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US continues MENA virtual exchange

US virtual exchange facilitator the Stevens Initiative has granted international nonprofit organisation and virtual exchange provider Soliya an addition round of funding, which it says will connect students in the US, Middle East, and North Africa.

Virtual exchange could connect "potentially millions", according to the US's assistant secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. Photo: pexels

Stevens Initiative will reach nearly 40,000 students in 15 MENA countries, the Palestinian Territories and the US

The funding will be used for the Connect Global for US – MENA dialogue, which Soliya implements.

“Now more than ever, we need online platforms that facilitate constructive conversations”

This latest cash injection will enable Soliya “to exponentially grow one key program model, deepen our impact measurement efforts and better communicate the results”, according to the organisation’s CEO, Waidehi Gokhale.

Soliya also received funding from the Stevens Initiative in 2017.

“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,” Gokhale said.

“Now more than ever, we need online platforms that facilitate constructive conversations and collaborative global learning.”

The Connect Global: US-MENA, one of six programs through an international competition to fund virtual exchange programs in the US and the MENA region, will work in 12 US states, Washington DC, five MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories.

The exchanges will help college-aged young people gain skills they need for future careers, and establish new cross-cultural connections, according to the two facilitating organisations.

Participants will be able to discuss issues – including religion, gender, current events, social culture, media, and the environment – during the exchange in the presence of trained facilitators.

In a statement, Marie Royce, assistant secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State, said the expansion will also honour the legacy of ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, whom the Initiative is named after.

As the US ambassador to Libya, Stevens was killed by extremists in Libya in September 2012.

“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,” Royce noted.

Including its other programs with organisations such as World Learning, Global Nomads Group, and IREX, the Stevens Initiative will reach nearly 40,000 students in 15 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and 44 US states, Puerto Rico, and Washington DC.

Along with funding from the US Department of State, the Stevens Initiative is supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

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