Stevens Initiative Makes International Learning Opportunities Available to Nearly 19,000 Young People Around the World

April 7, 2021

The Stevens Initiative funds 19 virtual exchange programs that connect young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute
[email protected]


Washington, DC, April 7, 2021
– Today, the Stevens Initiative announced its newest grantees, a regionally diverse group of educational institutions and nonprofit organizations committed to providing young people unique and engaging opportunities to learn and form relationships with peers abroad. These experiences are made possible by virtual exchange, and these 19 programs will ready young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for the workforce and to be active global citizens by building skills in respectful cross-cultural dialogue.

“The Stevens Initiative is at the center of global education, elevating innovative exchange programs that connect young people from many different backgrounds. The Aspen Institute is proud to be part of a network of partners that includes the U.S. Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, that helps make this work possible. These new virtual exchange programs will have an extraordinary impact on participants, by enhancing academic and career trajectories, enabling new friendships, and generating a powerful sense of commitment to addressing the world’s greatest challenges,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.

Covering 25 topics, such as social entrepreneurship, STEAM and media skills, health, and transitional justice, these virtual exchange programs are an accessible and affordable international learning experience and allow young people to build life-changing relationships with people they would not have otherwise met. Programs are supported through either two-year scaling grants, which fund long-standing, proven programs that reach large groups of young people, or one-year seeding grants, which fund new, promising virtual exchange models. With international travel still not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, virtual exchange provides a vital avenue for young people to engage with different cultures.

With these new grantees, the Stevens Initiative has funded 83 grants. Through these programs, the Stevens Initiative will expand its reach to nearly 75,000 young people in 17 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 47 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. The 2021 Stevens Initiative Grantees, which will reach nearly 19,000 young people, include:

  • AURAK’s Acknowledge – Challenge – Transform (ACT): Developing Empathetic Leadership prepares college-aged youth in the United States and Middle East with the knowledge and skills required to acknowledge and challenge various forms of biases through empathy.
  • AMIDEAST’s Qisasna facilitates cross-cultural exchange between American and Yemeni students by providing participants with the skills needed to produce podcasts that focus on discussions of global issues, perceptions of both cultures, career opportunities for young people, and community service.
  • Culturingua’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Journey joins high school students in San Antonio, Texas, and in Benghazi, Libya, to develop a social enterprise idea that solves a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
  • Empatico’s Coding with Empathy Challenge, developed in partnership with Code.org, brings together middle school students from the United States and Egypt to collaborate on a series of empathy-building computer science and virtual exchange experiences.
  • Enactus Morocco and Enactus US’Entrepreneurial Exchange helps university students and young adults gain entrepreneurship fundamentals through a virtual course that culminates in ten cross-country, cross-culture teams competing in a project pitch competition.
  • Engineering World Health’s Virtual Engineering Innovation & Cultural Exchange fosters an international collaboration between participants living in the United States, Lebanon, and Jordan with a focus on science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM).
  • Florida International University’s Tabadul: Creating Language-Learning Community Through Virtual Reality brings together college-aged youth in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa for language-learning and community building through virtual reality.
  • Games for Change’s Game Exchange is a virtual exchange program for teens in Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States in which teens from the four countries join in creative dialogue and collaboration based on a shared interest in video games and game design.
  • Global Ties U.S.’s MENA-USA Empowering Resilient Girls Exchange (MERGE) brings together girls ages 15-19 from the United States and MENA region in a supportive virtual space to learn about their own mental health, develop emotional resilience skills, and share this knowledge with their communities.
  • Hashemite University’s Research, Education, and Advocacy for Community Health (REACH) brings together college-aged youth in the United States and in the Middle East for online, face-to-face learning experiences.
  • Institute of International Education’s Harnessing Innovation through Virtual Exchange for Enhanced Results (HIVER) program develops intercultural communication and problem-solving skills among diverse students at participating U.S. and MENA universities.
  • LaGuardia Community College’s Global Scholars Achieving Career Success (GSACS) is a collaborative multi-campus program that foregrounds UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and career readiness competencies in class-to-class virtual exchanges between students from the City University of New York and universities in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • PATHWAYS Institute for Negotiation Education’s Game Changers in Education brings together undergraduate education majors and pre-service teachers from the United States and Israel for interactive joint learning and facilitated online exchange focused on developing and applying creative negotiation skills in their schools and communities.
  • Seattle University School of Law’s Transitional Justice Legal Exchange brings together Moroccan and American law students for a class on transitional justice and human rights co-taught by professors from one Moroccan and one American institution.
  • Soliya’s Global Circles are short online dialogue opportunities, bringing together young people from various backgrounds and nationalities for a face-to-face exchange around compelling global issues that matter to youth today. 
  • SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Bridging Cultures to Defeat COVID-19 is a virtual health sciences education program that brings together American, Middle Eastern, and North African clinical and scientific trainees for collaborative scientific and medical education and for unique professional development and cultural exchange opportunities.
  • The International Foundation for Training and Development and the Onslow County School District’s Youth for Sustainable Development Goals Virtual Exchange Program brings together and engages high school aged students, grades 9-12, to learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), why they are important, and what these goals represent for students and their community. 
  • The New York Academy of Sciences’ Junior Academy is a virtual exchange program bringing together a passionate community of problem solvers made up of talented students, STEM experts, and organizations around the world dedicated to designing innovative solutions to global challenges.
  • WorldDenver’s World Affairs Challenge Virtual Exchange serves youth ages 14-17 in the state of Colorado and the Middle East and North Africa through an online, mobile-accessible exchange in which bi-national student teams of six to ten participants learn and practice leadership development, cross-cultural communication, and project management.

“As the virtual exchange community expands around the world, more and more young people have access to the cross-cultural experiences that my late brother valued throughout his life and career. These newly funded programs will build the skills and open up worldviews of youth participants while allowing them to form meaningful friendships. I look forward to seeing what participants learn and create through these innovative programs, particularly in Libya, where Chris served as a diplomat,” said Dr. Anne Stevens, Sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa by growing and enhancing the field of virtual exchange. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative is committed to helping to expand the virtual exchange field through three pillars of work: investing in promising programs, sharing knowledge and resources, and advocating for virtual exchange adoption.

“We are thrilled to announce our 2021 Stevens Initiative grantees. This group of exciting programs will reach participants in more age levels, moving the field forward by expanding opportunities for students in K-12 classrooms to participate in meaningful virtual exchange experiences. The ongoing pandemic has underscored the importance of human connection and the ability to make sense of complex global and local events. Our team is humbled to work with educators and our partner institutions to facilitate these important learning opportunities for youth in the United States and across the Middle East and North Africa,” said Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Executive Director, the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute.

The Stevens Initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute.  It is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

More Information

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs.  These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the United States, support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us.  Visit eca.state.gov.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society.  Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.  Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.  For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

The Bezos Family Foundation supports rigorous, inspired learning environments for young people, from birth through high school, to put their education into action.  Through investments in research, public awareness, systems building and programs, the foundation works to elevate the field of education and improve life outcomes for all children.

The Kingdom of Morocco has held a longstanding commitment to the promotion of peace, mutual understanding and respect across all fora.  In line with this commitment, the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco is a strong supporter of the Stevens Initiative and is proud to be included in its programs, which foster opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges between youth.

The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Washington, D.C. is committed to promoting and increasing cross-cultural understanding and educational exchanges.  In line with the UAE Government’s values, the Embassy supports educational programming at schools and universities across the U.S.  The Embassy works with U.S. institutions to provide unique opportunities for peer-to-peer exchanges and help broaden student’s horizons.

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