Originally founded in 1948 as a forum on international affairs, the Conference on World Affairs offered a week of panel discussions open to students and the public, without charge, featuring thought leaders from around the world. The CWA expanded rapidly in its early years to encompass the arts, media, science, diplomacy, technology, environment, spirituality, politics, business, medicine, human rights, and more.
Roger Ebert, who participated in the CWA for four decades, always referred to the CWA as "the Conference on Everything Conceivable." Each year in early April, 100 speakers and performers are invited to exchange ideas in 200 panels and performances to create an annual week-long community of learning.
Today the CWA has expanded to include year-round programming that includes CWA Week and the CWA Speaker Series, a year-round series of visiting thought leaders speaking on a selected topic.