The J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative to Award Up to $7 Million, Expand Opportunities for Youth Engagement

June 6, 2022

Grants to Support Efforts in U.S., Middle East, and North Africa

Contact: Jon Purves
Associate Director, Media Relations
The Aspen Institute

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C., June 6, 2022 – Today, the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (Stevens Initiative) announced the opening of the 2022 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition, which provides up to $7 million through approximately 12 grant awards to connect youth in the United States and Middle East and North Africa region to promote mutual understanding and collaborative learning. Stevens Initiative grants, which are supported by the U.S. Department of State, will provide seed and scale funding to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions to design and implement virtual exchanges, offering increased access and connectivity to young people from elementary (primary) school age through postgraduate and young adult. Interested institutions may learn more about the application process and apply for these grants here.

“Ambassador Stevens met people where they were and was a champion of youth engagement and inclusion,” said Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. “The Stevens Initiative brings together his life’s work to shape the future – our young people – and meet them where they are – online.”

The Stevens Initiative prioritizes programs that focus on technology and computing, local and global challenges, business and entrepreneurship, and language learning and practice. Applicants should plan to reach diverse youth participants and partners, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds. Two types of grants will be awarded, all lasting two years:

  • Scaling grants support organizations to grow and improve established virtual exchange programs. Grants will range from $350,000 to $900,000.
  • Seeding grants are intended to support early-stage programs that fill a gap in the virtual exchange field. Grants will range from $100,000 to $300,000.

“Since the launch of the Stevens Initiative, we’ve seen the impact that virtual exchange can have on the lives of young people. At its core, virtual exchange introduces young people to the names and faces of peers abroad, giving them the ability to build relationships that pique their curiosity for people and cultures different from their own. These experiences allow them to reach across distance and appreciate the value of difference. I am happy to see my brother’s legacy honored through these grant opportunities along with the Initiative’s work in research and resource sharing and their advocacy for widespread virtual exchange adoption. As we approach the ten-year remembrance of his death, I know he would be proud that hundreds of thousands of young people around the world are living lives enriched by the global experiences he cherished throughout his life and career,” said Dr. Anne Stevens, Sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The Stevens Initiative is an international leader in virtual exchange, which brings young people from diverse places together to collaborate and connect through everyday technology. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative invests in virtual exchange programs between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA); shares research, resources, and promising practices to improve impact; and advocates for broader adoption. Through its 86 grants, the Stevens Initiative will expand its reach by summer 2023 to nearly 75,000 young people in 17 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 48 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, one tribal community, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

“Virtual exchange is a powerful tool that helps prepare young people to tackle society’s most pressing challenges and contribute to the building of a free, just, and equitable society. With each grant competition, this method of learning is made accessible to even more promising rising leaders. The Aspen Institute — which the Stevens Initiative calls home — is proud of our commitment to ensuring that the next generation has the opportunity to grow into a group of globally-minded citizens dedicated to collaboration, dialogue, and positive change,” said Dan Porterfield, President & CEO of the Aspen Institute.

Virtual exchange uses technology to connect people for education and exchange. Virtual exchange programs typically serve young people. Many virtual exchange programs are international, connecting participants in different countries to help them gain global competencies, among other knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many practitioners believe that facilitation by prepared, responsible adults — often but not always educators — is an important component of successful virtual exchange.

The Stevens Initiative’s 2022 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with additional funding from the Bezos Family Foundation. Learn more about the Stevens Initiative, including its other projects and funders, at


The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) works to build friendly, peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, and professional exchanges, as well as public -private partnerships.

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

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.

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