Global events forum returns to BI library

Even small islands can have big conversations.

Great Decisions, the current event series hosted by the Bainbridge Island Public Library, has returned.

It’s a national program organized by the Foreign Policy Association intended to engage the public with international affairs in a nonpartisan setting. Each summer, a panel of FPA experts chooses eight topics, then compiles short readings and videos for each to catch participants up to speed.

The curriculum this year includes climate tech, the future of NATO, the U.S.-China trade rivalry, the High Seas treaty, pandemic preparedness, science across borders, U.S. political realignment in the Middle East and “understanding Indonesia” — a deep dive into the influence of the Asian Pacific nation.

Bainbridge’s chapter will be covering six of the eight topics, but will replace one with a segment by a local historian: economic warfare tactics instead of the Middle East realignment. The next event in the series, climate technology and competition, will be moderated by Erik Smith, founder of renewable nanotechnology company Aligned Bio.

Great Decisions are meant to emulate a forum. Events are led by a moderator, typically an accomplished member of the field. The moderator and audience watch a short video that reviews the topic and its current state of affairs. Then, there is a brief intermission so the audience can mingle, enjoy free coffee and refreshments, and reflect on what they have just learned. After about five minutes, the group discusses its thoughts under the moderator’s guidance.

“We try to listen to everyone,” event organizer Kathleen Thorne said.

Usually, it’s a packed house, Thorne said. The most recent event March 3, which covered the High Seas treaty, had up to 80 people. People don’t just come to share their opinions, Thorne added — many come just to learn more about current events and connect with other people.

About a third of the moderators are Bainbridge Islanders, and often there are multiple experts. The moderator at the last event was a marine scientist from BI, and an audience member happened to be an international affairs attorney. Between the two of them, the breadth of knowledge was comprehensive.

Thorne would like to see more young people attend. She recalled trying to recruit high school students through social studies classes and Model U.N. in the past, but gave up due to lack of interest, she said. “We had some homeschooled kids a while ago who would come to every event, and their hands would just shoot up with questions and insights,” Thorne said. “That was really fun to see.”