Stevens Initiative Opens Competition to Fund Virtual Exchange Programs Connecting Youth in the United States, Middle East, and North Africa

August 8, 2018

Interested and qualified parties are invited to submit letters of interest by September 13. 

Contact: Christine Shiau
Assistant Director
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, August 8, 2018 — The Stevens Initiative today opened the 2018 competition to fund virtual exchange programs in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa in order to help young people gain the collaboration, language, problem-solving skills, technical and vocational skills, as well as the familiarity with and empathy for different perspectives, that they need to succeed in today’s economy and society.

The competition is open to organizations in the United States as well as the Middle East and North Africa. Interested and qualified parties are invited to submit letters of interest by September 13. The Stevens Initiative will invite full applications from selected organizations. More information about the competition can be found at

The Stevens Initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by the Aspen Institute. Additional funding is provided by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Private sector partners include Twitter and Vidyo. The Initiative has made two previous rounds of awards to 22 organizations that are reaching approximately 28,000 young people in 43 U.S. States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and the Palestinian Territories.

The Initiative is interested in seeding new models as well as scaling proven models of virtual exchange through proposals focused on technology and computing, world affairs and global studies, business and entrepreneurship, and language learning and practice. Proposals must demonstrate that young people participating in the program will have the opportunity to build practical skills and global competencies through hands-on and collaborative activities.

“The Stevens Initiative provides an opportunity to educate and connect a globally competent generation in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa that will be ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century workforce,” said Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of Policy and Public Programs at the Aspen Institute.

“Through the Stevens Initiative, the WGBH Educational Foundation Design Squad Global Program helps young students explore our world through an engineering and invention lens and learn how to communicate and collaborate with people who have different perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds,” said Saranya Sathananthan, who manages outreach for the WGBH program, which received an Initiative award in 2017. “[This exchange] helps students understand the importance of teamwork and develops an openness to new ideas, ways of thinking, and unfamiliar situations. Most of all, it provides an opportunity for participants to experience engineering and invention as powerful tools for change and making a difference in the world.”

Another award recipient, Sister Cities International, connects sign language students at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, with deaf and hard of hearing students in Qalqilya, in the West Bank. The students are collaborating to create a video dictionary in Palestinian Sign Language. “Learning about another country through virtual exchange is much more exciting than reading about it in a book,” said Chelsea, a Santa Fe College student. “I like the feeling of being present and the hands-on experience of virtual exchange.”

To apply or learn more about the award competition, go to Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the Initiative at to address any questions prior to submitting an application. The Initiative will post a presentation about the competition on its YouTube page in the next several days. Click here to register for a technical webinar on administrative, financial, and compliance requirements on Tuesday, August 21, at 12:00 PM U.S. Eastern Time.

In addition to award-making, the Stevens Initiative provides partnership support, outreach and promotion, access to evaluation instruments and best practices, and access to technology platforms. To learn more about the Initiative’s activities and competition, please visit

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

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 UAE Embassy in Washington, DC 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 US. The Embassy works with US institutions to provide unique opportunities for peer-to-peer exchanges and help broaden student’s horizons.

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.

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The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, CO; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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