Our Story

The contribution of ACYPL to the education of young leaders is measureless. The story of this organization is replete with those who have served in government more effectively and better prepared as a result of exchanges.

Don Sundquist, ACYPL founder & former Tennessee governor ACYPL U.S. to China 1977

The year was 1966.

United States foreign policy focused nervously behind the Iron Curtain, American soldiers were fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, and an isolated China was embarking on a Cultural Revolution.  At home, President Kennedy was assassinated, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and Americans marched for civil rights.

In the midst of these uncertain times, a group of young Democratic and Republican political leaders – Spencer Oliver, Peter McPherson, Hodding Carter, Bill Hybl, Charles Manatt, Pat Buchanan among them – had a simple but profound idea for promoting cooperation and understanding around the world.  Create opportunities for next generation political leaders to meet and get to know each other, to share ideas and dreams for the future.

With support from the US government, the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) took form.  Young American political and policy leaders began to travel to the Soviet Union and throughout Western Europe, and the United States welcomed reciprocal international delegations.

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Each year, in response to political developments around the world, new exchange partnerships were formed – Japan in 1972, Australia in 1973, Israel and Egypt in 1977.  In 1979, when President Carter normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China, then special White House advisor Sarah Weddington was the only person working in the administration who had actually been to China, as a young Texas state representative on the first ACYPL delegation in 1977.

Throughout the past decades, Latin American, Asian, and African exchanges began – India in 1984, Argentina in 1985, Indonesia in 1987, South Africa in 1990, Vietnam in 1997, and Pakistan in 2004.  Today, ACYPL continues to seek opportunities to establish new programs with strategically important countries, nascent democracies, and longtime allies. We also conduct multinational programs on topics of global or regional importance including NAFTA, climate change and energy security, and political activism among minority populations. Since our founding, ACYPL has worked in 121 countries around the globe.

In today’s flatter, interdependent world, ACYPL’s mission to promote mutual understanding, respect, and friendship and to cultivate long lasting relationships among next generation leaders has never been more vital and promising.

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ACYPL international exchanges are designed to introduce next generation leaders to the politics, governance, policy-making, history, and cultures of countries around the world.  They provide a forum for often divergent groups to explore common concerns and points of difference.  At a time when our national and international conversations have become more polarized and strident, we create opportunities for open, respectful dialogue among young Democrats, Republicans, and Independents from across the United States, as well as between multi-partisan peers in dozens of countries who share a common desire to solve problems through political leadership and informed public policy making.  Our programs enhance delegates’ understanding, shape broader and more well-informed perspectives about the world, and make them better decision-makers.

With support from the U.S. Department of State, business, labor, foundation, and alumni partners, ACYPL designs and conducts 25-30 exchanges annually.  ACYPL is proud of our global network of over 8,000 alumni — many who have risen to national and international prominence and many more who will.