Board Spotlight: Robert Anderson, President & Founder
To provide a better understanding of the “backbone” of IRIS and our programming, we’re kicking off a special series of Board Spotlights. If you have additional or follow-up questions, please leave them in the comments!
Bob Anderson is president and founder of IRIS and a former Lieutenant Governor and state legislator of Iowa. He was a founding board member and first executive director of the Iowa Peace Institute. He has managed several State Department and U.S. Information Agency programs in countries including Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, China, Korea, Thailand, Mongolia, Georgia, Armenia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine and Russia. For the last 20 years, Anderson has directed nonprofit organizations devoted to international understanding. Bob is also very involved in resettling Thai Dam and Iraqi refugees in Iowa.
Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in a small town with a small school in rural Iowa. At that time, we had no thought about international exchange students. Diversity was the one Catholic student in my class.
I came from a low-income family – most aunts and uncles did not have high school diplomas. Teachers were my role models, and I wanted to be one. I was also intrigued with journalism. I taught high school journalism for ten years and received a masters degree in journalism from the University of Iowa.
How did you become involved with international programs?
As a teacher, I became more interested in international outreach when we hosted a teacher from Japan in our home. I had the opportunity to travel internationally as a legislator when I was selected to travel to Europe with the American Council of Young Political Leaders.
After losing the Governor’s race in the 1984 primary, I decided that my new career would involve international outreach, and I helped to create the Iowa Peace Institute. When the Peace Institute decided to focus on Iowa, I formed the International Center for Community Journalism in 1993. We expanded the mission of ICCJ and renamed it IRIS in 1996.
What has been your most enriching travel experience, personally or professionally?
My most enriching experiences have all involved the individuals that I have met through the Iowa Peace Institute and IRIS. I still keep in contact with many of them today after more than twenty years. I particularly enjoyed working in the smaller countries like Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia and Mongolia. These were places where we could see a more immediate impact in our programming. The youth projects in Africa have also been especially rewarding.
How many countries/continents have you visited?
I think that I have counted travel to thirty countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
What benefits do you believe IRIS provides to the Iowa/Midwest community?
The Iowa Peace Institute and IRIS have played a major role in developing both Sister State and Sister City relationships with other parts of the world. Our work provides both an important global education value for Iowans and an economic value. Our programming has brought several millions of dollars into the state and has created long-term relationships that become very important to business and economic development.
We also all receive the satisfaction of knowing that our program has enriched the lives and provided significantly increased employment opportunities for each of the international guests who have participated. Many have played a major role in creating positive change after they returned to their home country. International participants have written at least five books on their experiences with IPI and IRIS.