A Brief History of Friendship Force International

Wayne Smith, the founder of Friendship Force International, believed that friendship is a powerful force for change in the world. If ordinary people get to know each other as friends, they discover that the values and experiences they share are more important than their differences. They learn that differences do not have to divide. But how can we establish meaningful friendships across the barriers of language, culture, religion, and distance? Wayne Smith had an answer: employ the universal concept of hospitality to strangers as the means for bringing people together. Give people a few days sharing a home and they can become friends.

The Friendship Force envisions that friendships among people of different nations and cultures will not only be personally enriching for participants but also can promote international understanding on a broad scale. Based on this vision, Smith established The Friendship Force in March 1977 with the support of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Mrs. Rosalynn Carter served as Honorary Chairperson of The Friendship Force through the first twenty-five years, working to ensure that the organization became vibrant and known around the world.

What sets Friendship Force apart from other exchange organizations is the focus on a 5-7 day homestay, the purpose of which is to promote global understanding by bringing people together across the barriers that normally separate them.

More than 600,000 ordinary citizens in 70 countries have learned that sharing a home for a few days is an ideal way to create new friendships. In the process, stereotypes that can lead to misunderstanding, fear, hatred, and even war, give way to understanding and goodwill.

Beginning with a bold series of large exchanges in the late 1970s, the concept took hold. Within a few years tens of thousands of citizen ambassadors and hosts could testify to the fact that a few days of sharing a home did indeed lead to lasting friendships. With the help of a USD$3 mil- lion grant in the 1980s from the Sasakawa Foundation in Japan, Friendship Force transformed itself from a series of large exchanges to a global network of local chapters in more than 350 communities in 58 countries.

In the late 1980s, FFI became active in the former Soviet Union, pioneering homestay visits throughout the region. In large part because of this innovative program linking East and West, in 1992 Friendship Force was recognized internationally when it was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Wayne Smith retired in 2000 and died in 2004. He was succeeded as President by Chip Carter (2000-2002) and Susan Smith (2003-2004). The current President, George Brown, was appointed to the position in April 2004. For a complete history of the first 20 years of Friendship Force International, see Charlene Terrell’s book, The Other Side of the Mountain. Copies can be ordered from FFI.