Soliya to receive grant from the Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative to expand Virtual Exchange between college youth in the US and the MENA Region

April 04, 2016 | News

The Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative today announced the award of a two-year grant to Soliya, one of 10 new projects funded through a national competition to use virtual exchange to increase cross-cultural understanding and equip young people to participate in a global economy.

Soliya is among the first wave of virtual exchange programs to be funded by the Stevens Initiative, a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

 

Virtual exchanges uses technology for sustained, people-to-people education programs. The Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding between youth in middle school through post-secondary and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world.

The announcement marks the first major step in the Stevens Initiative’s plan to scale up people-to-people exchanges between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The Initiative provided $5 million to support online programs that will bring more than 20,000 young people together to engage in cross-cultural learning experiences. The programs reach 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and 25 American states.

Under the Stevens Initiative, Soliya will engage thousands of students in its flagship Connect Program, train hundreds of professional virtual exchange facilitators and construct innovative models to broaden understanding of best practices in the virtual exchange field.

Other examples of the work to be undertaken include:

  • Online English, Arabic, and Kurdish language exchange between students in California and their peers in Morocco. Algeria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia;
  • Storytelling through virtual reality for middle and high school students in Kentucky, New York, and Jordan, including Syrian refugees;
  • A collaborative anthropological project between high school students in Morocco and Chicago;
  • Global leadership activities for students in Iraq, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wisconsin;
  • An online program exploring how the media portrays people in the United Arab Emirates and various states across the United States.

Most programs will launch in Spring 2016 and continue for a period of two years. “This is the beginning of a global classroom. Soliya will be a pioneer in an exciting and dynamic field,” said Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute. “Our vision is to spark conversations between young people in countries around the world—to exchange ideas and information and to work together on addressing important issues. We look forward to working with Soliya to achieve this vision.”

The first Stevens Initiative award competition was open to U.S. non-profit organizations. In addition to holding future rounds of the award competition, the Initiative will share best practices and support research to address which methods have a measurable impact and have the potential to reach all young people as the field grows.

"We are thrilled to partner with the Stevens Initiative and be among the first round of grantees. For 13 years, Soliya has been implementing our innovative virtual exchange programs, bringing together thousands of youth every year in meaningful cross-cultural exchanges” said Salma Elbeblawi, Director of Programs at Soliya. “With the support of the Initiative, we are excited to expand our reach fivefold over a two-year period. At a time of heightened tensions and growing polarization both within and between societies, we see the need to reach vastly more youth around the world in order to shift the way our societies deal with differences, from confrontation to collaboration, to be of utmost importance."

The other Stevens Initiative grantees announced today are:

Chicago Sister Cities International

Eurasia Foundation

Global Nomads Group

IEARN

National Democratic Institute

State University of New York – Center for Collaborative Online International Learning

University of California Berkeley

Wofford College

World Learning

The Stevens Initiative is a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens. By fostering structured online engagements between young people in secondary through post-secondary education, the Stevens Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Housed at the Aspen Institute, the Stevens Institute is a collaboration between the family of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Algeria, and Morocco, and Microsoft, Twitter, Mozilla, and GoPro. Visit us at www.stevensinitiative.org.

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