Soliya Receives Grant from the Stevens Initiative to Connect Students in the US, Middle East, and North Africa through Virtual Exchange

May 08, 2019


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Grantees will create opportunities for U.S. and international students to build global competencies and career readiness skills through virtual exchange.


New York and Washington, D.C., May 8, 2019 – On April 29, the Stevens Initiative announced funding for Connect Global for US - MENA dialogue implemented by Soliya. Connect Global: US-MENA is one of six programs selected through an international competition to fund virtual exchange programs in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Soliya is part of the third round of Stevens Initiative grantees. These exchanges will enable thousands of young people to gain the skills that they need to succeed in today’s economy and society and to establish new cross-cultural connections.

Under the Stevens Initiative, Connect Global: US-MENA, implemented by Soliya, will bring together college-aged youth in the United States and in the Middle East and North Africa for online, face-to-face dialogue. Participants will discuss global and social issues in the presence of trained facilitators, engaging in both synchronous (live) and asynchronous exchange. Through facilitated discussions on possibly divisive topics—such as religion, gender, current events, social culture, media, and the environment—participants will develop greater global awareness while building critical 21st-century skills and attitudes. Higher education administrators or educators can express their interest by filling in a short form on Soliya’s web site.

Soliya was a recipient in the inaugural round in 2017 when the Stevens Initiative was first launched. “With the first round of funding, we were able to diversify our programming model, finesse our technology and prepare for growth. This second round of support will enable us to exponentially grow one key program model, deepen our impact measurement efforts and better communicate the results. We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to being able to work in partnership with the Stevens Initiative to advocate for this field. Combining the power of digital technologies and dialogue exchange can allow for the acquisition and development of seminal skills for young people as they prepare to engage within and across their communities and enter the workplaces of tomorrow” said, Waidehi Gokhale, CEO of Soliya. “Now more than ever, we need online platforms that facilitate constructive conversations and collaborative global learning.”
“I am very pleased with the grants that we are awarding for the next round of Stevens Initiative funded virtual exchange programs,” said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. “As bandwidths increase and platforms get more sophisticated, virtual exchanges open opportunities for international exposure and connection to hundreds of thousands – and potentially millions – of people. Virtual exchanges like those funded by the Stevens Initiative also facilitate cross-cultural experiences and build career readiness skills. I look forward to a great expansion of this innovative program over the next year and continuing to honor this living legacy to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.”

Through the work of these new programs, the Stevens Initiative will expand its reach to nearly 40,000 students in 15 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 44 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. Programs will begin this April and will continue through the summer of 2021.

Other programs include:

  • Global Nomads Group (GNG): Campfire, GNG’s flagship program, focuses on virtual storytelling – an interdisciplinary and powerful vehicle for youth to build empathy, self-awareness, and global understanding.
  • International Research & Exchanges Board, Inc. (IREX): The Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge (GSSC), implemented by IREX, connects students in the United States, Jordan, and Iraq to virtually collaborate on a sustainable solution to a contemporary business challenge.
  • William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI): Implemented by WDI, Business & Culture: A Virtual Practicum is a classroom-to-classroom, action-learning course on international business cultures that brings together students from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and the U.S.
  • World Learning: The Experiment Digital, implemented by World Learning, is a two-month summer virtual exchange program that helps high school-aged youth become more civically engaged by empowering them to plan and execute a community service project.
  • World Learning: The NextGen Coders Network (NGCN) is a virtual exchange implemented by World Learning that will bring together university students and young professionals to create solutions to their countries’ greatest challenges using code.

“The Aspen Institute values the open exchange of ideas and the work of the Stevens Initiative allows for just that,” said Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of Public & Policy Programs at the Aspen Institute. “Through virtual exchange, youth in the US and MENA region are able to engage with one another, learn together, and become global-minded leaders.”

Created in 2015 by the Stevens family as a living legacy to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Stevens Initiative is a public-private partnership that is building global competencies and 21st century skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. Through virtual exchange, the Initiative connects youth through technology to collaborate and learn together, giving them access to a substantive international exchange.

The Initiative is awarding these six grants to schools and organizations to implement virtual exchange programs, lasting from several weeks to several months, for students from middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities.

Soliya is an international not for profit organization and a pioneering virtual exchange provider. Soliya combines the power of dialogue with the reach of new media technologies to empower young people to achieve cooperative and compassionate relations within and between their societies by providing high-quality global education.

Soliya is funded by the Stevens Initiative, which 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

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, D.C.; Aspen, Colorado; 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

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 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.

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.

Primary Contact: Ayca Ariyoruk
Senior Manager, Global Partnerships and Communication

Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Associate
The Aspen Institute
Rasheeda Clements
Public Affairs Specialist
U.S. Department of State


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