The purpose of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, a 501c3 non-profit organization, is to educate, promote and provide forums for conversation on international topics.

World Affairs Council of Western Michigan’s impact is made possible by the hard work of our staff and board of directors.

Our Motto

To change the world, first know the world.

Our Mission

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan empowers the people and organizations of West Michigan to engage thoughtfully with the world.

Our Values

Credible. Non-partisan. Relevant. Civil. Connecting.

75 Years of Encouraging Conversation

Arthur Vandenberg

In the years after World War II, Western Michigan was (again) becoming increasingly isolationist. So, in 1949, two young men – businessman Edgar Orr and Judge Douglas Hillman – started an organization solely concerned with American foreign policy and international issues.


They were young men inspired by the legendary U.S. Senator from Grand Rapids, Arthur J. Vandenberg. In his early years in the U.S. Senate, Vandenberg was a vocal isolationist. He gradually understood the importance of global partnerships as World War II ravaged the globe, becoming one of the architects of the United Nations Charter in 1945. He was at the forefront of crafting the country’s formation of NATO and the Marshall Plan. His famous quote, “Politics stops at the water’s edge,” is still invoked by political leaders today. Senator Vandenberg knew of the young Council and was slated to be a speaker but passed away before that could happen. The Council still honors its “Mentor in Spirit.”


Thus began “The World Affairs Council of Grand Rapids” on November 1, 1949. It officially became “The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan” in the mid-70s when the then-President of Grand Valley State University Arend (Don) Lubbers and Mr. Jay Van Andel, co-founder of Amway Corporation, both served on the Council board and achieved non-profit status for the group.


The Council is an educational non-profit (501c3), non-partisan and non-advocacy organization. It takes no stand on any issue. Its members are from all over the political spectrum but would agree on one issue: We want the World Affairs Council to start the conversation in this community on American foreign policy and other international issues. Regional companies that do international business have strongly supported the Council, understanding that employees must be globally astute for success in a globally competitive environment.


The World Affairs Council is dedicated to educating people in western Michigan about other countries, cultures, and regions of the world and providing a forum for discussing critical foreign policy issues facing this country. The Council is best known for sponsoring its award-winning Great Decisions Global Discussion Series, which has been running since the late 1950s. The discussion series is used by local colleges and universities as a credit course and attended by Council members and the public.