Building strong people-to-people ties and fostering long-lasting collaboration with current and future global leaders is possible through the U.S. Department of State’s exchange programs. In 2021, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) launched a special initiative to provide follow-on support to alumni of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the Department’s premier professional exchange program.
This special initiative, the IVLP Impact Awards, enables recent IVLP alumni to build on their exchange experience and implement innovative and meaningful projects to address challenges in their home communities. Through grants of up to $5,000 USD, alumni may leverage the knowledge and connections gained from their IVLP exchanges to design projects that are creative, impactful, and engaging.
Although a new initiative, more than 220 IVLP alumni from over 100 countries have already implemented IVLP Impact Award projects. These community projects focused on a variety of foreign policy priorities, including countering disinformation and fake news, advancing climate solutions, addressing challenges facing democracy, peace, and security, and more.
Several projects also focused on responding to current global crises. In 2022, more than 20 IVLP Impact Award projects focused specifically on addressing issues related to the war against Ukraine. The objectives of these projects ranged from assisting with refugee integration and inclusion to documenting the stories of the people affected by this crisis.
Following his participation in the IVLP Virtual exchange, “A Global Moment in Time: Photojournalists Document Challenges and Opportunities in the COVID Era,” Rafal Milach, a Polish visual artist, activist, photographer, and educator, applied for an IVLP Impact Award. This initiative enabled him to develop UATLAS, a publication dedicated to sharing the stories and testimonials of refugees fleeing Ukraine into Poland. Rafal printed over 2,000 copies of UATLAS and created a virtual platform for the publication, including an interactive map. Following the launch of UATLAS, Rafal continues to be committed to sharing the stories of those who left and have been directly affected by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Several projects built on ideas that were originally explored during alumni’s IVLP exchanges. In 2021, Confidence Staveley, an award-winning entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert from Nigeria, participated in an IVLP Virtual exchange focused on promoting cybersecurity for senior citizens. During her project, Confidence was inspired by her fellow participants and the American cybersecurity counterparts that she met from Washington, DC; Cleveland, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Des Moines, Iowa; and Los Angeles, California. Incorporating ideas shared during her IVLP exchange, Confidence designed an IVLP Impact Award project that used short videos and other accessible resources to share cybersecurity best practices with senior citizens in Nigeria.
The IVLP Impact Awards help to build lasting connections, engage the exchange alumni network, and provide support for shared challenges to people all over the world. As Pawan Singh Arora, an IVLP alumnus and IVLP Impact Award recipient from Pakistan shared, “The IVLP journey gave me hope to knock on many doors and open some gracefully. I am excited that I am working on a project right after becoming part of the IVLP family.”
The Department of State’s implementing partner for this initiative is Meridian International Center. The IVLP Impact Awards will continue in 2023. The application period begins on February 8, 2023 and closes on March 20, 2023. Eligibility information, application information, and the 2022 project narratives can be found on the IVLP Impact Awards website, https://www.meridian.org/project/u-s-department-of-state-ivlp-impact-awards/.
About the Author: Ava D’Sa is the Communications and Outreach Manager for the Office of International Visitors in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.