Elevating Access to Virtual Exchange: Stevens Initiative Announces Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Stevens Initiative presents pathways to create and strengthen global education opportunities through virtual exchange, with the support of the U.S. Department of State.

For Immediate Release

Primary Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Associate
The Aspen Institute

Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Washington, DC, April 20, 2020 – Today, the Stevens Initiative announced an effort to support educators, administrators, families, and exchange and education practitioners who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic.  This response provides immediate access to virtual exchange opportunities, either by creating new programs or benefiting from the training and tools that help stakeholders strengthen existing programs for youth around the world.

The Stevens Initiative Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic includes the following pathways:

  • Fund: As countless summer in-person education and exchange programs are cancelled, many young people will be unable to access important global education opportunities. To address this, the Stevens Initiative has created a fund to support the transition of these programs from in-person to virtual exchanges.  The Initiative will also fund preparation for future virtual exchange implementation and the adaptation of existing virtual exchange programs as they respond to this global crisis.  The Initiative has a dedicated page with extensive information about grant parameters and eligibility.  You can visit this page, which includes the full call for proposals and application information, here.
  • Training and Mentorship: Transitioning from in-person to virtual activities can be challenging. The Initiative is hosting three trainings for adapting in-person programs to virtual exchange programs.  Following these training sessions, mentorship opportunities will be available for those who wish to receive continued, individualized support.
  • Resources: To address a need to help educators, administrators, virtual exchange implementers and practitioners, and families adjust to digital education and learning, the Stevens Initiative developed a curated list of resources that can be used during the pandemic and in the future. The resources, which mainly focus on virtual exchange, are listed under an audience group and include an annotation to make the webpage easier to navigate.  Most of these resources were shared with the Stevens Initiative by virtual exchange practitioners and experts.

“Since its inception in 2015, the Stevens Initiative has used technology to link Americans across the country to students in the Middle East and North Africa through virtual exchanges. The Stevens Initiative model enhanced our in-person exchange programs in reaching audiences that otherwise would not have been able to participate,” said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State. “The Stevens Initiative is at the vanguard of how we can continue to promote mutual understanding while in-person exchanges are paused. By expanding its offerings for virtual exchanges, trainings, and resources, the Stevens Initiative ensures this critical component of foreign policy can continue in a time when meaningful virtual connections are more important than ever.”

As young people around the world face extended periods of social isolation, opportunities to communicate with their peers are important and valuable.  Virtual exchange offers young people exciting ways to learn and build relationships.  It also gives schools, universities, and education- and exchange-focused organizations, the ability to adapt previously planned, in-person global education opportunities, disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By summer 2021, the Initiative will expand its reach to nearly 40,000 young people in 15 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 45 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.  The Stevens Initiative Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic can make similar opportunities available to even more young people.  The response also gives current implementers tools to strengthen their existing virtual exchange programs as they adapt during the pandemic.

“I am delighted that the Stevens Initiative continues to carry the legacy of my late brother Ambassador Chris Stevens by stepping in and fulfilling a need left by the cancellation of in-person education and exchange programs due to the current pandemic. Like in-person programs, virtual exchange creates opportunities for youth around the world to develop cross-cultural communication skills and empathy. This response reflects the core mission of the Stevens Initiative since its establishment and aligns with our vision for the future,” said Dr. Anne Stevens, Clinical Professor, Seattle Children’s Hospital, University of Washington; Senior Director, Immunology Early Development, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson; and Sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

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.

“Recognizing the immense challenges and disruption posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Stevens Initiative is steadfast in its commitment to young people and educators,” said Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Executive Director, the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute. “We are confident that the Stevens Initiative Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic will help young people stay connected and learn about the world together through innovative virtual exchange programs that adapt to new realities in education.”

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.

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 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

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 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.

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.

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