Lisle International was established as The Lisle Fellowship in 1936. The founders, Dr. DeWitt and Edna Baldwin, were former Methodist missionaries in Burma who wanted to develop an educational experience – multicultural, interracial and interfaith – to foster increased interaction between U.S. and international students studying on college campuses. This was a radical idea in the 1930’s. Lisle’s pioneering model of student programs involving group interaction, community living, reflection and community service was unique. The Lisle name derived from the rural upstate New York town of Lisle which was the first site for these groundbreaking intercultural education programs.
From 1936 until 1952, Lisle sponsored summer programs (called “units”) for students within the United States. The first international Lisle unit was conducted in Denmark in 1952 and since that time, programs have been held in 21 nations. Lisle programs were based on a unique model of intercultural education and work experience. This model incorporates intimate involvement in community life, reflective group experience, sensitivity to the variety of human perspectives, the development of personal values, and the creating of a sense of world-mindedness.
The Baldwins, known as “Uncle Si and Aunt Edna” by friends all over the world, remained closely associated with Lisle throughout their lives, into the 1990’s. As early as 1958, they led what was probably the first student exchange of the cold war to the Soviet Union. In the mid-1970’s, Uncle Si promoted the concept of a National Academy of Peace, which evolved into the 1984 United States Institute of Peace, set up to encourage scholarly studies of international diplomacy and conflict resolution.
Though Lisle’s purposes have expanded and evolved, today Lisle continues to open minds to other cultures and other individuals, creating the possibility for world peace and understanding. Lisle is committed to a more just social order in which persons of all cultures, social classes, religious affiliations, nationalities, and political persuasions are full participants. Lisle believes that actions and plans must be rooted in a clear understanding of the hopes and aspirations of all people. However, idealism must be tempered with realistic vision. The future leadership of our world community demands experiences which develop emotional maturity, social sensitivity, self awareness, and appreciation of cultural diversity.
In 2004, Lisle embarked on a new approach to fostering global mindedness through a “seed grant” fund designed to support Lislers and others in their work to accomplish the goals of Lisle around the world. Lisle now funds three to six seed grant projects per year at locations around the world.