Origins of CIF

Over 60 years ago, an immigrant to the United States from Germany, Dr. Henry B. Ollendorff, set out on a mission to improve relations between people of different nations, cultures, races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. Based on the recommendation of the U.S. government, Dr. Ollendorff founded the Cleveland International Program and began to fulfill his goals through an international education program for youth leaders and social workers in Germany. Theprograms aimed to create an atmosphere for international understanding and to provide a forum for the exchange of experiences and learning.

The mission and vision of Dr. Ollendorff continue through two closely related organizations.

  • The Cleveland International Program today known as the Council of International Programs USA (CIP), still based in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • The Council of International Fellowship (CIF) “Alumni”, or past participants in CIP’s programs, formed CIF as a means to continue the sharing of professional and personal knowledge, maintain and foster existing contacts, establish professional networks, and encourage other professional colleagues to participate in similar international programs. CIF is based in Germany and has branches on every continent in the world.


Over the many years since its founding, thousands of professionals, many of them social workers, have participated in these programs. Programs include participants from all corners of the world and reflect the changing role of social work in today’s society.

The mission and vision for CIF and CIP are still relevant in today’s troubled world. The organizations strive to promote international understanding through professional development and cross-cultural exchanges.

We are committed to providing the highest quality professional training and cultural experiences for each of our program participants. We believe that when true professional and cultural exchange happens, understanding and tolerance are the result. We take the time and care to provide excellent and supportive training programs that create positive change in communities around the world. Now more than ever, these professional and cultural exchanges are needed in our rapidly changing world.

Our spirit

We encourage young, as well as experienced, social workers to join a professional and cultural exchange program, to develop professional contacts and to learn about life in other countries from host families as well as from other program participants.

The Cleveland International Program and Council of International Programs (CIP) was founded by Dr. Henry B. Ollendorff.

Dr. Ollendorff was born in Esslingen, Germany in 1907 as Heinz Bernhard Ollendorff. While living in Esslingen he worked as a labor lawyer. Dr. Ollendorff was Jewish and under the German National Socialist regime, he was barred from his profession and was temporarily arrested. In 1938, he emigrated to the United States where his wife joined him in 1939. Both became American citizens. SinceDr. Ollendorff could no longer practice his profession as a lawyer in the United States, he decided to complete a second course of studies, this time in Social Work. Upon graduationfrom Columbia University’s School of Social Work,Dr. Ollendorffbegan working with socially disadvantaged children in Cleveland, Ohio.

On the basis of his personal experience, he was recruited by the U.S. "Re-education" program, (a program sponsored by the United Stated Department of State in 1954)to create an international education program for social work and youth group leaders in Germany. With this program, his goals were to create an atmosphere for international understanding and provide a forum for the international exchange of experiences. Dr. Ollendorff also placed special emphasis on implementing modern methods of group work.

“My life was spared. I would like to devote the rest of my life to ensuring that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again. People, especially the young, must learn at an early age to respect religious and ethnic differences, and learn how to get along with each other and peacefully coexist." – Dr. Henry B. Ollendorff

After Henry's death in 1979, his wife Martha continued to be involved in the CIP program and attended the international conferences of CIF. Martha died in 2011 at the age of 102.

Soon after the first CIP program ended in the United States, the youth leaders and social workers who returned to their countries of origin expressed the desire to create an alumni association in order to share basic professional and personal experiences, maintain and foster existing contacts, establish professional networks, and enable further professional colleagues to participate in similar international programs.

The Cleveland International Fellowship (founded in 1960 and later renamed the Council of International Fellowship) is a registered association in Germany since 1964. In the 1970s, additional National Branches formed around the world based on the principles of CIF. Today CIF has over 35 National Branches and Contact persons worldwide.

Some National Branches offer their own International Professional Exchange Programs (IPEP) based on the CIP model designed by Dr. Ollendorff. IPEP’s welcome participants from all around the world.

CIF celebrates its members and friendships created from past programs by hosting biennially an international conference on social welfare and related topics. Click on CIF Conferences for information about the upcoming conference in 2021 and past conferences.