Institute for Developing Across Differences

Janet Bennett and Roberto Ruffino appointed IDD Honorary Patrons


The Institute for Developing Across Differences is delighted to recognize acclaimed interculturalists and international educators Janet Bennett, PhD and Dr. Roberto Ruffino as its inaugural Honorary Patrons.

As an expression of our deep appreciation for all that they have done during their long and distinguished careers to establish and strengthen the greater field of “learning to live together” across differences; to champion in education, civil society and governance systems worldwide intercultural learning as a means of building peace and mutual prosperity; and to provide profoundly life-changing educational experiences for hundreds of thousands of individuals around the globe, the Institute for Developing Across Differences recognizes Janet and Roberto for their contributions to the intercultural field at large and as key influencers on its work.

“Cultural differences are assets to be leveraged.”

– Janet Bennett

Janet Bennett, Honorary Patron, Institute for Developing Across Differences
Janet Bennett, PhD 
Honorary Patron,
Institute for Developing Across Differences

Curiosity is the Key
Since her time in the Peace Corps in the Chuuk District of Micronesia in the 1970s, Dr. Janet Bennett’s insatiable curiosity and relentless drive as a lifelong learner have motivated her passion for appreciating differences and fostering intercultural communication. “Curiosity,” Bennett says, “is the only way not to become overwhelmed by intercultural interactions.

Bennett has channeled her own curiosity into a career dedicated to helping individuals and organizations appreciate cultural differences as “assets that can be leveraged through intentional developmentally-designed intercultural learning programs.” 

A History of Shaping the Field
Co-founder (along with Milton  Bennett, PhD) and executive director of The Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) that is famed for the much-beloved Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC), Janet’s teaching, training, and writing in the field of intercultural communication have centered on intercultural competence, training design, and intercultural leadership—efforts through which she has inspired thousands around the world.

Her accomplishments as an internationally renowned scholar and expert widely recognized as a “trainer-to-the-trainers” are matched only by her generosity and commitment to helping foster the next generation of intercultural educators. She has transformed the personal and professional trajectories of those whom she has mentored and supported over the years.

Excellence matched only by Generosity
“Each of the IDD founders owes a debt of gratitude to Janet,” shared Melissa Liles, Founding Director of the IDD.  “In my case, I have fond memories of her graciously allowing the AFS team I led at the time to meet with her in Portland as we designed our Intercultural Link Training Program for volunteers around the world. She took a rare break from her preparations just before SIIC started up to join us in one of our content development meetings where she both challenged and encouraged us. The Link program has gone on to reach over 10,000 adults in more than 60 countries—and it all started, very fittingly, under the umbrella of SIIC and thanks to Janet.”

AFSers at SIIC thanks to Janet Bennett's largesse
Scholarship recipients at SIIC thanks to Janet Bennett’s largesse

“International exchanges and education mobility are a visible sign and promise of a more harmonious co-existence in the world.” 

– Roberto Ruffino


Roberto Ruffino, PhD
Honorary Patron,
Institute for Developing Across Differences

(photo by Erica Canepa)

A Champion of Learning to Live Together
With his life’s work focused on the pedagogy of intercultural education, international pupil exchanges, and internationalizing school systems, Dr. Roberto Ruffino has championed learning to live together since 1967 when he was appointed as the national director of Intercultura, the volunteer-based Italian association of AFS Intercultural Programs.

Since that time, Roberto has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of young people and their families. His leadership has ensured that Intercultura and AFS’s programs are not simply ‘programs abroad,’ but meaningful learning experiences that foster learners’ sense of curiosity, confidence in self, perspective-taking, adaptability, maturity, critical reflection, and intercultural competence—and that go on to have profound impacts on their career and life choices.

Transforming Italy, Europe, and the World
At the national level, Ruffino has helped modernize Italian schools, working with the Italian Ministry of Education and school leadership bodies on initiatives such as the National Observatory on the Internationalization of Schools and Student Mobility to globalize curricula in order to better prepare Italian students as global citizens. Internationally, he has championed major European initiatives such as the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (2008), founded the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL) where he is chairperson emeritus, and served on the boards of various international, regional and national SIETAR associations.

Today, as the secretary-general of Fondazione Intercultura, Roberto continues to lead international research in the field, cooperating with UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and OECD among others.

Focus on Upcoming Generations
In considering the burning issues that we face in the Differences field, Roberto shares, “Interculturalists for many decades have focused their attention on internationalization of business and cultural compatibility at work. Later higher education got into the picture and a great amount of research and experimentation went into study abroad opportunities and their integration with national curricula. Today, in Europe at least, the main focus should be on the intercultural dimension of citizenship and in what shapes the citizens of tomorrow, education systems at all levels, from elementary to upper secondary schools.”

Gratitude to two extraordinary individuals

The profound impacts that the work of both Janet and Roberto have made on those of us in the greater “differences” field and our communities at large cannot be overstated. In making this appointment, beyond recognizing their many outstanding achievements, the Institute wishes to hold up these luminaries as shining examples of the passionate, principled leadership and service to which we aspire.

Thank you, Janet and Roberto.