Launched as a membership organization in 1921, CFR has expanded its reach beyond its traditional audience, providing programming and analysis to deepen general knowledge on a broad range of international issues in order to promote a more informed citizenry.

CFR continues to connect with growing audiences among educators and students, state and local government officials, the media, religious leaders and scholars, the business community, and more.

Educators and Students

Students participate in a Model Diplomacy simulation in 2019

From its early days, CFR has served as a resource to the academic community. Through the decades, the Council has offered forums for discussion and made its resources available to every strata of the educational community; administrators, educators, and students alike; at public and private colleges and universities, community colleges, and high schools.

Under the auspices of CFR, presidents, chancellors, deans, professors, and teachers, as well as graduate, undergraduate, and high school students have convened with Council members, fellows, and other foreign policy experts to discuss international relations and the United States’ role in the world.


CFR’s inaugural program for the academic community began in 1936 with a series of Conferences for University Men, with the goal of expanding the number of students of international relations and informing CFR members of the viewpoints of the next generation. Other efforts to reach students continued sporadically over the following decades, including the compendiums curated for several decades by Foreign Affairs, which served as a mechanism for students to gain a better understanding of particular aspects of global affairs through collections of articles from the magazine.

CFR formalized programming for the academic community in 2005 when it introduced the Academic Outreach initiative to connect educators, administrators, and students with CFR experts and resources that could be used for teaching and learning about international affairs. In 2016, the Council embarked on an education initiative with the purpose of creating materials specifically designed for teaching students, instructors, and lifelong learners of all disciplines about foreign and international affairs. The two principal products to date are Model Diplomacy, a National Security Council and UN Security Council role-play simulation program comprising eighteen full-length cases and a newly launched suite of pop-up cases that incorporate both historical and current events, and World101, an online modular course focusing on the fundamentals of international relations and foreign policy, which launched in 2019.

The Program Today

Today, CFR’s academic outreach has had direct contact with 17 percent of higher education institutions in the United States. Through CFR programming, the academic community has access to a wealth of educational resources: the Academic Webinar series for professors and students; the Higher Education Webinar series for administrators and professors; College and University Educators Workshops; briefings for student groups; exhibitions and events at professional educational conferences across the country; livestreams of CFR meetings; teaching notes for CFR fellows’ books; and a biweekly newsletter that showcases an array of CFR resources for teaching and learning, including Model Diplomacy and World101.

College and university students attend a CFR back-to-school event
Members of the academic community attend a College and University Educators Workshop

Faith and Religious Community

CFR’s Irina Faskianos with participants at a Religion and Foreign Policy program event in 2019

In 2006, CFR launched the Religion and Foreign Policy (RFP) program in recognition of the important role that religion plays in international affairs.

The program provides a rare opportunity to bring together religious leaders, policymakers, and academics to understand the forces shaping international relations through the lens of religion. The program offers a forum for congregational leaders, seminary heads, scholars of religion, and representatives of faith-based organizations to discuss global issues.


The program began with a series of themed roundtable meetings, then broadened its reach with a teleconference (now webinar) series on topics at the nexus of religion and foreign policy. The first annual Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop was held in 2007.

Every year since then, the workshop has convened religion leaders for discussions with CFR fellows and other experts on pressing global issues. The Religion Advisory Committee was started in 2019 to help broaden the network and advise on effective programming strategies. In 2020, the Social Justice Webinar series was established, helping CFR reach new audiences.

The Program Today

The RFP program has flourished as participants from around the country have a forum at CFR to discuss global issues and how to best address them. There are two important aspects of the program today: the first is the dimension of inter-faith collaboration.

The opportunity to meet with representatives from not only Abrahamic faith traditions, but also religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, indigenous spiritual traditions, and more, is a unique feature of the program. Participation currently spans thirty-seven faith traditions.

The second aspect is a focus on social justice and how the domestic issues playing out in the United States are mirrored on the international scene.

Attendees at the 2019 Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop in New York

State and Local Government Officials

Montana Governor Steve Bullock, former Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and CFR’s Richard Haass at the 2019 National Governors Association Meeting

CFR connects governors, mayors, state legislators, locally elected officials, and their staffs with resources on global issues that affect local agendas.

