USSR relationship, a young woman organized a delegation of mainstream professional Americans to go to the USSR, as “citizen investigators”. This was six years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This Wednesday, October 8, Programs Committee Co-Chair Will Reynolds will introduce Rotarian Sharon Tennison, to share her Russian experiences, then and since..
Sharon Tennison is Founding President and CEO of the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) headquartered in San Francisco, California. CCI is an American not-for-profit dedicated to helping young Russians get business management training in American companies. CCI has helped over 6600 young Russian entrepreneurs get training in 45 states, and approximately 85% were sponsored and home hosted by Rotarians. Sharon has designed and overseen all of CCI’s programs and projects during the past 30 years.

In the mid 80s, Tennison predicted that a mass exodus of Jews from the USSR would be permitted by the end of 1980s, and that the dissolution of the Soviet system would occur before the end of the century. In 1989, CCI began implementing month long internships and business-training programs for Soviet entrepreneurs. In 1993 CCI was given its first multi-million dollar USAID grant to expand its work in grassroots economic development throughout Russia’s regions. Concurrently, Tennison was given a White House appointment as one of 13 Board Members to oversee President Clinton’s new Russian-American Enterprise Fund (RAEF), a $350 million fund, which supported the development of small business across Russia.

Tennison was highlighted as one of nine pathfinders in Citizen Diplomats: Pathfinders in Soviet-American Relations (Harper and Row 1987), and was the Executive Producer for the TV productions “When the People Lead”, “Soviets” and “Meet Middle America!” In 2011 she published the history of CCI, “The Power of Impossible Ideas: Ordinary Citizens' Extraordinary Efforts to Avert International Crises”. Last month Sharon returned to Russia to do long-term evaluations and to interview alumni on their understanding of current international affairs.