About Us

The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa by growing and enhancing the field of virtual exchange.


What We Do

Created in 2015, the Initiative is committed to helping expand the virtual exchange field through three pillars of work: investing in promising programs, sharing knowledge and resources, and advocating for virtual exchange adoption. The Stevens Initiative 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. Learn more about the Initiative’s vision and approach.

The Stevens Initiative builds on the pioneering work of the virtual exchange community, which uses technology to connect young people across continents and cultures. Through virtual exchange, youth have access to a substantive international exchange experience by collaborating and learning with their peers abroad without having to leave their communities. Recognizing the impact that virtual exchange promises, and capitalizing on advances in technology, the aim is to make life-changing, cross-cultural experiences available to all young people. By summer 2022, the Stevens Initiative will expand its reach to over 43,000 young people in 16 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, three tribal communities, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Learn how to engage with us here.

Our Inspiration

U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens devoted his life to building bridges through open and respectful dialogue. As a young man, he taught English in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco as a Peace Corps volunteer. Morocco was his gateway to a life as an intrepid diplomat. He served the majority of his Foreign Service career in the Middle East and North Africa, a region he grew to love, and eventually served as U.S. Ambassador to Libya. He was killed by violent extremists in Libya in September 2012 while pursuing a career dedicated to person-to-person diplomacy.

The Stevens Initiative, conceived and developed in close partnership with Ambassador Stevens’ family, seeks to give a generation of young people the kind of meaningful international experience that shaped Ambassador Stevens as a young man.

The Team

Mohamed Abdel-Kader is Executive Director of the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute. He previously served in the administration of President Barack Obama as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education at the US Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education. In that role, Mohamed was responsible for encouraging and promoting the study of foreign languages and the study of the cultures of other countries at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels in the United States. He led his division’s work in administering grants for overseas studies and research programs funded through the Fulbright-Hays Act as well as Title VI grants to support language and area studies programs in the United States. Before joining the US Department of Education, Mohamed served as the Director of Development for the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and managed the university’s advancement strategy in the Middle East, where he focused on major gifts and strategic engagement. Previously, he developed international partnerships and led donor development efforts at George Mason University. He has advised a variety of clients on organizational strategy, doing business in emerging markets, intercultural communication, and cultural competency in international philanthropy.

He speaks fluent Arabic and basic Spanish, is a Truman National Security Fellow, an Eisenhower Fellow, and is the author of a children’s book about stereotypes. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Clemson University, a Master’s degree in Higher Education from Vanderbilt University, and an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Mohamed is a trustee of the Longview Foundation for International Education & World Affairs.

Alanoud Alown is a Regional Program Manager based in the United Arab Emirates. Alanoud has extensive experience working in various research and analysis capacities. She held the role of Lead Consultant at Analyseize Research, a leading research firm specializing in social and economic research projects across the MENA region. At Analyseize, Alanoud worked on the first comprehensive study on Corporate Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship which included seven countries across the region. The study aimed at creating a movement of companies dedicated to responsible management as a way forward towards ensuring sustainable societies. Previously, Alanoud worked at the Political Affairs Department at the office of His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan. In her capacity as Senior Policy Researcher, she conducted research and analysis on regional and international developments and was actively involved in preparing various studies on the ramifications of global and regional developments on Jordan, among other responsibilities. Alanoud holds a Bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in Spanish from Georgetown University and a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics.

Phoebe Amend is a Program Coordinator for the Stevens Initiative. Prior to joining the Initiative, Phoebe held internships at the Council on Foreign Relations, Atlantic Council, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While interning at UNHCR in Amman, Jordan, Phoebe studied Modern Standard Arabic at Qasid Arabic Institute. Phoebe graduated from New York University in May 2019 with a B.A. in Politics, cum laude, with a regional focus on the Middle East.

