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We knew them when…

February 28, 2012

Ambassador Kekelia with Minister Vera Kobalia of the Georgian Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development visiting the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem.

Many Iowans are enjoying a feeling of pride to once again host China’s Vice-President Xi Jingping on his recent return visit to our state. It is a great reminder that we can never fully calculate the value that a warm welcome to an international guest can bring to the hosts, the state or even the country.  Who could have imagined that an agricultural research trip back in 1985, that included a few Ministry of Agriculture officials from Hebei Province, would turn into a return visit by the man most likely to become the next president of the world’s most populous nation.

When these international guests, our friends or just acquaintances go on to become famous, we often reminisce with a warm, “We knew them when …” feeling.  It had us thinking about some of the people who have passed through our doors at IRIS over the years. Many have gone on to hold important government positions, some have become prosperous business people and others have and continue to make remarkable changes in their local communities for the betterment of mankind. We were delighted this past week to learn of one such “We knew them when …” story.

One of our past participants, Mr. Abesalom (Archil) Kekelia from Tbilisi, Georgia was recently named the Georgian Ambassador to Israel. Archil Kekelia was part of a 2003 IRIS program through the USAID-funded Community Connections program. Archil was part of a group of 10 adults from throughout Georgia learning about business development.

Kekelia(right) with his Iowa mentor, Bob Haug of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities.

At the time, Archil was a 22-year old business development manager for EHN Georgia, a Spanish Corporation, which engages in power generating operations in numerous countries.  Archil spent much of his 3-week stay as an intern at the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU).  His mentor and home host Bob Haug remembers Archil fondly and they remain friends to this day.

In 2005, IRIS was able to coordinate a follow-on project to Georgia and Armenia to conduct renewable energy workshops, and Archil played a key role in organizing those workshop locations and participants. IRIS Executive Director, Del Christensen, Bob Haug from IAMU, Jacob Kvinlaug from Consumers Energy Rural Utility Cooperative and Jim Cooper from Prairie Rivers RC&D conducted those workshops for IRIS in Georgia and Armenia.

Kekelia in 2005, assisting IRIS delegation in Georgia to conduct renewable energy workshops

In 2011, Archil worked his way up to First Deputy Minister for the Georgia Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development and helped to lead many trade missions to other countries, helping to improve trade and relations between Georgia and those countries.  In January, Mr. Archil Kekelia was named Ambassador to Israel, succeeding Ambassador Vakhtang Jaoshvili.

Everyone here at IRIS would like to congratulate Ambassador Abesalom (Archil) Kekelia on his new appointment and wish him many years of success. We are extremely proud to be able to say, “We knew you when …”

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