State and municipal governments play an intrinsic role in international affairs as the frontline policymakers on matters including immigration, trade and competitiveness, and public health. The Council provides the context and analysis necessary for understanding the current international climate.


Since its inception, CFR has worked closely with officials at the national level. In 2006, the organization began formal programming to reach community and civic leaders. The Council launched the State and Local Officials Initiative in 2018 with the aim of providing regular programming to offer foreign policy expertise and a forum for sharing best practices to officials and staff around the country. The following year, the Council began actively engaging with nonpartisan organizations representing state and local leaders, including the National Governors Association and State International Development Organization. CFR experts have contributed analysis of global dynamics at numerous events with these organizations. With the 2020 pandemic, interest and participation in CFR’s work with state and local officials have grown as CFR made available timely expert guidance on health, economic, and governance issues.

The Program Today

In an increasingly globalized world, an understanding of foreign policy has become critical for local leaders. Today, state and local officials are keenly interested in how international trends and forces will affect the lives of their constituents.

To date, participants in the State and Local Officials Initiative hail from all fifty states; Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; and Guam. Through a virtual programming series, CFR offers officials and high-level staff the opportunity to speak with experts and peers on practices for approaching a host of international issues with local ramifications, including the future of work and automation, immigration and trade, and climate.

The initiative regularly showcases CFR experts at major gatherings of state and local leaders, offers individualized briefings, and disseminates CFR publications to the offices of policymakers around the country.

CFR Board Member Stephen Hadley at 2019 National Governors Association Winter Meeting
Leana Wen, health commissioner for the City of Baltimore, speaks at a CFR event in 2017

The Press and the Public

NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw and CFR President Peter Tarnoff with Soviet Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov at a CFR meeting in 1988

An important way that CFR has expanded its mission over the years is by connecting with the public through appearances in the media and by creating ways in which the general public can easily access information.

The Council has worked closely with journalists since its founders made a point of including the leading foreign correspondents of the day. While for much of its history, the Council held meetings on a not-for-attribution basis, in the 1970s it began to hold more public and on-the-record events. Starting in the 1990s with the launch of its website, the Council began to reach millions of readers.


CFR’s outreach to the press began in 1948 with the introduction of the Fellowship for Foreign Correspondents for American newspaper, radio, and magazine correspondents who were currently or recently abroad, or had planned to return to service abroad. The correspondents were given an opportunity to broaden their understanding of foreign regions and international issues by means of a coordinated study program housed at the Council. Thanks to a contribution in 1966 from the CBS Foundation, the fellowship was named in honor of famed correspondent Edward R. Murrow. Today the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship allows each year for a journalist to engage in sustained analysis and writing, expand his or her intellectual and professional horizons, and participate in CFR’s active program of events.

While reaching the press remained important, CFR sought additional ways of reaching broader audiences. By 1976, CFR began broadcasting public radio programs with NPR, and in 1982 aired its first television program, Focus: Prospects for Peace in the Middle East. Public programming continued into the next two decades with the Council coproducing the Worldview series with CUNY Television in 1987 (which ran until 1990), and a weekly radio series, America and the World, with NPR in 1989 (which ran until 1997). CFR’s next television program, World in Focus, ran from 1992 to 1994.

Under the presidency of Leslie H. Gelb, the Council became more public facing with the launch of both the CFR and Foreign Affairs websites in 1997. CFR scholars also began appearing more frequently on television and radio. In 1998, the Council Policy Initiative was introduced to marshal research, publications, and televised debates to stimulate a national dialogue and present options to local and federal leadership on foreign policy issues. Upgrades in technology allowed for even greater press participation at the Council, including the introduction of videoconferencing in 1999, expanded use of conference call technology in the 2000s, and live streaming of events in the 2010s.

Involvement with the press continued to grow over the following decades, particularly under the leadership of President Richard N. Haass.

CFR has become a trusted resource for both national and international press outlets, and CFR experts are drawn on with frequency to appear and give commentary on outlets of record.”

In 2019, CFR launched the Local Journalists Initiative to provide news media professionals with international context for the local issues they cover through an annual workshop, biweekly discussions to share best practices, and access to CFR content and programming.

