The Stevens Initiative, which has made global education opportunities possible for young people in the United States (U.S.) and the Middle East and North Africa since 2015, has announced expansion to new regions around the world, including support for pilot virtual exchange programs for Mexican and Ukrainian youth.
“This expansion is the perfect extension of our founding mission,” said Christine Shiau, Executive Director of the Stevens Initiative. “The family of Ambassador Christopher Stevens wanted to honor his personal and diplomatic legacy by inspiring curiosity and connection among young people from different cultures, thereby laying a foundation for the global understanding that was his life’s work. This expansion into new regions brings us a step closer to our vision of every young person having a virtual international experience as part of their education.”
“Virtual exchange gives young people the opportunity for self-reflection and exposes them to the world in new ways,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “As we look to build upon years of successful work in the Middle East and North Africa, we’re excited about what’s possible in the new regions in which we’re working. This expansion represents an ambitious step forward that will have a transformational impact on young people and their communities.”
Expansion of Stevens Initiative-supported programming has already begun. A pilot virtual exchange, the Ukraine Youth Action Network, unites Ukrainian high school students displaced by war with American peers in Arizona, Maryland, New York, and Ohio. In all, over 150 students are exploring the concept of heroism and how stories of heroes unfold in literature and movies – and in real life. The project helps Ukrainian high school students displaced by war channel their trauma into positive activities to benefit their homeland. The program, launched in January 2023, is administered by MapWorks Learning using secure videoconferencing and a private online platform.
Students ages 12-15 from Mexico City along with students from Norwood, MA, and New York City are engaging in a curriculum to recognize and overcome personal and societal bias. The program, Overcoming Bias Through Language Learning, is administered by Global Nomads Group and is designed for foreign language students in the respective countries to learn English and Spanish through virtual exchange.
In a second program reaching Mexican youth, students are participating in Empatico’s Coding with Empathy Challenge, working on community action projects that combine the development of empathy skills with computer science. The fall 2022 cohort connected youth between Jalisco and South Carolina; the spring 2023 program brings together students from Jalisco, California, and South Carolina.
In addition to building international connections among young people, virtual exchange also confers marketable skills that employers across the world value. The Stevens Initiative’s 2023 Impact and Learning Report shows that participants in virtual exchange programs report positive gains in global competencies, including perspective taking, empathy, and cross-cultural communication and collaboration, among others.
“The Stevens Initiative has its roots in building bridges between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa,” said Dr. Anne Stevens, sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens. “But I think Chris would be proud to see how we are broadening our reach to include more and more young people from different backgrounds and places every year. He believed that making a space for dialogue and understanding could create deep and meaningful connections across difference. Carrying my brother’s optimism, I am eager to see how our work in new regions can advance his legacy.”
The Stevens Initiative’s global expansion has been fueled by a nearly $15 million grant from the Bezos Family Foundation, a supporter of the Initiative since its inception. This gift marks the largest contribution by the Foundation to the Stevens Initiative to date.
“Bezos Family Foundation is a proud founding partner of the Stevens Initiative,” said Mike Bezos, Vice President of the Bezos Family Foundation. “Over the years, we’ve seen how high-quality virtual exchange creates space for young people to work on meaningful projects together, deepens their understanding of themselves and others, and fosters communication, collaboration, and other critical skills that research has linked to success in school and life. At their core, these programs help young people see themselves as changemakers and a part of something bigger. We’re excited for the Stevens Initiative as they embark on this important new phase of their work.”
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; shares research, resources, and promising practices to improve impact; and advocates for broader adoption. Learn more: https://www.stevensinitiative.org/
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 www.aspeninstitute.org.
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.