Post by AIESEC Life blogging corps member Connie Gelhaus.
One of his favorite quotes is from his father, “The only sin in life is to aim low, so aim high.” Morris Wolf hails from Pennsylvania and currently resides in Florida mere miles from the current AIESEC Life President, Karen Raiti Thigpen. Morris Wolff was, at age 24, the first paid President of AIESEC International. Living a true AIESEC Life, Mr. Wolff seems to have taken his father’s words to heart. Morris visited with Karen earlier this month, played with her 10 month old son, and shared his passion for AIESEC.
His nomination for AIESEC International’s first Secretary-General (President) came after returning from his first traineeship in Germany. His knowledge of English, German and French led to his candidacy, election and year and a half year run as the leader of the 31 nation AIESEC world and his first AIESEC conference was in Barcelona after his election to begin his Presidency.
Arriving in Geneva to begin his Secretariat was disappointing. He thought as he was standing in a completely empty office space, “Morris, what have you gotten yourself into?” and just about headed back home. But this was a learning experience of perseverance. Morris shared a few things to take away from his AIESEC experiences. One – Never Give Up. Always give a second chance and try again. Two – Have a Sense of Humor.If life gives you an empty AIESEC International Office, have a laugh and fill it up. Three – Languages Open Doors. They may even get you elected president of an organization one day!
After his tenure with AIESEC, including his membership at AIESEC Yale 60-61, three traineeships in Japan, Israel and Germany (in which he arrived not realizing he needed to know how to speak German and crash coursed, learning the language within two months) and his employment with AI, Morris continued his focus on humanity. As an alum of Yale Law School, he now works as a Professor and Director of a writing program for incoming Freshman at Bethune Cookman University in Daytona, FL. His resume is quite diverse and has the feel of AIESEC laced throughout.
Working for notable figures such as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, Morris was present on the Mall for Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Some of his previous work, as noted in a letter from President Barak Obama, was “used as a guide in our taking out bin Laden in Pakistan.”
President Obama was referring to Morris Wolff’s involvement with the effort to rescue Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat hired by the United States to save Jews in Hungary during WWII. Wallenberg was kidnapped and held captive by the then Soviet Union and in 1983, Morris Wolff was called upon to be the attorney of Raoul Wallenberg on behalf of his family. Working pro bono, Morris Wolff spent years working on the case, contacting even President Raegan for help releasing the then-unknown dead or alive Wallenberg.
Morris Wolff has filled his life working for the betterment of humanity. Not only has he written a book about his Wallenberg experience called “Whatever Happened to Raoul Wallenberg,” but he also has been recognized with some prestigious awards. Morris Wolff, son of a German Jewish refugee, in 1983 was awarded with Rosa Parks the NCCJ Medal (National Council of Christians and Jews) for his humanitarian work and stood on stage with Audrey Hepburn at Carnegie Hall to be awarded in 1993 the United Nations Peace Award for Humanitarian Service.
As a call to his fellow AIESEC alums, Morris urges to give money to worthy causes. AIESEC has impacted us all and as long as it lives up to its original purpose to promote close and friendly relations among students of all nations regardless of religion, sex, politics, national origin, raising money is the least an alum can do.
THE FOUNDING OF AIESEC
By Morris H Wolff, First Secretary-General (1960-61), AIESEC International
The idea behind AIESEC started in 1938, when representatives from schools across Europe exchanged information about various programs and schools that specialized in business and economics. Students were carrying out internships in other countries. Mostly on their own initiative but it came to a standstill with the onslaught of World War II. In 1944, the neutral Scandinavian countries were still exchanging students. Bertil Hedberg, an official at the Stockholm School of Economics, and students Jaroslav Zich (of Czechoslovakia) and Stanislas Callens (of Belgium) founded AIESEC on July 2nd, 1946, under the name Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques (AIESE, or AIESEc) with a headquarter in Prague and Jaroslav Zich as the first President of the association.
At the time of AIESEC's founding at the conclusion of the 1940s, Europe was in the midst of recovery from the war that dealt grave losses to its population. Factories and enterprises were in desperate need of executives, managers and leaders. The continent needed more than just business development, however; the war had severely damaged relations between European nations, and many members of the community felt steps needed to be taken to address this problem. AIESEC was formed to address both of these concerns.
In 1948 it was initiated a renewing development of the association with implementation of international meetings (congresses), replacing the practice of governance from the headquarters. The first broad meeting was held by students from 9 universities of 7 countries in April 1948 in Liège (Belgium). Then the official, constitutive assembly (the congress) was organized in 1949 in Stockholm with Bengt Sjӧstrand as the President and Sweden as the Presiding Country for 1949/1950. Students from seven nations: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, came together for that first International Congress of AIESEC. The founders composed a constitution for the new organization and defined a purpose: "AIESEC is an independent, non-political, and international organization which has as its purpose to establish and promote the friendly relations between the members." At the time, the organization's stated mission was “to expand the understanding of a nation by expanding the understanding of the individuals, changing the world one person at a time.”
In 1949, 89 students were exchanged by AIESEC among the member nations. The next two annual congresses were conducted in Stockholm with presiding by Bengt Sjӧstrand and in Paris with presiding by Jean Choplin.
The organization grew exponentially in the following years, with more than 1,000 exchanges took place in 1955 alone. In the following few years, AIESEC quickly became global by establishing its first North American member, the United States, in 1957, and its first South American and African members, Colombia, Venezuela, and South Africa in 1958.
For the first years of its existence, AIESEC had no central governing body, but was instead managed jointly by a Presiding Country Committee composed of the National Committee Presidents of each member nation. As the organization grew, a central governing body was created and led by the democratically elected Secretary-General. Morris Wolff, from the United States, was chosen as the first Secretary-General in 1960, and established the first permanent international office for AIESEC in Geneva, Switzerland. Over the following decade, AIESEC expanded to eastern Asia, Australia, and deeper within Europe, Africa, North America, and South America, having a presence in 43 countries by 1969.