The Program Today

In an increasingly interconnected world with information readily available to many, CFR and Foreign Affairs magazine remain leading sources for information on international relations. Annually, CFR averages roughly 68,000 media mentions and 7,400,000 views of CFR events and videos on YouTube. CFR’s audience on social media has steadily grown and as of December 2020, CFR has more than 420,000 followers on Facebook, 474,000 on Twitter, 27,000 on Instagram, and 173,000 on LinkedIn. In addition to CFR’s president and fellows appearing with regularity on top-rated television and radio shows and in publications of record, many are active on Twitter. In the last year, there were over 14,000,000 unique visitors to and 12,000,000 visitors to CFR also produces eighteen public newsletters that reach over 100,000 subscribers, and CFR’s multimedia programming has won a collective 18 awards.

Set of CFR’s 1992 World in Focus program with guests Vaclav Klaus and Al Gore
Members of the press at a CFR event in 2020
2019 Local Journalists Workshop at CFR
Ted Koppel, former anchor and managing editor, Nightline, ABC News, with CFR President Richard Haass at an event in 2019

Policy and Diplomatic Community

CFR Fellow Alice Hill testifies in 2019 before the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis

CFR’s presence in the nation’s capital has spanned nearly five decades. An informational mainstay for American decision-makers, the Council in Washington, DC, has become a trusted venue for smart, frank, and civil discussion on foreign affairs among members of Congress, congressional staff on both sides of the aisle, and the diplomatic community.


CFR’s congressional program was established in 1997 as an outreach effort to connect the Council’s scholarship with the policymaking community, but CFR’s programmatic presence in Washington began decades earlier in 1973, when then–Senior Fellow Alton Frye began convening study groups and member meetings in the nation’s capital. Within the decade, CFR began to make efforts to offer greater opportunities for participation by the growing number of Washington members, particularly those bound to tight government and Congressional calendars, by hosting regular events programming in Washington.

Frye served briefly as president of the Council after holding several significant roles, and under his leadership, CFR formalized the Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy program with a series of roundtables for congressional staffers. Maintaining its identity as a nonpartisan organization, the Council expanded its Washington outreach activities to involve both the executive branch and diplomatic community in briefings and roundtable discussions. By leveraging CFR scholars as well as the expansive collection of intellectual capital within the Council’s membership, these outreach efforts continue to bring together experts and policymakers to exchange views and share insights on a wide array of international issues.

The Program Today

Today, the program plays a prominent role in the Washington policy community, engaging, informing, and assisting policymakers across the legislative and executive branches as well as the diplomatic community. On Capitol Hill, the Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy program facilitates seven distinct programming lines including briefings for senior congressional staff, quarterly bipartisan roundtables with members of the House and Senate, and discussions between members of Congress and experts from the Council’s membership.

Additionally, the program coordinates hundreds of on-request briefings from CFR fellows and experts on issues of national security, trade, economics, and more for members of Congress and their staff; develops timely distributions in advance of congressional hearings and developments; and equips Council fellows for congressional testimony. In total, the program on average engages with over three hundred House and Senate offices on an annual basis.

CFR President Richard Haass with Senator Richard Lugar at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2008
CFR Fellow Stephen Biddle (center) testifies before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2008

The Business Community

IBM Chairman, President, and CEO Virginia Rometty at a CFR event in 2020

Founded in 1953 with 25 original members as a way to include the business perspective in Council discussions, the Corporate Program has since grown to include more than 120 leading companies representing a broad spectrum of industries and regions of the world.

Through CFR’s unmatched convening power, the program links private-sector leaders with decision-makers from government, media, nongovernmental organizations, and academia to discuss issues at the intersection of business and foreign policy. The Corporate Program offers a range of benefits for executives from senior management to young professionals.


One of the Council’s foremost priorities since its early days has been to reach groups that may not be fully involved in the foreign policy process but nonetheless have a major stake in it, and much to contribute to the discussion. In 1939, the Council established a seminar for junior executives to provide a better understanding of U.S. foreign policy within the business community. By 1953 the Corporation Service Program, later named the Corporate Program, was inaugurated, with companies receiving access to Foreign Affairs magazine subscriptions, Council publications, and consultation with CFR experts as member benefits. Singer Manufacturing Company and Pan American World Airways were among the first members of the program.

