Steve Vetter

By:Keenan Brugh Issue: La Bienal de las Américas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables

Building Collaborative Partnerships Throughout the Hemisphere


In 1962, President Kennedy called for collaboration among the citizens of the Western Hemisphere. Today, some 48 years later, this inspiration toward collaboration is at the core of Partners of the Americas (Partners) and its President, Steve Vetter. Partners has become the largest volunteer-based organization promoting social, economic, and cultural development in the Western Hemisphere. Vetter said, “We cross borders. We collaborate. And we make a difference.”

Vetter oversees the organization’s 60 citizen-led partnerships between 45 U.S. states and 31 Latin American and Caribbean countries. These partnerships are in varying fields, such as agriculture and natural resources, civil society and governance, gender and equality, as well as many others. By connecting people from different places, valuable knowledge can be shared and relationships built. But to build stronger ties, Partners helps promote city-to-city and state-to-state relationships — like the San Francisco/Mexico City partnership or the Colorado/Minas Gerais, Brazil relationship.

In addition to speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese, Vetter is uniquely qualified for this position because of his extensive background in domestic and international leadership roles with private enterprise, philanthropic groups, and governmental organizations. Much of this work has focused on reducing poverty and improving the economic and social development of disenfranchised peoples. “We are now seeing a tremendous interest in corporate social responsibility in the Latin American countries,” said Vetter during the Biennial Roundtable, “However the need for resources to fund these programs is also very real.”

Just a few years after Kennedy first called for collaboration, Vetter served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia - already showing dedication to improving lives in the hemisphere. He also worked for the Inter-American Foundation (IAD), a public corporation existing to support the self-directed advancement initiatives of communities in the Caribbean and Latin America. At different times, he worked as foundation representative to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and Brazil; director of outreach; program vice president; and interim president. Vetter and the IAD acted in the important role of helping local NGOs to develop sources of financial sustainability to strengthen self-directed community development efforts.

As the president of Eureka Communities from 1996-2005, he worked to invest in leaders of grassroots organizations by providing them fellowships enabling peer-to-peer learning throughout the U.S. Through this endeavor, over 500 fellowships have been awarded to leaders improving education for impoverished children within their communities.

Vetter, along with the organizations that he has worked with over his career, is supporting collaboration through their many programs. By emphasizing and helping grassroots initiatives, sustainable and effective solutions can address the specific issues for the local areas in which they serve.