International Focus supports multiculturalism and international exchange through its newsletters, collaborations, workshops, resources, and its flagship event, the International Festival of Raleigh.
Since 1985, the International Festival has been a key component of the Triangle's cultural and artistic offerings. The event showcases music, dance, cuisine, art, and cultural education from 55 diverse cultures, and welcomes 30,000 visitors annually.
We continue to welcome new ethnic communities to our network as the Triangle's population expands; and we are honored to be the area's pivotal connector for cross-cultural understanding and respect.
International Focus Inc., is a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization with the mission to promote mutual understanding between the people of NC and the international community through education, cultural exchange, arts and the celebration of achievements.
International Focus believes that communication and community bind people together regardless of their heritage and history. We celebrate the great diversity of the Triangle, where we live side by side with neighbors from all over the world. Our vision is to connect and collaborate with all our neighbors to create a rich community that benefits from the wealth of viewpoints, creativity, wisdom, and friendship our Triangle international family has to offer.
The International Festival of Raleigh was established in 1985 by the City of Raleigh through the Sister Cities Association of Raleigh to promote respect and increased understanding among people of diverse origins. The purpose of the project was to develop an awareness of the many cultures that make up our community; strengthen friendships and understanding among people of different cultures; share the uniqueness of each heritage through music, food, dance, and exhibits; and promote the quality of life in Raleigh.
In 1987, the International Festival organization restructured to provide a more solid operational platform for the large event. The resulting independent non-profit organization was named International Focus, Inc., and utilized policy procedures, bylaws, and a Board of Directors. An Executive Director was hired in 1988 and the International Focus office opened in 1989.
A Naturalization Ceremony and voter registration of new citizens became part of the Festival in 1988 with the help of the Woman's Club of Raleigh. The Ceremony continues to be the grand opening of the Festival each year in cooperation with Superior Court Judge Britt and the Durham Office of Homeland Security. Approximately 250 new Americans are naturalized annually.
Through the years, the Festival has greatly expanded its venues and doubled ethnic participation. Ethnic groups, that were formed specifically to participate in the Festival, now have their own organizations numbering thousands of members, and stage their own annual celebrations. Cultural dance groups that started with a few people coming together to preserve their heritage are now professional groups that perform across the United States. Additionally, a number of local ethnic restaurants had their beginnings at the Festival Sidewalk Cafés. Despite their own growth, the area's ethnic groups remain loyal to International Focus, and continue to generously volunteer their time and talents to the festival as well as other events throughout the year.
In 2008, the International Festival returned to downtown Raleigh to help celebrate the grand opening of the new Raleigh Convention Center, which remains its venue each October.
International Focus made a significant organizational transition in November 2013. This date marked the transfer of the former International Affairs Council of North Carolina’s international exchange programs and staff positions to International Focus, embracing the synergistic fusion of a similarly focused mission and shared ideals.
The history of international exchange programs in the area had its beginnings in 1973 when the “Research Triangle International Visitor Center” was established, a service of the office of Duke University’s then-President Terry Sanford. President Sanford, who had previously served as governor of North Carolina, went on to become a U.S. Senator representing North Carolina following his tenure at Duke University. The growing number of programs and visitors naturally led to the birth of a nonprofit organization recognizing that Research Triangle, with its abundant technology, innovation, and higher education resources, has become home to successful companies, vibrant organizations, and major universities who have active global engagement. Hundreds of professional exchange programs were administrated for decades, working in close partnership with the U.S. Department of State, USAID, National Programming Agencies, the Open World Leadership Center, and embassies abroad. International Focus continues this partnership with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP); the Community Connections Program (CCP); the Open World Learning Center.