As political, economic, and security issues became increasingly important to companies active in foreign markets or concerned with managing global risk, the program continued to grow and by 1985, the annual revenue reached $1 million. In the late 1990s, CFR began hosting periodic conferences for corporate members on a wide variety of topics; in 2004, CFR launched an annual Corporate Conference, inviting all corporate members to convene in New York. Over the following years, the program launched additional specialized services offered to all levels of corporate member companies. The Young Professionals Briefing series began in 2014 to provide dedicated programming for younger management-track executives, and the executive education program launched in 2018 to serve companies’ increasing need to provide their leadership and broader workforces with a fuller understanding of global realities. Serving as instructors, CFR fellows share their expertise with members of the corporate community, offering bespoke education programs fitted specifically to companies’ areas of critical interest. The program not only fills knowledge gaps and provides the context corporate leaders need to make the best, most responsible business decisions, it also furthers CFR’s mission to build a wider and deeper comprehension of the world across all segments of the population. The fees for these services, which are in addition to annual corporate membership dues, provide unrestricted revenue to support all CFR activities. And in 2019, CFR’s first annual CEO Summit brought together top company leaders to discuss critical geoeconomic and geopolitical issues affecting business.

The Corporate Program not only fills knowledge gaps and provides the context corporate leaders need to make the best, most responsible business decisions, it also furthers CFR’s mission to build a wider and deeper comprehension of the world across all segments of the population.

The Program Today

CFR’s Corporate Program membership comprises highly respected businesses that are global leaders within their industries. Executives at member companies have access to the Council’s intellectual capital, both in person and virtually, through private briefings with CFR fellows, conference calls and livestreams, Foreign Affairs magazine, and hundreds of meetings each year in New York; Washington, DC; and other cities across the United States and around the world. The program also offers professional development opportunities for senior management-track executives and special briefings for early-career employees.

PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman at a CFR event in 2017
PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi at a CFR event in 2016
David Rubenstein, Larry Fink, and Blair Effron at a CFR event in 2016

Global Think Tank Leaders

Members of the Council of Councils at a 2018 meeting in Seoul, South Korea

Another important constituency the Council has connected to over the years are foreign policy–focused organizations around the globe.

Because many of the defining foreign policy challenges are global in nature, the Council has established itself as a valuable forum for stimulating high-level debate and generating policy options for addressing critical global governance challenges.


Originally conceived as an Anglo-American organization, the Council (whose preliminary name was the American Institute of International Affairs) was founded in 1921 by American participants of the Versailles Peace Conference; their British colleagues founded the Royal Institute of International Affairs, or Chatham House. The two organizations maintained close but informal ties in the decades that followed.

In 1973, the Council reconstituted and incorporated the American Institute of International Affairs as “a separate non-profit affiliate that will be readily recognizable by, and will relate to, the many Institutes of International Affairs around the world with which cooperative working contacts are rapidly increasing.” This collaborative group of international think tanks continued through much of the 1970s.

In March 2012, the Council launched a new initiative, the Council of Councils (CoC), to help direct high-level international attention and effective policy responses to the global challenges of the twenty-first century. The CoC is comprised of twenty-eight major policy institutes from some of the world’s most influential countries. It is designed to facilitate candid, not-for-attribution dialogue and consensus-building among influential opinion leaders from both established and emerging nations, with the ultimate purpose of injecting the conclusions of its deliberations into high-level foreign policy circles within members’ countries.

The Program Today

The CoC provides an ongoing exchange for research and policy collaboration among its members through regional conferences hosted by members and an annual conference.

The CoC continues to connect leading foreign policy institutes from twenty-four countries, roughly tracking the composition of the Group of Twenty, on issues of global governance and multilateral cooperation.

The group also considers long-term structural reforms that would enhance the global governance capacity of leading international institutions through the production of CoC Global Memos and Global Governance Working Papers.

Members of the Council of Councils at a 2018 meeting in Seoul, South Korea
  • Educators and Students

  • Faith and Religious Community

  • State and Local Government Officials

  • The Press and the Public

  • Policy and Diplomatic Community

  • The Business Community

  • Global Think Tank Leaders