Manal Elattir is a Regional Program Manager based in Morocco. She has been an advocate for women and youth empowerment and leadership in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. She is the founder of ASILA, a social enterprise that empowers grassroots women entrepreneurs through business capacity building, mentoring and networking and through the creation of an ethical fashion brand Asilashop connecting them to the global market. Manal co-founded the first mentoring network for women in Morocco and trained more than 1500 youth across MENA region on entrepreneurship and career guidance. She was also the director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Alumni Network in Morocco. Manal has been recognized at the international level for her work and has been selected in some of the most prestigious programs including FORTUNE Most Powerful Women program, UNESCO Human Rights International Fellow, and the Women Leaders of the World by the Global Women Leadership Network. Manal has been the recipient of the Architects of the Future Award, the Australia Middle East Media Women’s Award and the World of Difference Award by the International Alliance of Women. She is a motivational speaker and an international public speaker on issues ranging from entrepreneurship, youth employment, women’s rights and intercultural dialogue. Manal is based in Rabat, Morocco.

Kyle Kastler is a Senior Program Associate, where he oversees alumni engagement for participants and awardees of Stevens Initiative programs and contributes to the Initiative’s research and knowledge sharing work. In his role, Kyle focuses on providing support to alumni to leverage their virtual exchange experience into future opportunities and sharing resources about virtual exchange with the wider field. Previously, he contributed to the field of international exchange by working on in-person youth exchange programs funded by the U.S. Department of State.  Kyle joins the Initiative after completing a Master’s Program in International Education Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park where he researched and wrote about practitioner perceptions of virtual exchange.  Kyle, originally from Kansas, is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, a Critical Language Scholarship Recipient, and holds a B.A. in Spanish and Political Science from Missouri Southern State University.


Haili Lewis is a Program Associate at the Stevens Initiative. In her role, Haili plans and executes the program’s events and develops and implements the program’s communications strategy. Before joining the Stevens Initiative, Haili worked for the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program where she focused on events and communications. She previously held internships at the U.S. Department of State, Voto Latino, and the European Parliament. Haili has a B.A. in international studies with a concentration on U.S. foreign policy and a regional focus on Europe from American University in Washington, D.C., where she graduated magna cum laude with honors. In her free time, Haili enjoys travelling, cooking, and exploring new places in DC. Haili also volunteers as a Girl Scout troop leader to a group of 3rd grade girls at Marie Reed Elementary School in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC.


Andie Shafer is a Program Manager at the Stevens Initiative, where she oversees the Initiative’s grant portfolio. During her time with the Initiative, Andie has supported over 40 virtual exchange programs and brings a bird’s-eye view of the virtual exchange landscape to her work with partners. Andie also supports the evaluation of grant programs and helps practitioners build capacity to scale their programming. Andie previously worked with the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Program, where she focused on education, vocational training, and entrepreneurship in North Africa. Andie spent time on the Obama reelection campaign in 2012, advancing events for the President, prior to her time at the Aspen Institute. Andie, a proud Michigander, holds a B.A. in public policy from the University of Michigan. She is based in Seattle.


Henry ShepherdHenry Shepherd is Assistant Director of the Stevens Initiative. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, he was a student in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University, where he was research assistant to former Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker. Earlier, he coordinated the volunteer training program at Soliya, a New York-based organization that facilitates virtual exchange between young people in Western and predominantly Muslim societies. As an undergraduate at Brown University, he helped launch Strait Talk, an international initiative that conducts youth dialogue across the Taiwan Strait. He is from Boston.



Christine Shiau is Managing Director of the Stevens Initiative where she oversees a wide array of functions related to program infrastructure, grants, strategy, communications, and operations, ensuring effective management throughout the program. Christine joined the Initiative following a career in the public and private sectors specializing in finance, accounting, compliance, and grants management. Preceding her current role, Christine managed several multi-million dollar grant programs at Cook County, Illinois. Christine’s portfolio included the Department of Homeland Security’s second largest urban security grant program specializing in public safety and emergency management. Prior to her public sector career, Christine worked as an auditor with Ernst and Young and an accountant with Enterprise Holdings. She came to Washington, DC from Los Angeles, where she worked for Kaiser Permanente managing federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services. Christine graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in accounting and a minor in marketing. She is a Master of Business Administration candidate at the University of Maryland.

Our Partners

The Stevens Initiative 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.

The Aspen Institute

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. Learn more: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/