Buckhead couple Peter and Julia White founded the Southern Center for International Studies (SCIS) in 1962.
“In the early 1960s, people in Atlanta, like most places in the country, didn’t take international affairs very seriously,” Peter White said. “They didn’t see much economic value to it, especially in this part of the country.”
The Whites, however, saw Atlanta as an up-and-coming area for business growth because of the airport, the labor force and the “enthusiastic support of local and state government.”
Hoping to attract new opportunities and broaden the public’s understanding of the international environment, the couple began the nonprofit, nonpartisan institution to encourage ambassadors, government officials and professionals to come to Atlanta.
“We started doing very ordinary meetings, community-based,” White said. “So we would get people — government-related, private, business and academic people — to give speeches and presentations. We found very early that there was a direct relationship between having those people come here and the ability to attract not just industry, but also government representation. For example, we were responsible for having the Japanese open their counsel office here.”
The SCIS (www.southerncenter.org) grew and in 1983 moved to West Paces Ferry Road across from the Governor’s Mansion.
“The reason we came here was … to show that there was serious business going on,” White said. The SCIS had been at Lenox Square and Lenox Towers.
The center is looking to move again because it is out of space. It rents additional space on North Avenue for its video programming.
“We’ve had the house for sale,” White said. “Currently, it is not on the market, but it is available. We would like to be in a more efficient space because we are very crowded upstairs.”
He said the center will stay in Buckhead if it moves.
Today, the SCIS has three basic functions. First, it serves as one of the nation’s 84 World Affairs Councils; in that capacity, it holds 50 or more public programs a year, including briefings, seminars and conferences at which world leaders and others discuss important issues and events.
Second, since 1983 the center has produced televised conferences featuring former U.S. secretaries of state and defense. The Peabody Award-winning programs have included Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger.
“In March, we convened five former secretaries of state,” White said. “That is the 16th time we have done that. This week it’s playing on 120 stations around the United States.”
Third, the center supports educational programs, mainly the “World in Transition” series for social studies teachers. The U.S. Air Force commissioned a compilation reader to train every Air Force cadet in world affairs.
“The country basically is internationally illiterate,” White said. “In this day and age, that is dangerous because it restricts our ability as a nation to reach our full potential. In order to support a meaningful long-term humanitarian, military or even business commitment overseas, you’ve got to have an enlightened citizen and an enlightened stockholder. It is a national security issue.”